Fragrance of a lost childhood

Fragrance of a lost childhood

The diary is relabelled “My Cricket Diary, Vol One”, and has photos of cricket players stuck into it with gum. The first page, of course, has Sachin Tendulkar on it. Only the last four pages are left empty, and Romi has decided that the last photo should be of Sachin again.

Scenes such as these are the ones that stay in the mind after completing the book, which follows the life and times of Romi through two years of his schooling, set in the early 90s.

Romi lives in a small town that’s a cross between R K Narayan’s Malgudi and Koi Mil Gaya’s Kasauni. His friends, too, are cricket fans, and they have their own club called MMCC - Mauj Masti Cricket Club. Their dream is to win the annual inter-school cricket trophy for their school.

But cricket is just one part of Romi’s life. We follow him through scrapes with shopkeepers, the ever-increasing pressure to study hard, fun with his friends
and parents, discussions about the relative merits of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar… During the course of the book, Romi goes from being a carefree child to being a teenager at least partly aware of the world and his role in it.

Raheja steers clear of the obvious trap in writing such a book. Romi never comes across as a hero who figures out mysteries that have stumped adults, and there are no easy victories over life’s problems. This only makes the characters more believable, and Raheja has a good economy in narration — he removes lengthy buildups and long-drawn-out scenes, instead starting from where the action really begins, and filling in any background details as the scene goes on, keeping the story going at a smooth pace.

There are also story threads that are hinted at, never fleshed out — giving us some sense of where Romi’s life is likely to go after the book is over.

Where the book fails is in its language. The narration feels like a mishmash of R K Narayan’s fluid, heartfelt style, and the affected style of older British literature (“Their hearts beat in obedience to their team’s fortunes; their blood soars and falls with them; loss for them is death.

Take note, you all, who think nothing of such contests…”). Every now and then, the writer takes on a patronising note and talks directly to the reader: “Pause for a moment to look at the four [friends], for it tells of the comfort that comes from, and only from, years of true friendship.” All this put together keeps pushing the reader out of the story, never really letting her settle in.

Considering that the book is set in the early 90s, it doesn’t do a great job of capturing the ‘feel’ of the time — popular culture markers are chosen for their nostalgia value today rather than their popularity at the time.

Since the book is in English, it’s near-impossible to capture the current vocabulary, and the social topics and conversation are again too generic to be placed.

Run Romi Run is a good attempt to take on a difficult subject, the childhood years of someone who’s in his early 30s today. But it’s not quite the Swami and Friends of this generation — we’ll have to wait for that some more.

Run romi run
Tushar Raheja
Penguin, 2010,
pp 176, Rs 250

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