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Updated: July 6, 2013 16:39 IST

Of despair and hope

Asha Chowdary
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Seven Days to Somewhere; C.K. Meena, Dronequill, Rs.275.
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Seven Days to Somewhere; C.K. Meena, Dronequill, Rs.275.

An ingenious tale brings together a talking parrot and a suicidal boy.

A young boy, Nischit, takes out a felt pen to mark Tuesday, April 9, on the calendar. Seven more days to go for the Endit file in his computer to see its last entry. Seven days more to go before he bids goodbye to life.

It is on this tragic note that C.K. Meena’s book, Seven Days to Somewhere, begins but before you can despair about the morbid theme, the author lifts you from the mundane to the extraordinary by introducing her second principal protagonist, Po, the talking parakeet.

The story begins with a scene that is perhaps played out in many middle-class homes today. Life is definitely not a breeze for Nischit of Bluegate High, a school that sets impossibly high standards for its pupils. After the eighth standard exam, the 200 students who wrote the exam are pruned to 60. The rest can find another school or shift to Red Gate, to join the ranks of students who will write the SSLC exam. Nischit’s parents, however, will not tolerate mediocrity or laziness. Since they are super-achievers themselves, they want Nischit to get into Harvard some day and, to achieve this goal, they will stop at nothing. Whether it is appointing innumerable tutors for him or planning his days to the last hour, they make sure that Nischit lacks nothing in the pursuit of their dreams for him. But something snaps in Nischit’s head one day when he realises that he cannot live up to his parents’ lofty expectations and aspirations. So, when his parents think he is hard at work on his computer, he is actually busy with his last project on earth, Endit, where he does exhaustive research on how to commit suicide.

Enter Po, the beautiful talking parakeet. This exotic creature bursts into Nischit’s life with a flash of colour and light and the story moves to a surreal plane when Nischit begins to hold long dialogues with the parakeet. He soon finds out that this clairvoyant bird has already read his mind and knows that he is on a suicide mission.

Strangely enough, the arrival of a talking parrot that can read minds does not transform the story into a modern fairy tale. Po is the voice of the times and, through his insights into human behaviour, we get a picture of life and the way it can unravel for some people and transcend to great heights for others. The author’s ingenuity comes to the fore here, and the reader begins to engage with Po on many levels, as he adds several layers to the story that began with just one sad tale. The parrot, in fact, is so funny at times that there are many laugh-out-loud moments and the light and tender way this has been done is so unique that you can only marvel at the power of the human imagination.

For those who live in or love Bangalore, the novel captures several vignettes of the city — from the hurly burly of Russel Market, the sleek efficiency of the CBD, the tea stalls on Ring Road to the quiet by-lanes and alleys. Though the story loses tempo towards the end, you are still hooked because you want to know what happens to young Nischit. At the end, you cannot help but wonder how many books, movies and plays have to be written about the country’s competitive education system and the perils of parental pressure before change sweeps in.

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