Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Of being a tall boy and those unpleasant memories


Last week I was reading this book review posted by a friend. It was the story of a fat girl who is bullied and mocked for her weight. The reviewer then went on to point out how she was fat-shamed as a girl in school and hence could relate to the story at a personal level.

The review left me stirred up. I felt sorry for her. And it got me thinking about my school life. My boyhood was mostly very happy. I made great friends, had some unforgettable memories and always look back on that phase with a lot of fondness.

There is one aspect of my childhood, however, that I don’t often discuss. Not in detail, anyway.

I have been very tall for as long as I can remember. Today I am okay with it; I take it in my stride, in fact.

But that wasn’t always the case.

I was unusually tall as a kid; the tallest in my class for the entire length of my school life. In fact, I had touched almost six feet when I was in the fifth standard itself. And those were very embarrassing days. For instance, in middle grade, we had to wear half pants, and courtesy of my rather long legs, they would feel embarrassingly short. My growth rate was alarmingly fast and after every three months, I would outgrow my new shorts causing much frustration in my family.

I had to endure some really snide remarks about this for a really long time. I had no way to cover my long legs and would just put a smile on my face and nod as those hurtful comments (mostly bordering on “Looks like you are wearing a chaddi!” and “You have legs like that of a female!”) were hurled at me. Sometimes even the teachers would join in on the fun. It was unpleasant but there was nothing I could do about it.

Then there were the endless finger-pointing, giggles, whispers behind my back and some kids openly mocking and laughing at me every single time I would walk down the stairs or stand in a line at the assembly. I used to hate going to school at one point. And felt extremely uncomfortable being alone in a crowd. I was given horrible nicknames and my height was mocked with such regularity that it just made me an incredibly shy kid, unable to respond to those jibes.

School wasn’t the only place where my height was an issue. I couldn’t escape taunts about my height anywhere I went – the neighbourhood, relatives’ homes, buses, trains… everywhere. I had learned to quietly smile and ignore all the mockeries about my height but after a point, it started to wear me down. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to share this with.



While I was reading that review of the book earlier, one particularly horrible memory came back to gnaw at me. I had shoved this memory very deep inside and never allow it rear its ugly face. But for some reason, it was let out today.

This was back in the sixth grade when I was attending an inter-school sports day in a huge stadium. To avoid the crowds, I located a secluded balcony in one of the top tiers of the stadium and positioned myself in a corner so as to enjoy the activities and avoid any crowds. I had spent a good half an hour there when I heard some commotion from behind me. A teacher from some other school was walking up to me, a bunch of boys behind him.

The man was well-built, wore a tight-fitting white polo shirt and had a bushy mustache. He snorted on seeing me first. Then, eyeing me curiously, from top to bottom,  asked me what I was doing here. I mumbled “Nothing” and tried to get away. But he blocked my path and then, just out of the blue, he suddenly began taking digs at my height.

“What did your parents eat to make you so tall?” he said loudly. It wasn’t really a question; he had a slight sneer on his face when he said so. His students roared in laughter. More rhetorical and nasty comments about my height followed. And there was more raucous laughter from behind him. I could feel myself burning hot in the face and the man kept checking me out, his eyes wide in demented glee as if I was some strange animal in a zoo.

As I tried to make my way past them, the man suddenly turned around and slapped me on the back of my head. It wasn’t a light slap. It was a full-on thwack and it hurt. I moved my head around, stunned at the impact, and saw the boys cackling loudly while the man just stood there, beaming. To avoid further embarrassment, I simply scampered away from the spot, not daring to look back.

This might have felt like a scene from a cheesy film, but it wasn’t. It happened. And I have no idea why.

I remember boarding the school bus back home that evening and being very quiet. A couple of my friends asked me what was wrong and I just said that I had a headache. I didn't have the guts to tell anyone what had happened.

Did I cry? No. I was too ashamed. Too humiliated. Too scarred. I kind of retracted into a shell for a few days. And I guess from thereon my habit of closing myself out from the world from point to point began.

I have never shared that incident with anyone in my life. Not even my mother. This is the first time I have typed it. It didn’t feel good. I don't like remembering that memory. It makes me feel small. And that’s quite ironic, perhaps.

I am not writing this to gain anyone’s sympathy. It is too old an incident to fret over now. But, yes, writing it out made it feel real and, perhaps, I can now accept it and have some closure.

Maybe I should have reacted differently on that day. Maybe not. That is not the point, anyway. The point is that it shouldn’t have happened. But it did.  No 12-year-old child deserves to be treated that way. No 12-year-old boy deserves to be treated differently from the others just because he is taller than the rest.

I hated being stared and pointed at all the time. I hated being asked questions about my height every single day. I hated being mocked and laughed at because I was so tall. I hated standing out in the crowd all the time. I just wanted to be myself. But not many allowed me that privilege.

Things got better eventually, of course. I grew out of my shell and discovered new facets of my personality that were unrelated to my height. I made some great friends along the way who never bothered about how tall I was. And as I passed my teens, my height, I realized, aided my personality. And, yes, sometimes I secretly enjoy the attention my height gives me these days.

I also take regular digs at my own height these days. I enjoy doing so. I guess it was some sort of a defense mechanism I developed much later in life. Also, that experience from my childhood has made me more empathetic towards children. I have felt that whenever I interact with any child who is a little shy or different and somehow I just know how to break the ice with most of them.

Regardless, it wasn't easy being unusually tall as a young boy and being the constant butt of crude and snide remarks. For what felt like years I hated myself and my height. I guess it is a human tendency. They see a gangly, shy and ungainly teenage boy and they take cruel digs on him because he is tall and doesn’t know how to react, not realizing the damage they are inflicting on his psyche.

So the next time you come across an overweight or dark or tall or different-in-any-way kid quit staring and throttle down that urge to pass on any witty remark. Those actions can have a long-lasting damage. And not every kid has the ability to cope with it.

I have mostly made amends with this particular aspect of my past life. But some parts of those days have had a permanent effect on me and I don’t think those scars will just go away. Because even today, when I notice someone giggling behind my back and pointing at me, it makes me cringe a little and immediately brings back a flood of those not-so-memorable memories. It makes me remember me hurrying down the stairs of my school with the other kids sniggering and pointing behind me. It makes me remember the eyes of that man on that stadium after he hit me and the laughter of his students. And it’s not a good feeling.

It will take time, I guess. Hopefully, I would outgrow that part of my life, just like I did with those half pants.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Chapters From My Childhood: When Papa Bought Me A Car


It is Father’s Day today. And I see almost everyone writing great things about their respective fathers. That is very natural. Most of the stories are centered on how their father has been their rock, or their friend, or their guide or protector.

When I think of it, I can’t really explain what my father is to me. He is certainly not my friend. I don’t see him as my guide either. So, what do I see him as? I see him as my father. An honest, loving and caring father. And nothing else matters, really.

My father is a very simple man. He speaks very little. He emotes rarely. And it isn’t very easy to break through his exterior to get a peek inside.

We share a very unusual bond, my father and I. We don’t express much to each other about what we are feeling. We generally stay to ourselves, speaking mostly about cricket or politics or the deplorable condition of Calcutta. I let him enjoy his space. And he lets me be in mine. For some reason, we have always had this strange wall between us. A wall that holds us back. It has been like that for ages. And we are used to it now.

Since its Father’s Day today, I wonder if I should have bought him a gift. I have never really done that, though. We don’t just bring each other gifts. Gift-giving, in fact, is an awkward exercise between the two of us. On my birthday, he simply asks me to get something online. On his birthday, I generally buy him something useful online.

Going out of our way to buy a gift for one another, out of the blue, is something we don't indulge in.

Except for this one day about 25 years back.

I remember this day pretty clearly because it remains the only instance when the wall between the two of us had broken for a few moments. And it had felt good.



**

It was Saturday evening. I entered my room and switched on the television, eagerly waiting for a cartoon show to begin. My father sat on the bed with a huge, red notebook in front of him and a pencil in between his fingers.

I was glued to the television screen when my father asked me to lower the volume. The words barely registered in my head and I just nodded.

“Chiku, lower the volume. I am working,” he said, more firmly this time.

“One minute, Papa,” I mumbled.

“When you're with the Flintstones
Have a yabba-dabba-doo time”

The lyrics of my favorite cartoon show screamed loudly back at me and I swayed my head along with it.

“A dabba-doo time
We'll have a gay old…”

I heard a ‘thud’ and the next moment saw my father get up and switch off the television. His notebook lay sprawled on the floor.

“What part of lowering the volume did you not understand?” said my father angrily. He looked frazzled. And his eyes were red.

I was stunned. My father was known to lose his temper. But he never lost it on me.

“But… I just…” I sputtered.

“No buts…Out you go. I don’t want any disturbance,” he thundered. I had never seen him lose his cool like this.

It felt like he had slapped me right across the face. I got up and left in a huff, my body shaking in fury.

I had just about reached the verandah when I ran into my mother.

“Ah! I was just looking for you. Get me a box of sandesh for bhog, will you? Quick!”

It was dark outside and she couldn’t clearly see the contours of my face. I breathed in a little, and muttered, “Okay!”, making sure she couldn’t see my wet eyes.

She handed me a ten rupee note and left to tend to her gods and goddesses inside the temple room in the verandah.

I stood there for a while, allowing my breathing to normalize. But my insides still stung.

**

Fifteen minutes later, I was standing outside the local mishti shop right opposite our home.

“Five Kalakands, please,” I said thoughtlessly. As I turned around, I noticed a familiar face standing right beside the shop, smoking a cigarette. It was my father. He blew a puff of smoke in the air, looking quite worn out.

Our eyes met for a second. And then, I immediately turned around, intending to get away far from him.

“Chiku! Hey, stop,” he called out.

I ignored him and hurried away.

He caught hold of my right hand. “Hey! Listen, please!”

“Let... Me…Go…” I struggled to let my hand free from his firm grip. But he caught both my hands and turned me around.

“Hey! Hey, I am sorry…Please…I am sorry.”

I couldn’t look at him. But kept staring at the ground below while he held me. My breathing was heavy. But my anger was dissipating. I wasn’t used to such conversations with him. It was awkward. It was embarrassing. I just wanted to run. But then, just like that, I burst out.

Wrapping my arms around my father, right there on the busy pavement, I bawled my heart out. I wept into his shirt, while he caressed my head. “I am sorry, son! I am sorry!” he said again.

After what felt like an hour, he pulled my hands apart, wiped my face and asked me, “Listen, do you want anything? Tell me,” he asked kindly.

I shook my head. But taking me by my hand, he took me to a retail shop nearby.

“Here! Choose anything,” he said.

I was completely taken aback at the turn of events and still felt a little groggy. I looked around at the tiny shop. There was a sea of colorful items. But my eyes instantly fell on the one thing that I had been lusting over for the last one week – a red car. It had been placed strategically on the top shelf of the shop for more than a week and had caught the fancy of many boys in the neighbourhood. The words “James Bond 007” was printed in glossy black letters on its bumper. For the past few days, every afternoon after school, I would get down from the school bus, cross the road and spend a good few minutes just gazing at the gorgeous car.

My father caught me ogling at the car and asked, “You want this?”

I couldn’t say anything. I wasn’t used to such an offer from him.

He got the car from the shop owner and handed it to me. I held it, dazed and confused while my father handed over some cash from the chest pocket of his shirt to the shop owner.

The car looked shiny and smooth and perfect. Every single part of it dazzled. I smelled it. It felt fresh and ready to use.

“Okay, you run along now,” my father said. “I will come in a little later.”

I nodded and turned to leave, my eyes still fixed on the car. It felt surreal.

“And listen,” he called out. He looked a little flustered for some reason. “Um…Don’t mention anything about the cigarette to your mother, okay?”

***

That red car. That was a huge part of my childhood.

I held that car very dearly with me for years. I remember playing with it every day for years while being fed dinner by my mother during dinner. It had a special place in my cupboard for a very long time while I was growing up.

And it wasn’t just because it was a magnificent-looking car – it was. But because it was the first and only gift my father had bought for me on his own. And because of the memories attached to it.

The only time I had hugged my father after that evening was about 15 years later on the morning we were bidding my mother a final adieu. And that is it.

We continue to share an unusual bond, with that wall between us. But after my mother’s passing, we have grown much closer than we ever were. He continues to express his love in subtle ways – drawing the curtains in my room so that the rays of the morning sun don’t fall on my face directly; serving me dinner; making my breakfast. 

I wouldn’t change anything in the relationship we share. Like I said earlier. He isn’t my buddy. And he isn’t my guide. But he is my father. An honest, loving, sincere and caring father. And nothing else matters.

From time to time, however, I will look back on that evening from 25 years ago. My father would have no memory of it, I am certain. But I will remember the red car. I will remember the hug. And I will remember how the wall had broken between us.  Even if it was for just a few moments, it meant the world to me.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Abdul – A Short Story


The screams. He couldn’t block them from his mind. He wished they would stop. But they didn’t. The licked at him menacingly. Refusing to abate. Refusing to die down.

He had hoped that not sleeping would allow him to stay away from those cries of anguish that were haunting his dreams. But the nightmares continued even when he was awake.

Six-year-old Abdul thoughtlessly took a little nibble from the cake in his left hand. He ate because his brain told him to. He did not feel the taste of the breadcrumbs sliding down his throat. He had not felt anything in a long time.

Abdul looked around blankly. He was in a tiny hospital room, sitting on the single bed there. He had no idea what time it was. The pale, orange light streaming in from the big window behind his bed told him that this must be afternoon. The room had been his dwelling-place for the past three weeks. Or was it three months? Abdul wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure of anything since that evening.

That evening.

Despite himself, he couldn’t stop the memory of that evening from creeping up on him again.  The screams. The fire. The blood. The horror. Everything was still so fresh.

It was a Friday evening like every other in little Abdul’s life in the small town of Dammam. He was playing catch with his favourite red ball – a present from his mother on his fifth birthday last year – in the little backyard of their house while waiting for his Abbu to freshen up and join him. He was excited as after finishing the catching game he would get the chance to devour the scrumptious kebabs being prepared by his Ammi inside in the kitchen.

Abdul was hitting the ball against the solitary tree stump in their backyard and trying to grab it on the rebound with both his palms, just as his father had taught him. His focus was broken when he heard a loud, crashing noise from inside. Abdul whipped around, and from the window in front of him, saw a group of five men marching into their drawing room. All of them wore black masks – only their eyes and lips were visible – and wielded large guns and shiny metals that Abdul had only seen in some films.  

He watched in horror as one of the men pulled his father roughly from the armchair he was sitting on and struck him viciously on the head with the butt of his gun. He slumped to the ground like a rag doll. Abdul was shocked, confused. He didn’t know what was happening. He saw his Ammi rushing in from inside and being immediately grabbed by a couple of the men. He saw a flash of silver followed by a spray of blood spattering the window panes in front of him. He saw his Ammi slowly collapse on the floor as well.

Abdul was frozen. He couldn’t move. He wanted to call out, but his mind had gone blank. He was shaking feverishly and clutched the little red ball in his palm with all his might.

He saw the five men drag his Ammi to the center of the room, shove her on top his Abbu and bind them both with a chain. Then they sprayed some liquid on them. And a moment later there was fire all over. Abdul’s eyes widened as he heard the screams of agony of his Ammi and Abbu. Both of them writhed; engulfed in yellow flames, shrieking terribly.

Abdul could do nothing. He stood there outside the window helplessly, trying to say something. But the words just remained stuck in his throat.

He saw the men leaving the house. He heard his Ammi and Abbu’s screams die out little by little. He saw them finally stop struggling. He saw the flames leap across every corner of his house. He heard a great explosion inside and the glass panes in front of him shattering into a million pieces.  

Abdul remained rooted as the shards of glass, still carrying the blood stains of his Ammi, flew up at him and pierced his face. He felt himself being hurled off the ground, still clutching his favourite red ball in his left palm.

The last thing he remembered, as he was still in flight, was him finally finding his voice and managing to whisper: “Ammiii”.

And then there was nothing.

****

Abdul remembered waking up in a hospital amidst a lot of commotion. There were unknown faces surrounding him and his entire right side was in excruciating pain. He kept drifting in and out of consciousness. And the screams of his mother kept piercing his dreams.

The right side of Abdul’s body had faced multiple burns – the hair, face, hands, and legs had all been parched.

A sea of people had swooped in on him with a barrage of questions during the initial few days. There were men with cameras and notepads and men wearing different colored uniforms wandering in and out of his hospital room frequently. But Abdul could not bring himself to speak to them. He did not have it in him.

He registered fragments of words like “ISIS”, “Revenge” and “Jihad” a few times from the people who would be speaking around him. But those words meant nothing to him. Nothing mattered to him any longer.

****

 “Why haven’t you finished your cake?”

Abdul looked up to see a kind-looking plump woman dressed in all whites peering at him with concern. It was the nurse.

With time, the crowd in his little hospital room had trickled down to a minimum. Now, it was usually the gentle nurse who came in from time to check on him and give him food regularly.

“You have some visitors today, boy,” she said with a benign smile.

As she moved aside, Abdul saw two people standing at the door – a tall and lean woman draped in an elegant, black Abaya and a little girl with short hair in a red frock, holding the woman’s hand. He recognized them immediately. They were his neighbours from across the street – Aunt Daaniya and her five-year-old daughter, Mehrin.

Aunt Daaniya’s family were great friends with Abdul’s parents and little Mehrin had been his best friend since as long he could remember. Every afternoon after school, they would spend hours together – doing school work, playing games, watching cartoons and reading comic books. Although she was a year younger to Abdul, the two had great camaraderie and were inseparable friends.

Abdul recalled Mehrin mentioning to him that she would be out vacationing somewhere this month with her family. He couldn’t remember the name of the place. It seemed to him like that conversation had taken place a lifetime ago.

The two of them walked tentatively towards Abdul. Mehrin, holding her mother’s hand, looked at him with a confused, almost scared look. It was an expression Abdul wasn’t accustomed to seeing on her usually cheerful and happy face.

Mehrin let go of her mother’s hand and inched closer to Abdul, not taking her eyes off him for a second. As she stood in front of him, her lips trembled. It was as if she was seeing her best friend in a completely different light today. She stood there. Gaping at him. Her breathing becoming heavy.

The little girl’s eyes blinked furiously for a few seconds and then a solitary teardrop glided down her soft cheek.

“Ab…Ab…,” she tried to say. But her voice seemed to be caught.

“Ab…Abb…Abb…,” she spluttered. Her voice came in little gasps. Her face streamed with tears.

Abdul could feel something stirring inside him. He didn’t know what it was.

He moved both his hands and held his little friend’s face with his palms.

Mehrin shuddered at his touch. The pink color of her face had gone red.

“Ab…Abb…Abdulll…!” she finally managed to whisper even as the tears kept flowing down her face. 



An odd sensation coursed through Abdul. As he sat there, cupping his friend’s face in his palms, watching her innocent eyes glistening with tears, he felt as if something heavy and dark was being siphoned off from inside him.

With every teardrop that glided down Mehrin’s face, Abdul felt lighter than he had done in a long time. He wanted to cry, too. But he had lost the ability to produce tears. For now, it was his best friend who was doing the crying for him.

They stayed there like that for what felt like an eternity, before Abdul finally noticed Aunt Daaniya’s voice saying something. She had bent down in front of him.

“Abul, my dear boy! You will stay with us from now on, okay?” she said kindly. Her voice was heavy and, Abdul noticed, her eyes were puffy and red.

Abdul looked at her and then at Mehrin again. He gently wiped her tears with his hands and then slowly nodded at Aunt Daaniya.

“I pro…I promise you will be all right, son! I promise.” she said softly with a sniff and then proceeded to kiss Abdul on the forehead.

“You will be all right.”

****

Two hours later, the three of them were walking along the hospital corridor: Aunt Daaniya ambling ahead with Abdul and Mehrin behind her.

“You will stay in Reiaf bhai’s room, Abdul. He doesn’t live here any longer. So you will have the whole room to yourself,” Mehrin chirped while holding Abdul’s right hand, the one that had been burnt.

“And you don’t worry, Abdul,” she said while bouncing up and down on her feet and literally dragging him ahead with all the force her tiny body could muster, “We will play so many games. And watch cartoons. And read comics….”

A slight smile appeared on Abdul’s face as he watched his little friend hop and drag him forward.

He didn’t know what lay ahead for him. He didn’t know if the screams in his nightmares would stop. He didn’t know if he would be able to sleep again.

But he knew that it was after a long time that he was feeling something. A narrow crevice of light had opened up inside him. And Abul wanted to hold on to it with every bit of him.

“…And I will also play catch with you, Abdul. I will not complain. I promise,” Mehrin’s chirpy voice floated up to him.

Abdul just smiled and walked on with her, clutching her little fingers tightly with his right hand. He had a feeling that with Mehrin by his side that crevice inside him would open up further every day.

And then there was the little red ball he gripped firmly in his left hand which would help a bit too, perhaps.


All rights reserved




(Note:

The intention of this story is not to preach. This is a plot that I had in mind for months, but was apprehensive on attempting it because of how disturbing the premise was. I obviously had no reference points to take. But I still wanted to do it. I will tell you why.

Terrorism has become so common these days that it’s almost a part of our day-to-day life now. There is no escape from it. But I often think what happens to the survivors of those families who have been brutally affected by it? How do they move on? We all know there must be hundreds of Abduls out there today. Why I wanted to write this story was the belief that for every Abdul there perhaps always will be a Mehrin too, somewhere.)



Friday, January 12, 2018

Book Review: Sunshine Town by Maniissh Aroraa

I had a rather tough time preparing for my first-semester college exams. Those weren't easy days. I had just lost my mother a year back and then had had to undergo a delicate back surgery a few months before I had taken admission in the new college. As the exam time dawned, I was stranded alone at home and concentrating on studies was difficult. My father and my brother did not expect me to do well. They knew I had had to go through a lot these past few months.

But despite the distractions and the mental wounds gnawing at me, despite the overpowering feeling of loneliness, I pulled myself up, poured my heart out in the exam preparations and scored exactly 75 percent. My confidence grew and I topped the college in the next semester, registering 91 %. It was one of the high-points of my life and the adulation I received in its wake was something I had never tasted before. It made me believe that focus and hard work towards a set goal does yield positive results. Even at this stage of my life, when hope feels lost, I regularly look back at that phase when I seek motivation.

Now, why am I telling you all this? Because reading Sunshine Town by debut author Maniissh Aroraa brought back some of those memories.

It’s a book aimed specifically at teenagers and college students who, more often than not, find themselves at a crossroads in their life, and grapple with several career decisions. If taken in the right spirit, the book can work well as a motivation vehicle.

Plot:

Sunshine Town is centered on a teenager, Shlok, and the trials and tribulations of his career and love life. Hailing from a typical middle-class Indian family in the small town of Varanasi, Shlok wants to fulfill the dream of his father of becoming a successful doctor. While he is a pretty average student, he has a lot of resolve. But despite his repeated and meticulously planned attempts at success in his studies, Shlok fails and begins to doubt his worth, feels lost and loses hope.

Picture courtesy "authormaniissharoraa.com"


In the meanwhile, he also meets Natasha, his next-door neighbour, and falls in love with her. She brings in some light and cheer in his life. But here, too, Shlok has to struggle to keep his relationship afloat.

Will Shlok be able to achieve the dream of his father? Or will he find a different path in his life? These are some of the questions that Sunshine Town addresses and takes us on the coming of age journey of this everyday teenager, while giving us some valuable life lessons along with it.


What I liked about the book:


The lead character

For any story to be interesting, the lead character has to be, at some level, relatable. Shlok is a likable teenager and behaves and feels in a way that most of us have in our lives.

He is a sincere lad and despite the adverse situations, keeps fighting hard to stay afloat and find meaning in his life.

Shlok is an average student. But through sheer hard work, careful planning and scheduling of his studies, and relentless dedication, he manages to pass through several difficult examinations. When not studying, Shlok devotes time to making himself fit and sprucing up the garden of his home.

He is a loyal son and a protagonist worth rooting for. In short, the youngsters of today can relate to Shlok and also take a lot of inspiration from him.

Shlok’s relationships with his parents

I always look for good and genuine bonds in a book. And while the story of Sunshine Town isn’t exactly about relationships, I found the bonds that Shlok shared with his mother and father very genuine and tender.

I believe that most Indian middle-class youth have similar relationships with their parents today. Shlok’s mother is the typical Indian mother; always caring, always supporting. Shlok’s father, while a serious figure, is his son’s guiding light and through his sage advice is always steering him in the right direction.

I could especially relate to Shlok’s relationship with his father – it reminded me of my own bonding with my dad.

Message of motivation

The inherent and underlying message of Sunshine Town is laudable. It would make the perfect read for teens appearing for their 12th exams and for those who are already in college but are at a crossroads on what path to take ahead.

Through Shlok’s journey - from the preparation for his class 12 exams to the eventual course he takes - we get to know about the various prospects young Indian students have in their career and how they should not lose hope even if they fail in the entrance examinations. It talks about finding a true goal for oneself and looking within. It tells us that despite fate not being kind towards your hard work, despite everything coming to a standstill, despite the roadblocks, there is always some light for everyone to latch on to; a lot can be achieved through unyielding toil and finding a proper guide in life.

These messages will work well for the Indian youth if taken in the right spirit.

What I felt could have been better:

While I liked Sunshine Town, I wish it was a tad longer; the story felt rushed at certain places.

I wanted to know more about the love story between Shlok and Natasha and the friendship the boy had with Yana. The latter, especially, was an interesting, happy-go-lucky character that helped Shlok through a difficult time. I would have loved to see some more time spent on the duo’s friendship.

The essence of the city of Varanasi should have been explored. I get that the focus was on the young boy and his ambition, but using the charm of the town of Varanasi could have added a different color to the story, in my view.

Also, in the prologue, we already get to know that Shlok is a successful professional before he dives back into his past. I felt that had that not been revealed, Shlok’s journey towards success in the story would have had that much more anticipation and interest as a reader.

The cover could have been better. It did not speak to me or attract me. And nor did I find it to be connected to the story. Maybe, a new cover in the reprint, where the protagonist is actually in action, might serve better.

Conclusion:

Sunshine Town is an easy-to-read, breezy novel that should appeal to the Indian youth and their parents to an extent. It has a nice and different concept and is written in a simple language.

If you are an Indian teenager and bored of the endless barrage of campus romance novels out there, then you can try Sunshine Town. It will help you get some clarity and push in your career. It’s good to feel motivated every once in a while, after all.