Vlog material?

Children and other carriers of cuteness and innocence are hardly ever unwelcome. They also constitute excellent opportunities to teach the adults a few things about how to think, how to live, and how to behave.

Harimohan Paruvu takes this premise and turns to her daughter for lessons in what the ancient Greeks called ‘eudemonia’ in his book This Way is Easier, Dad: How My Daughter Saved Me from Growing Up. The book has emerged out of his blogs and notes written over a period of years.

The material for these pieces comes from his documentation of how his daughter Anjali grows (emotionally and intellectually) from a toddler to a nine-year-old kid. These 100 episodes, excluding the interviews, from the Paruvu family and little Anjali’s school and friends’ circle demonstrate children’s “uncluttered approach” to life and the world.

Every episode in the book unfolds in three sections. First, there are stories about Anjali that come from all possible situations — her school friends, playmates, festivals, games/sports — or anything that lends itself to reflection on hardships and joys of life. There are interesting bits about writing letters to oneself, about talking to one’s toys and essentially to oneself about everybody being happy, about doing difficult things before the easier ones, or about small exercises in entrepreneurship.

The narration of each anecdote is followed by a grown-up’s typical way of dealing with a similar situation. This section in italics summarises an inappropriate way of looking at the occasion. Amusingly, it is written in first person, perhaps to indicate that the father/writer here seems to be voicing a general attitude. The third part is titled A Return Gift for You, written in second person — a direct lesson for the reader. For instance, if the summary reads: “Can I accept what I am feeling instead of fighting it?”, the ‘return gift’ conclusion reads: “You could enjoy peace and equanimity if you accept the moment as it is and what it brings”. This is where the book gets a little repetitive because this goes on for all the 100 anecdotes, especially since a lot of lessons or insights overlap.

This overload is what makes the book a case of misunderstood genre. It might have worked very well as a blog, but as a binge-read, for an eager book reader, it does not. The repetition within the section and the repetition of a similar point across several sections are not the only hindrances in a smooth read. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the contents of the book would have worked in an excellent way as a series of vlogs.

A few inconsistencies in the book show how the incident being narrated loses out on its spontaneity because the writing involved here is unable to capture the situation in its entirety. For instance, the last time Paruvu interviews Anjali, she is eager to be a part of it — in fact, she demands to be interviewed — but by the time the interview ends, she says that she does not like interviews that much.

In the same piece, she says that she finds people to be nice but she gives more details about the situations when they are not nice: when they hit children, or when they don’t apologise for their behaviour. Recording this through the video format could help in capturing the dissonance in what Anjali is saying in a much more resonant manner. Capturing it in writing alone misses out on a lot of other nuances because of the lack of elements like tone and expressions.

Reading each section in a linear fashion also loses out on the father-daughter interaction. For example, one is surprised at how many times Paruvu is surprised at his own daughter’s (insightful, intelligent) behaviour! Surely, it is his own excellent parenting values that are at work each time Anjali approaches something with a sensitivity and intensity that is demonstrated. Why does it come as a surprise to the author, then? Even if her hearty attitude towards life comes from other family members, Paruvu, one can be sure, is witness to it.

It is assuring to read of situations in which children like Anjali have an enlightening effect on their parents by endlessly teaching something or the other to them. And it is in the process of reading again, that its problems emerge. As Paruvu mentions in his Preface, he has revised a lot of his dialogues with his daughter for the sake of readability. The outcome of this is that the reader misses out on much of her innocence. A video could make the most of the situation in order to present it as fun — something that the book seems to be striving to do. Anjali’s way of doing things would take care of everything else.

This way is easier, Dad
Harimohan Paruvu
Jaico
2017, pp 280, Rs 299


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