Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Trying To Grow

My review of Trying To Grow by Firdaus Kanga has been published (modified) in the Apr-Jun 2009 issue of Success & Ability.

The wish to reread an old book may be same as wishing to meet a distant cousin whom you had only met for a few days in your childhood, and, those days are the most cherished memories of your younger days. Now, you feel scared that he may have changed, may have lived a life totally different from yours, and, may have grown up to be temperamentally exactly opposite of you. Then how will you greet him? Hug, shake hands or just say Hi?

I felt the same kind of trepidation when I took up Firdaus Kanga’s semi-autobiographical novel Trying to Grow (recently relaunched by Penguin in paperback). I had read the (borrowed) hardbound version some twelve-thirteen years ago. Those days I was still in the Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, Jeffery Archer, and Arthur Hailey phase, and, Indian English writing was still in nascent stage (I hadn’t read any except a few books by R. K. Narayanan). So, though I was charmed by Kanga’s writing I wasn’t capable of enjoying it in its full lustre (there was a burden that I was reading something very important that I may not be able to appreciate fully).

Trying to Grow tells the coming-of-age (clich├ęd Bollywood phrase, but trust me it has lot more going for it) story of a boy born with Osteogenesis imperfecta (Brittle Bone Disease) who would break every bone if exerted slightest pressure till the age of five.

This book can be described as showing what roller coaster ride a disabled person’s life in India can be through eyes of Daryus Kotwal nicknamed Brit (as in Britt Ekland and not punning his medical condition as justified by his ten years old sister Dolly when he was born).

Brit’s story may feel funny and frivolous on the surface from the beginning when Brit as an eight year old is taken to a Miracle Man Wagh (tiger) Baba by his father Sam. The Baba does not wear any clothes and as expected turns out to be a fraud. Even the dialogues amplify such situations, especially between Brit and his sister Dolly are laced with innuendos and baser connotations that we fear that their relationship may be bordering on incest.

It is only when we put our analytical caps on that we realise that this just a ploy by the author to lull the reader into a comfort zone (as a scheming boxer would wait patiently for his opponent to let his guard down to give him the knockout punch) before letting him know the harshness of the world occupied by the disabled.

More than the pathos of the protagonist (we doubt for that matter if there are any going by his jovial outlook) who would not grow more than four foot, the story focuses what the people surrounding him go through. His parents are always doubtful of what to dream or aspire for their ill-fated offspring. They are always in conflict amongst themselves, if one of them feels gung-ho about his prospects the other paints a bleak picture. And, his sibling Dolly is the epitome of unconditional love, she is ready to sacrifice her joy to give happiness to her lame brother.

In short, anyone who has grown up in India in the last few decades with severe disability and normal intelligence will have at least a few anecdotes to point and say this has happened in my life. Perhaps except the sexual encounters that our hero Brit was lucky to have (maybe I’m jealous).

Here are couple of snippets that stayed with me after I finished the book for a second time:

When Brit gets a Surprise Special Prize from the School on their Annual Day where he went write exams after studying sitting at home and coming fifth in the class:

Around me the applause burst and swelled like some orchestral climax while I grew smaller and smaller in my seat wishing I wasn’t there, wishing Father Ferra hadn’t talked about me, wishing I hadn’t got this prize for having legs that didn’t work.

And, here is the recklessness of forgetting ones disability and jumping into insurmountable situation:

Funny, isn’t it? When someone is the way I am, you’d think he’d never forget it. But I do. For hours, days. Till I pass a mirror or am ditched at the library.

And, coming back to meeting a long lost cousin: I was as charmed by Brit Kotwal as I was thirteen years ago and felt like giving him a brotherly hug.


Anonymous said...

The review is good but not as striking as the article 'On Smoking'.I liked 'On Smoking' more for its completness, blending it with your experience and thoughts, the message it conveyed and for the flow and easiness of reading for me, compared to this review.

Hope you will put up with the frank comment of a common reader.

Shefali Arvind said...

I want to read this book...

Amrita said...

Glorious review Paresh.
I have read Such a LOng Journey and enjoyed it.

Now I am eager to read this one.The problem is there are no libraries around and these books are so expensive, I can 't afford to buy them.

You are a very discerning reader. Right now I have launched in a classic...Sketchbook by Washington Irving. I am enjoying it.

Ash said...

Brilliant writing! I so enjoyed reading it.

You are a gifted writer, Paresh.

harimohan said...

The review is intresting as it comes from the inside

Shalini George said...

I read 'Trying to Grow' several years back. I think I should read it again. Looks like i have missed out on most of the meat. can't remember even the thread of the story..other than the very obvious. Thanks Paresh..for reminding...;-)

Vaidya_Vaakya said...

Growing indeed, in writing and popularity. Have been following for quite some time. 'On smoking' was very nice. A significant growth hidden in that too.