Growing up pains

The Quiet Riot of Robin Shute P by Prabhjot Kaur is a coming of age tale of a boy nicknamed ‘Boy.’ A comically-illustrated cover and the back of the book blurb both promise a light and humorous read.

The novel begins in London where Robin is a doctor. In the first few scenes, we have Robin Shute’s wife Priya kicking and screaming at him for not having packed and moved from his bachelor pad to a decent family house. Now you start wondering where the promised cute boy ‘Boy’ is. Fret not, within a span of a few hours, Priya turns into a loving wife intent on listening to Robin’s childhood stories. As you can guess by now, the story is written in flashback. Robin narrates a few incidents to his wife before they both drift off to sleep.

The rest of the novel unfolds in Robin’s dream — starting with his pre-birth (his parents’ controversial courtship, wedding, etc) and then moves onto his childhood and adolescence. Though a bit of a choppy start, the first chapter does two things — introduces you to the author’s deadpan humour and as well to Robin Shute, a man who wants to get through life without confrontations.

Robin, aka Boy, has come to terms with the fact that his family is not exactly like all others’. One can imagine his confused psyche with a father who believes that a religion is the bane of society and a school that propounds Catholicism. You cannot help but sympathise with the plight of Robin when his teacher mocks at him, “If you do not have a religion, then who are you? Son of Satan?”

As in all coming of age tales, Boy here too manages to touch your heart with his innocence — he yearns for a baby brother and asks his pot-bellied teacher if he can give him the baby he is having. The teacher hatches a plan to use Boy’s innocent request to his advantage and makes him his de facto alarm clock — tells Boy to check for the baby’s arrival every day at 6 am. You itch to tell Boy the truth! Then he makes you smile with childish ignorance and adolescent conniving. Two instances come to mind — when he tells his teacher that a friend was touching his ‘private property’, and another when he makes his sister’s admirer get him a supply of Tintins and Asterixs.

All in all, it is a well-told story, but suffers from a few major drawbacks — the prose is extremely verbose with unnecessarily lengthy descriptions of people, places, and all else. The humour in the narrative gets buried in long texts. “It was an unusually warm summer day. But Boy and his friends seemed to have an inherent insulation from the heat of the Sun, the cold, and especially from the rain. They waded into the small stream near Frankie’s house. The water came to just below their knees, but the mud near its bank and at the bottom of the stream was treacherous. On either side tall rushes and small trees dipped into the sluggish waters. At one time, this stream had carried small boats, but it now served only small boys...” You get the point.

The author is often eager to fit a bit more of exotic India into the book. For example, a sardarji enters from nowhere into a chapter and exits just as hurriedly, only so that Achha, Boy’s father, can explain to him (and the reader) yet another religion of our land.

You squirm at the verbose accounts of familiar scenes — four-person families piling on scooters, wedding processions with bandsmen, school union days with kids gyrating to Bollywood numbers — do they find a place in the book for the benefit of western readers?
Coming of age tales are special because they are unique to each person — they describe a journey from child to adult replete with insecurities, confusions, and of course, fun in the growing up years.

A humorous coming of age tale instantly brings to mind Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole, R K Narayan’s Swami, and more recently, Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid. With readers exposed to the best of books, it is a tough job to write in this genre, especially for debutante writers. It is a good attempt by Prabhjot Kaur, but may not pass muster with a seasoned reader.

The Quiet Riot of Robin Shute P
Prabhjot Kaur
Rupa
2014, pp 288
295


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