23 February 2009

The Summer Of Cool

Colony capers

Author: Suchitra Krishnamoorthy
Pages: 205
Publishers: Puffin
Published in : 2009
Genre: Teen fiction

After proving herself as a decent actress (Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, My Wife's Murder) a pop singer, and even a painter, Suchitra Krishnamoorthi gives us a glimpse of her talent as a writer with her just released debut book, The Summer Of Cool. And she does well!

It's a breezy 200 odd pager about teenagers and their eventful summer in the upper middle class neighbourhood of Swapnalok Society. The book wastes no time in introducing the denizins of this nestled housing complex, each character and home delineated with their own peculiar traits and quirks. So there are the exiting Malhotras, also teased by the kids as 'Underwear aunty and uncle' because they have a habit of hanging their undergarments in full view in their balcony. Then there's the hyper Sita Maami - whose cola water recipe is a hit at all the colony get-togethers. The excitement grows a little more with the entry of a charming, bachlor in their midst Varun Vadola.

The place has its share of one-upmanship, jibes and politics and their earnest Secretary, Mrs Subramanium always seems to have her hands full with demands of getting leaking bathroom repaired, not allowing dogs in the lift...and so on.

Suchitra is very successful in creating this setting - and all those who have lived in co-operative societies at any point of time will appreciate the author's skill at evoking many a familiar image. Most importantly, Suchitra knows how to keep the proceedings interesting, introducing new characters and plot points.

Swapnalok Society has many families who would make for an entertaining story by themselves but the author chooses the troubled Varma family, with its two lovely daughters - Chitangana, the doe-eyed, and feisty eight-year-old and her more compliant elder sis, Smita. Both are extremely smart and imaginative kids, except that their lives haven't been the same ever since their father, Siddharth left them. Their mother has been a wreck, shutting herself from the world and venting her anger at her daughters. Chitrangana finds herself constantly at the firing end, given her curiosity about her dad’s disappearance from their life. Her agile, innocent mind is baffled at how her mom “treats their father as a ghost who doesn’t exist”

Things become more interesting with the entry of their Amamma (mother’s mom), with a morbid fear of strangers. The slinging matches get worse, until Chitrangana decides to find her father and set their crumbling house in order. Feeling suppressed at home, she starts to talk to the cloth doll, named Seema that her sister gifted her on her birthday. And in Chitrangana’s inventive head, she hears the doll replying to all her queries. Heeding her doll’s advice (which is really her heart dictating), she goes on a brief search for her father. The episode is painful but it proves necessary for many of the central characters and their lives.

Suchitra does a nice desi Enid Blyton here, sketching the lives of unban Indian kids quite accurately (this could be largely aided by the fact that she is mother to a teenage daughter in real life)

However, for a setting that is so nuanced and characters so well-developed, the central plot and resolution are quite basic and even simplistic. From a very rooted and realistic setting, Suchitra broadens the scope of her story, with Chitrangana going in search of her father. This is where the author loses some of the grip over the story and is forced to introduce elements like coincidences and so on.

There is fair share of suspense that the author manages to create, but the ending is probably not befitting a story that starts off so well.

All the same, the book won't insult your intellegence either. Don't look for a very complex plot, and The Summer Of Cool works out to be a crisp, page-turner that keeps you quite hooked.

Interview The Write Move

Suchitra Krishnamoorthy gives us an insight into her new book, The Summer Of Cool, telling us, among other things, why she keeps her writing so racy. Also, she’s all set to turn her latest book into a series.

1) It looks like the theme for the book was drawn from your own childhood experiences...

Yup. I grew up in a very interactive multicultural co-operative housing society in Mumbai and the ambience of the Swapnalok Society Series is drawn from there. Even many of the characters...

2. Was The Summer of Cool always supposed to be your first book or were you looking at some other subjects too?

I toyed with a couple of ideas and then went with this one. It had been playing in my head for a while and I needed to do something about it. Once I had the first draft I sent it to a friend of a friend, who happened to be Commissioning editor at Penguin. She loved it and that’s how the whole thing fell into place.

3. You have a teenage daughter, Kaveri. Are some of the episodes in the book drawn from what you see of her and her peers?
My daughter has just turned eight. She is way too young but a lot of the language I have used is from observing her and her friends and also my nieces.

4. Did you use anyone as your sounding-board while writing the book?
Yes, Mahesh Dattani. He is a kind of creative mentor to me and gave me able guidance.

5. One of your central characters, that of Chitrangana and Smita's mother, is an extremely troubled yet poignant character. Was there any particular reason for portraying her as a wreck?

Nobody is bad. There are circumstances that cause people to behave in a particular way. It’s what I wanted to explore.

6. I read somewhere that you finished writing the book in six weeks flat?

The first draft was written in six weeks yes. I had the basic plot ready and the rest emerged as I wrote. Even the end was something that emerged as I was writing.

7. Was there any point in the book where you couldn't decide which way your story should move or how a particular character needs to be approached. For example, the character of Sandy Khan is left quite ambiguous? Was that deliberate?

Sandy Khan is ambiguous because he is seen in this story from the point of view of Chitrangana. He is a hazy figure in her life and she lives in his shadow in spite of his absence. Wait till you read the next book in the series-things will become clearer.

8. You've kept the book extremely racy, introducing fresh characters and situations all the while. Is that how you wanted your book to be and are you conscious of not rambling when you are writing?
I am a very restless person, and it rare for something to hold my attention unless its riveting and I am emotionally hooked. My writing therefore emerges out of a need to keep myself engaged as well.

9.What are the books you enjoy reading and is there any book that has impressed you lately?
I read a lot. Am currently reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

10. What more can we expect from you as a writer in the time to come?
The Summer Of Cool will be a series. I guess you can expect a substantial body of work from me as a writer. But don’t ask me what I’ll write about next because I really don’t know. I will wait for inspiration to strike and Ganesha to guide my pen.

-Sandhya Iyer