CONCEPT: 4/5 STORIES: 3.5/5 CHARACTERS: 4/5 WRITING STYLE: 3.5/5 ENTERTAINMENT: 4/5
As a mother, I am often exposed to stories for children, but as a reviewer, I haven’t reviewed many books in the children’s fiction and children’s nonfiction category. Deepkshikha Mehta’s Mangtu Baba’s House and Other Stories is a short story collection that has something to offer to both kids and adults. Read on to know more about my thoughts on the book and about my experience of reading it.
The cover and the blurb immediately transport you to another world. A world where childhood reigned free, a world where life was simple and unburdened by the complications of the 21st century. The cover is attractive and does a good job of rousing the reader’s interest. The art on the cover reminds one of a trip to the mountains, portraying snow-covered peaks alongside scenic wood houses and resplendent green hills.
What is the book all about?
Mangtu Baba’s House and Other Stories is a collection of short stories which the author has created as part fiction part memories. The author came across her late father’s journals of childhood and these introduced her to the child that her father was. She then used these notes and journal entries to base her stories on.
The gaps in the memories are filled with the author’s imagination and hence the tag ‘semi-fiction’. Even then, the tales are rooted in memories of the twenty-six years that she had spent with her father. The protagonist of the book Ramesh, who is created in the image of her father, is a young boy who lives in the Himachal Pradesh of the 1950s. The book is a collection of tales of Ramesh and his childhood memories.
A trip down memory lane
The book makes one take a trip down memory lane. The reader is instantly reminded of one’s childhood where the little joys of friendships and companionships were all that mattered. Where the children would eagerly look forward to a trip to their cousin’s place, where one’s abilities as a child were measured by the number of mangoes one could pluck, where the glorious joys of a Tonga ride lay in hitting specific targets throughout the journey, where one’s idea of a rebellion was to take an unsupervised dip in the village pond.
An atmospheric read
Mangtu Baba’s House and Other Stories makes for an ambient and atmospheric read, in the sense that it transports the reader to a quaint little sleepy village of the post-independence 1950s, where nestled between verdant green valleys and vast swaths of fertile lands lie numerous stories that are waiting to engulf the reader in their cozy warm embrace.
The book manages to remind one of the evergreen classic Malgudi Days and invokes the same kind of feelings, albeit in a different geographical location.
An ode from a daughter to a father
The author accepts the universal fact of generational gaps in thinking, opinions, and experiences. While she describes her relationship with her father as an imperfect one, the mere fact that she has written an entire book dedicated to and about her father’s childhood memories speaks a lot about her love for her late father.
She explains that it was a catharsis that pushed her to write this book.
Let us all take a moment to appreciate such a thoughtful and unique gift from a daughter to a father.
A deep understanding of the world of children
Miss Mehta writes from the point of view of someone who has not just empathized but also analyzed and respected the needs, wants, and desires of children. The way she speaks about it – mixing emotions, memories, philosophy, and psychology, it’s hard to miss the love that she has for children and all things childlike.
The below lines do a great job of capturing this understanding.
“Most adults prefer children play by themselves. But if you look closely, you find that every child has a hiding place that is messy and shunned by adults, where the child feels most secure for pretend-play with toys and imaginary friends or dealing with situations that have irked them or gone unexplained.”
Works of art embellish the narrative
Whether it is the scary-looking dilapidated façade of Mangtu Baba’s house or the innocence reflected in Krishan chacha’s eyes, the time-beaten face of Ramesh’s Mata or the colonial magnificence of the circuit house, the magnetic charm of Shah Baba’s personality or the exotic marketplace of Kabul, the artworks capture and even adorn the beauty of the many people and places that the book talks about.
What could have been better?
I always try to match a book to the right kind of readers. Years of reading and reviewing have helped me immensely in this part of my job. But when I try to place Mangtu Baba’s House and Other Stories, I get confused. While the stories are meant for children, many aspects make it an adult read too – philosophical musings, social commentaries, rich vocabulary, ruminations of a daughter while attempting to understand her father. These are things that are solely meant for the eyes of mature readers.
Rich language flowing with elegance
The book makes use of a language that is overflowing with richness and elegance. Any reader would benefit not just from the stories but also from the rich vocabulary. What I liked about this usage is that the author gets it right in places where many others fail. It’s good to embellish the descriptive narrations with heavy and complex words but never a great idea to use them in conversations. The author seems to understand this difference very well.
Medium paced but rightly so
Overall, the book is a medium-paced one. It slows down at some places and picks up pace at others. While some may see it as a limitation, I see it as harmony. The laidback pace of the book is in tune with the laid-back setting and the lifestyle of the characters.
What would I love to see?
Though I don’t remember most of the stories that I have consumed in my early years, I do remember ‘Malgudi Days’ as a remarkable icon from my childhood. Somehow, reading the stories in Mangtu Baba’s House and Other Stories evoked similar emotions in me. Someday, I would love to see them adopted as a memoir or a TV series. Though the geographical and cultural setting might differ, I am sure that the feeling of innocuous joy would be just the same.
At the first glance, the book is a collection of simple village stories, but look deeper and you will find how they are much more nuanced. From the evils of the caste system to its implications for the friendships between young members of the society, from the struggles of living in a patriarchal society to the limited opportunities for a poverty-stricken childhood – the book touches upon the socio-cultural milieu of that era and place.
My absolute favorites
While all the stories are worth it, two of my absolute favorites will surely have to be the last two of the lot – An Unlikely Maverick and The Baoli.
An Unlikely Maverick because it talks of the mysteriously magnetic Shah Baba and his sojourns to the bustling markets of Kabul. It also talks of the mystery of his second marriage in a society where such a practice is scorned upon and even unheard of.
The Baoli also manages to capture my heart because it speaks of an intensely passionate love that managed to stay alive despite separation. It talks of an age where love was pure and unburdened by the complexities of modern living; when one had the patience to wait an entire week to catch a glimpse of one’s beloved. At the same time, it also talks of a veiled scandal aided by some greater powers that are much beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.
In the end
In the end, Mangtu Baba’s House and Other Stories is a collection that fills one with nostalgia about a time and era that can never be recreated. Well written and full of innocence, this book is a beautiful blend of fact and fiction.
Can be read
Pick the book if
- You like nostalgic reads.
- You enjoy reading semi-fictional books.
- You want to indulge the child in you.
- The idea of a semi-fictional collection of stories, from a childhood spent in the Himachal of the 1950s, appeals to you.
Skip the book if
- You do not like stories for children.
- You are looking for a book that is strictly children’s fiction only.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Mangtu Baba’s House and Other Stories using the link below.