Book: The Other
Author: Paro Anand
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 161; Price: Rs 299
Who is the Other? Is it you? Is it me? Is it all of us?” asks the blurb on the back cover of Paro Anand’s The Other. Moot questions all of them, and particularly relevant at a time, and in a society, which often treats differences with suspicion. The cliché ‘it takes all kinds’ may be often used; but it is too little understood in-depth and too often ignored in practice. It does not help to blunt the edge of intolerance towards those who stand apart – for any reason – from the ‘I’ and the ‘Us’.
Particularly vulnerable to this treatment – which may run the gamut of ridicule, gossip, expressed dislike and sometimes emotional and even physical violence, are children and adolescents, who have yet to develop a shell, a shield against such onslaughts. If Paro does one thing par excellence it is to put herself in the shoes of the little people. She feels their trauma and tribulations; she suffers their angst and she can exult with joy at their happiness at victories and achievements.
But, Paro is also a deft writer, sketching her stories in strong – and often bold – strokes, with sensitivity, finesse and a maturity of perception and approach which makes her books interesting even for adults, who may not be her primary target audience. In fact, I would say they are very useful readers for parents, teachers and caregivers, all of whom can get a better insight into the minds of those in their charge.
The Other is a collection of short stories about children who are ‘differen’” from many angles. There is the story of a pair of dwarf sisters whose parents give birth to a perfect, beautiful girl child and their lives as the ‘Ugly Sisters’; there is the story of the unremarkable boy who has an external urine bag affixed to his stomach due to an illness; and who dreams the impossible dream of winning the beautiful, accomplished girl in school.
There is also a gender bender of a tale, in which two best friends – a boy and a girl – have to recalibrate their friendship when the boy confesses that he is a female trapped in a male body. In most of the stories, the ostensible ‘Other’ traverses the tough terrain of their existence with its attendant pain. But, somewhere in all these stories, there is also the process of coming to terms with themselves and their shortcomings; of understanding that everyone has their own travails, or simply becoming stronger human beings in the process.
There’s just one jarring note in a few of the stories in The Other, which one had not encountered in the few books one has read of hers. And that is a bit of ‘overwriting’ a tendency to be repetitive, which, one feels, could have been avoided to make the stories crisper and therefore more punchy.