After his class five examinations, all 11-year-old Ravi Venkatesan wants is an idyllic vacation. His parents have other plans (obviously). Ambitions, more like it. For starters, his mother orders Venkatesan to maintain a diary to improve his handwriting. The boy, in a stroke of brilliance, decides to bare his soul between the pages, punctuated with Rajini one-liners, nuggets of wisdom which make him ‘Logic King’. One of the first and most logical things he does is to replace all the cuss words with names of fruits, in case his mother reads his diary to check on his handwriting. Larger the fruit, deeper the indignation. Logic.
Venkatesan’s parents have enrolled him in nine classes, including a working lunch of storytelling wherein a bad storyteller tells soporific stories. Among these, the IIT class is what he looks forward to the most because he shares his desk with Shweta, a good-looking classmate and Ramesh, Venkatesan’s “real friend”. Ramesh, explains the diary, is not like the friends Venkatesan’s parents force him to befriend.
Venkatesan’s life begins to resemble an action-packed Tamil film — heroes, villains, tragedy et al — when he decides he has had enough of coaching classes and decides to play with his other “real friend” Durai. It is a secret only the diary is privy to, because Durai repulses Venkatesan mother just for coming from a lesser-privileged background.
Flat-Track Bullies starts off hilariously just because it is unerringly close to the reality of millions of modest Indian homes. Dreams are IIT-hued and relatives have their self-image tied to how well their kids can recite multiplication tables at social gatherings. No detail is lost in the caricature of the TamBrahm parents who obsess about the Spelling Bee competition. And we all know those parents who force their children to be friends with insufferable peers just because they are sons/daughters of IITians or run large businesses (‘Seriously, my mom hates every other mom’, scribbles Venkatesan).
(Warning: The pages are sprayed with what I am sure is a guffaw-inducing potion. My co-workers slide their chairs away from mine.)
However, as the book reaches the part where Venkatesan begins frequenting Durai’s neighbourhood, its breathing becomes laboured. Venkatraman’s originality, which knows how to surprise, seems missing from the pages now. Here, the book struggles to fish out a new trick from the magic hat. Blame it on the pace, or the sudden feeling that stereotypes are closing in fast (the ravishing classmate whose intelligence doesn’t quite match up to her looks, for one).
After a few chapters, it rises to sniff fresh air and sprints, as if nothing ever happened. Venkatesan finds himself in a quandary which involves older boys, stone-pelting and a police case. The pace is back, the jokes are funny again. There’s that familiar bittersweet feeling of wanting to know how a bunch of boys will get themselves out of trouble yet not wanting the book to end. I never went back to The Diary Of The Wimpy Kid after the first book (oh yes, really), but I know I’ll miss reading this secret diary when school starts and all is well in Venkatesan’s life.
Published by Duckbill Books
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