Teenage is an especially tumultuous time when world views are being formed and personalities are being shaped. At this juncture in life, when one is unsure about everything, and the self is being formed, any kind of abuse can cause terrible damage to the psyche of a person having far reaching consequences. It could prove disastrous in the long run if not handled properly at the right time with sensitivity.
Before reading Ranjit Lal’s Black Limericks I knew it dealt with sexual abuse in teenagers and in the Indian setting, not many books are written about it for young adults. Ranjit Lal’s Smitten published only a year later talks about child sexual abuse and has been on my reading list for a while now. It would be interesting to see how the author tackles such a sensitive topic.
17-year-old Maya Sabherwal lives in Delhi with her parents. Lean like an athlete, running is the thing which keeps her sane. She has the unusual quality of making up limericks on the spot. She is overshadowed by her younger brother Jayant, who is studying abroad and tops his class every year. As if the constant comparisons weren’t enough, rubbing salt into the wound, her school doesn’t allow her to sit for her final exams. Her parents think she lacks drive and they don’t know how to reach out to her.
When Maya is dreading the summer ahead, her parents decide on going abroad to bring Jayant back as it is the end of the school year. They leave Maya at her Pankaj Mama’s beach resort, where they will join her on their return. Maya is delighted at the prospect of an unexpected holiday. Maya can’t believe her luck – the sun and the sea, sand and surf. With no one breathing down her neck and miles to run leaving the naysayers behind, it would be sheer bliss.
Maya and her mother set out for Shanbagh from Mumbai with another family, the Ahujas. They are NRIs who are exploring different parts of India and thinking of settle down after leading a nomadic life. Maya befriends their 15-year-old son, Yash. Imp-like with a whacky sense of humour, he disarms Maya with his words. He, in turn, is impressed by Maya’s ability to spout instant limericks. A friendship is born. Maya looks forward to having a good time – she just has to steer clear of her cousins, Pankaj Mama’s son Hari and daughter Sherry.
Inspired by a senior journalist staying at the resort, 19-year-old Hari wants to be a journalist and shoves a camera into the faces of unsuspecting people. Sherry wants to be a model. Though barely out of school she already has an assignment. Maya has always felt uncomfortable in Hari’s presence who has a tendency to get too close for comfort, but this summer something dangerous is taking shape in his mind.
What happens when due to an unexpected act of heroism, Maya is the toast of media? Instead of basking in her glory why is she growing unhappier by each passing day?
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- The roar of the sea, the waves crashing against the rocks, the sand, little boys selling shells and the fisherman out to sell their wares – the atmosphere of the place is well described, taking you back to the beach where there are happy memories.
- The interactions between Yash and Maya are funny and flirtatious; the exchanges between them and them falling for each other as only teenagers can, is one of the highlights of the book.
- I was intrigued by the cover of the book. Done by C’Sam Asung Muivah, the cover design is quite unusual.
- The book is aptly titled Black Limericks because limericks are supposed to be funny but as Maya’s world grows black, so do her limericks.
The sea breeze is briny tonightAnd the king prawns were such a delightBut there’s a letch in this placeI should have spat in his placeAnd certainly slapped good & tight!
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- The characters are well etched except for that of the abuser. He is one dimensional and almost a caricature. We know abusers come in all shapes and sizes so demonizing him didn’t work for me.
- The mock battle scenes involving toy ships were an interesting addition, but I felt Yash was too old for it and the overlong descriptions were hard to follow.
- I had problems with the way the book portrayed underage sex and some of the descriptions were off-putting and appeared unnecessary in a book meant for young adults. Parental guidance is advised.
- I adore Ranjit Lal’s YA novels but the way Black Limericks ended did not sit well with me. Loose ends were tied up quickly but there was no real resolution of the issue. The truth needed to come out because sexual abuse is real and needs to be talked about in the open. Forget talk of therapy or counselling, there wasn’t even an airing of facts as they stood.
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- Parents should be a support system and never be the cause of increasing low esteem in their children. They should dig deep to find out why their child is not doing well in a particular sphere.
- Siblings, though born in the same family, can be very different from each other, so comparisons are unfair. By comparing children, parents unwittingly do great damage to them, sending a message that they are not good enough as they are. Acceptance is key in fostering an environment where a child or a teen feels comfortable to talk to their parents if something is bothering them.
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- Maya is an unusual protagonist, not the stuff heroines are made of, but you root for her in spite of the decisions she takes, knowing where she is coming from and how far she has come to overcome her fear, and rise to the challenge.