It was during one of my ‘gnabagam varude‘ (recollection of the past) moments that I remembered my favourite childhood novel “Neela Mala“. Written by the Tamil poet Azha. Valliappa, (author of poems like ‘nila nila odi vaa’) this novel was serialised in Gokulam magazine in 1976.
After an unsuccessful search online and in bookstores, an Internet savvy friend found me the digital avatar of the book. “Neela Mala” was published at a time when the television had not entered the living rooms of people’s homes. It was a time when children relied on libraries, books and friends for company and entertainment.
The story revolves around two girls Neela and Mala. Neela lives in a village with her mother, who works as a maid in a rich man’s house. Neela is good in studies and is eager to study further, but her mother cannot afford to send her for higher studies. The rich man on the other hand offers to pay for her (Neela’s) higher studies.
Things change when the rich man’s daughter and his grand children visit the village. His grand daughter Mala becomes a good friend of Neela, and both of them start a children’s club in the village of Poongudi. They write and stage a play during the summer vacation, which gets recognition nationwide.
Meanwhile, his daughter decides to take Neela with her and provide her education in Chennai. Does Neela go with her and does she fare well in studies and in life is what the story is all about.
The setting of the story and the language may not appeal to many of the younger generation who are hooked on to English books especially Potter and the like. However, those who have a taste for the vernacular can give it a read just to know how children entertained themselves in the pre-Internet and television days.
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- Simple language teamed with a colourful rural setting depicting the life in Indian villages.
- If children set their mind to anything they wish to do, they can do wonders. This is portrayed well in the story as to how teamwork and competitive spirit help the children achieve laurels.
- Children reading this book can get an idea of how research was done when there were no smart gadgets.
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- Re-reading this novel several moons later made me feel that the ending could have been better instead of making the protagonist fall on someone during flight turbulence and damaging her eye. A thought that seems implausible.
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- All works of the author Azha. Valliappa have been nationalized.
- It feels good to remember and relive memories, of those days when we spent more time outdoors.
Old is Gold
|Title||நீலா மாலா (Neela Mala)
|Editor(s)/Author(s)/Illustrator(s)/Translator(s)||குழந்தைக் கவிஞர் அழ. வள்ளியப்பா (Azha. Valliappa)|
|Publisher||Pari Nilayam (பாரி நிலையம்)|