Balaji Venkataramanan’s “Flat-Track Bullies” is yet another diary in the growing list of diary books that are coming out. Having read diaries of girls, including Anne Frank, Mayil 1, Mayil 2, the Princess diaries and even the journal blog of Nina, it was a welcome change to read the diary of a boy. This is the vacation diary of a 11-year old boy, Ravi Venkatesan, living in Chennai.
Ravi, in his own words, does two types of things. One,those that make him happy and two, those that make his mom happy.
Such an obedient Ravi sets goals for his summer vacation, which include items that his mother will definitely not approve of. As he documents his goals and how he goes about executing them in his vacation diary, with a count-down on the number of days he has to reach his destination, we are taken through an interesting string of events involving his classmates and his newly made friends whose den is a cemetery.
What starts out as another diary with lots of explanations, surprisingly gathers momentum and builds into a suspense-filled climax and the final denouement is made by the logic king, Ravi.
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- Whatay diary! What goals! I was feeling exhilarated after reading the book, as though it was I who broke all those rules and experienced all those no-nos in secrecy.
- The author has painted a precise verbal picture of the land of idli-sambar and Rajnikanth. His descriptions of the house and neighbourhood of Durai, the son of their erstwhile household help, brought out images that I could very well connect to.
- Credit to the author for not getting into the rights and wrongs of the class differences. For a 11-year old, it does not matter. What matters is fun! A tight-rope walk which Balaji has executed neatly.
- The design of the book deserves special mention – each page has margins, with quotes at the bottom like it is in a diary. The effort on the design reflects in the feel and appearance.
- The witty events, dialogues, observations and analyses fit very well into the storyline. For instance, Ravi’s observations about how the PT sir handles pretty girls not wearing canvas shoes for PT class and a guy forgetting to wear canvas shoes. Another argument of the logic king I liked is the way he “turns obstacles into opporunities”.
- The characterization of all the dramatis personae, starting from Ravi, his mom, his dad, Ramesh, Shweta, Durai, Sures, Anto, Gopi and Rascal is perfect. The only person who seemed to be slightly out-of-character is grandpop, but let us allow a certain amount of leeway.
- The number of fruits that appear in the book as substitutes for cuss-words that Ravi dare not put into his diary for fear of his mother’s surprise checks. Honestly, this is thinking through all possibilities at its best.
- The author brings our attention to serious topics by making observations about them in passing. For example he observes,
“Seriously, all contests and competitions should be brought under the Child Exploitation Act.”
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- The vividness of the portrayal makes one wonder if the book has an autobiographical element — classes in water-tight compartments during vacation, pressure to perform and playing truant.
- I wonder of Pandiraj of Pasanga fame would be interested in making a movie of it. All elements befitting another Pasanga are in the story.
The bully rocks!
A copy of this book was given me by the publishers, Duckbill in return for an honest review. Thanks Duckbill.