Mayil Ganeshan, the twelve-year-old heroine of Mayil Will Not Be Quiet, which won the Bal Sahitya Puraskar this year, is a diarist who wants to be a fiction writer. Diarists live in the hope, of course, that their private, unmediated, and unspeakably intimate entries will be read by someone who has no business reading them. Mayil too records her daily experiences for the benefit of a future reader. As she herself confesses: “I need to find a lock for this diary. I don’t want anyone else to know what’s in here. I really don’t.”
So what’s in this diary that she really wants us to read? Mayil, of course. What we learn is what it’s like to be Mayil Ganeshan. The entries reveal a young girl whose world is a cross between Malgudi Days and the Age of YouTube. Her inner world is a cosy South Indian sanctuary comprised of a loving and competent mother (Amma), an endearingly hapless father (Appa), an indulgent grandfather (Thatha), and an irritating younger brother (Thamarai). Her outer world has things like exams, frenemies, unemployment, sexism, menstrual periods, and eunuchs, who she learns are to be called transgenders.
On the whole, Mayil is a decent sort. Her folks fondly call her “peacock”, but she doesn’t really behave like one. She’s like the classmate who may bemoan she’s a scatterbrain, but can always be relied on to have an extra pencil in her compass box. On the other hand, there are promising signs that Mayil is going to be an interesting adult. She asks questions non-stop. She has cool story ideas. She isn’t above a fist fight. She aches to kiss a boy – not any boy, but one specific boy, a fat little chap by the name of Vidyashankar Parvati. There’s a wonderful sequence of entries where Mayil honestly contemplates her developing body.
But I also got the impression of a kid far too well adjusted for her world. Momentous things are happening to young Mayil, but her reasoning about these events rarely shatters the middle-class complacency cocooning her existence. For example, she tells us that “Thatha doesn’t like Christians because he thinks they are too pious for their own good”, and that he’d once insulted a close family friend with an anti-Muslim comment. When she confronts her grandfather, his repentant admission that he’d been mistaken unmoors her. Not because of what such prejudice might mean for Christians and Muslims when scaled to millions of cosy households just like hers, but because the natural order has been disrupted. Elders are supposed to be morally wiser. As she says: “Suddenly I felt like I was 80 and he was 3 and I didn’t like it.” Fortunately, Mayil is able to insulate herself from any further dissonance. She jumps on her Thatha. The jump is a step back in time, back to innocence and childhood, and “then it was all okay.”
If Mayil’s youthful promise seems to be more an outcome of youth than promise, it’s because the authors don’t give Mayil a maturity beyond her years or a conscience out-of-joint with her milieu. This decision may be a wise one. There are many kinds of noise and Mayil’s good-girl brand of noisiness, though as unthreatening as filter coffee, may be more effective at changing the status quo than the Hunger Games variety. I can’t wait to see Thatha’s face when Mayil announces she’s marrying a Muslim.
The novel is rated for kids ten plus and so it is. The authors get the South Indian English register just right. Elderly characters do not go around ejaculating “aiyyo” and the Tamil words, though sparse in number, are honest first-class citizens in the text. Best of all, this heartwarming little book should keep that noisy loveable kid in your life quiet for a few hours.
By Anil Menon
MAYIL WILL NOT BE QUIET
Authors: Sowmya Rajendran and Niveditha Subramaniam
Illustrator: Niveditha Subramaniam
Tulika Publishers, 2011
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction