The book I read after a long time. I wouldn’t say I fell head over heels in love with the book. But yes, with the characters and the ease with which the writer TGC Prasad has brought them alive. Mallika the eighteen year-old special child who is an encyclopedia of information loads you with petty facts that you knew never existed. And it is around her and her world of “no – strangers” that this book revolves. Mallika’s picture books, her Tom and Jerry DVDs, her Elvis Presley-Bruce Springsteen-Abba-The Beatles-Boney M-Eagles CDs, Lines from each of her favorite singers,her favorite lines from Jabberwocky of Alice in Wonderland, her Pa, her Ma, her Ananth, her Subbu, her Swati in the wheel chair with cerebral palsy from school and Sister Alka, her teacher, her mirror in the room, her fan and the bed is pretty much her world.
She is autistic and She’s special because she’s just special as she says in one of her own speeches in school. She’s extremely sharp and can remember anything and everything she comes across, whatever she reads, whatever people speak. She loves reading menu cards and telephone directories and she memorizes them all. She stores it all up in her mind with folders and subfolders with pictures of the instance and cross-references it with the dates just the way she organizes her computer. However, she cannot relate to the life how others do and its complexities. She talks to the trees and the trees respond back by swaying itself in the wind. She loves solving puzzles and she loves feeding her world with information.
I loved this book because Mallika wishes for what I wish, simpler rules, simpler people, a simpler world and a simpler life. How I so feel if people could mind their own businesses and know what only they must know unlike Subbu her housekeeper/caretaker, the only person’s touch that doesn’t bother Mallika, who knows more about the neighbors and their stories than about her own self. And importantly this book is also about how Mallika struggles to accept Julie (a stranger) her brother Ananth’s wife into her life and how slowly Julie becomes the second ever person whose touch doesn’t bother Mallika. She feels she has an eye inside of her mind and she closes it when she is with strangers. I love how she closes her eyes and goes into her mind and is happy inside that she can do what she wants and even sing the same song a hundred times and have no one telling ‘enough Mallika, change the song’. I like the way certain small things that people around her do in their lives confuses her. Like when she sees her Ma crying, she asks why and Ma says ‘because I’m happy’. She can’t seem to understand how people cry when they’re happy. To her sad is to cry and happy is to smile and angry is to bang fist on the table or head on the wall and not cry. I love the way she sees the whole world in many different shapes and colors and how she solves crossword puzzles through colors. And yet how simple her world is.
One of my many favorite parts from the book is this …
“I peeled a banana and started to eat it.
Swati looked at me.
‘When you eat something in front of others, you should offer them too.’
‘Ma tells me that too.’ I pulled out another banana from my bag and asked Swati, ‘Want it?’
She shook her head. So I peeled that one as well and ate it.
Swati said, ‘When somebody said they don’t want it. You should ask them a few more times.’
‘Why is that?’ I asked. ‘That is how it is.’
‘But I asked you and you said you didn’t want it so I ate it.’
‘It doesn’t work like that.’
‘What if I don’t want to offer it, what should I say?’ I asked.
‘Then don’t eat it in front of others.’
‘Okay,’ I said and then turned around and with my back to Swati I unwrapped a chocolate bar and quickly ate it.
‘You will never get it,’ She said
‘But I didn’t eat it in front of you.’
‘You didn’t, but I knew you were eating it nevertheless.’
‘Oh, you didn’t tell me that I should eat it without you knowing about it.
But if you want to eat it, why don’t you just ask me?’
‘But I do.’
She smiled again.
‘Why shouldn’t one ask?’ I asked.
‘It is rude.’
‘You mean it is not social,’ I asked.
‘Yes’, she said.
I found it very funny. When people want to eat something, they shouldn’t ask for it. When people are offered something, even though they would like to have it, they refuse. Then you are supposed to ask them a few more times and persuade them to take it. In a way, it is better not to be social. Why do people invent such social customs to make life so complicated? When I feel like eating something, I ask. When somebody offers me something, which I want, I take it. I must write my own social rulebook. It will be about all the simple things I could follow and all the tougher ones that I would leave for the world to follow. There will be two paths – the easy one and the hard one. Then people will have a choice. As of now, there doesn’t seem to be a choice. All of us are expected to follow one rulebook. My rulebook will have simple rules. – “Ask for what you want’ and ‘Say no to what you don’t want.’ Wont the world be a much simpler place when you say what you mean?”
Actually, coming to think of it, I started to question myself as to why we cry when actually we are happy. Why do we say ‘I’m fine’, when we actually aren’? Why can’t we say ‘I’m not fine’? And why don’t people leave us alone when we say so? Why cant we just say yes to a yes, instead of a no and expecting to be asked twice more? Why don’t we have the freedom to say a no without being forced to say yes and having to pretend to like it? Why do we make life more complicated than what it already is?
To all the special children around the world and the truly blessed parents who are around taking care of them, My love and prayers! Because of you, few true souls, the world wants to live longer.