KOCHI: Even just a couple of years back, a handicapped boy and a feisty girl would hardly be considered apt protagonists for a children’s book. But with Kittu who uses crutches and Madheshwari aka Mad, a skateboarder, author Harshikaa Udasi has chosen the most on-trend lead characters for today’s world.
Little wonder ‘Kittu’s Very Mad Day’ has already gone into reprint a couple of months after it was first published.
The story was a prize-winning entry in a contest aimed at changing perceptions and frustrating stereotypes through subtle writing. And Harshika has done a super job of telling a delightful story in the process.A main part of the book is set in a rural skate park inspired by Janwaar Castle which was established byGerman-national Ulrike Reinhard located on the Panna National Tiger Reserve.
In a ‘Home Alone’-sort of way, Kittu is left behind by his chaotic family with whom he was on tour. The 10-year-old thinks it’s not a bad thing to spend a couple of days away from his parents, loud and maddening uncles, aunts, and cousins. The boy finds very unexpected, but welcome adventure after bumping into an ice-cream seller who takes him home.
Here, Kittu meets the ice-cream seller’s daughter Mad who wins his respect with her skill on the skateboard and her ability to whistle. Will Kittu who doesn’t have a leg ever be able to go on the skateboard himself? The story sweetly tells of the natural physical, emotional and mental resilience of kids, and also how they don’t hold on to typecast images.
But this is not a trite piece of story-telling. Kittu is “very independent – a little too independent”, but he definitely has his moments of self-doubt and self-pity. The banter between the children is cute, the adults are comical and wise in turns, and the humour is a bit daring at times: Kittu’s “half-leg is more convenient” for when he has to hitch a ride on the ice cream man’s cycle. The one problem area is the use of Hinglish. Who is Itee Fui, one of Kittu’s favourite adults, meant to be?
Nanny, aunt, grandmother? There are no English clues to their relationship and to a non-Hindi speaker Itee Fui might as well be the name of say, a Korean company.Illustrator Lavanya Naidu has done an excellent job of imagining the characters. Her animation lays the groundwork for how the story plays out. Harshikaa was in talks about the possibility of making a movie of the book. A definite, loud whistle to second the idea.