The latest book about Mayil Ganesan darts at you with upper cuts and feints that land strong but leave you warmed for having met her. Surer than ever of being Mayil as the title suggests, Mayil writes her diary in prose, in verse, in art, in every way that leaves you in no doubt about where she stands. At fifteen going on sixteen, there is just so much that goes on in her life at home, at school, in her neighbourhood that you follow her somewhat breathless but totally drawn to what she will say next.
It all begins with a break up with the mysterious R where Mayil grapples with wildly conflicting emotions … ‘The Overground Mehyl grows quills to adjust to daylight. These are pointy and sharp enough to finely slice some green chillies and toss them in R’s face.’…to ‘I wish I could put people inside my laptop. Then it would hang and I could forget about them forever.’ Getting over it with a little help from friends, her fragile composure is shattered when Ma and Pa decide to launch a joint attack about her untidy room. Familiar? But spot on. Mayil has her revenge in a poem that ends …
Eat your diet mixture
Save me a Lecture
I’ll learn Responsibility
If you don’t gang up on me.
Mayil’s stream of consciousness is commodious and passionate. Ma, Pa, Thatha, the dancing sibling, Bones the cat, ‘hot’ neighbours all flit in and out as Mayil desires, because it is Mayil’s life and Mayil’s diary that you have the privilege of reading. Not for a moment do you miss other viewpoints because Mayil‘s hyperbolic, often hilarious, record of how she feels hits bullseye every time. Just as important are Mayil’s friends. There are many of them and each of them occupies an important corner regardless of how much space they get. The nicknames and short forms can be a bit confusing but they make up a world that lives and breathes through Mayil’s eyes.
Mayil’s dear friend Ki gets into trouble with a creepy ex-boyfriend Badri who blackmails her with revenge porn and she is too scared to seek help and forbids Mayil from doing so too. Mayil concurs before she caves (with a little help from err…R!) and finally the adults manoeuvre to set things right. Mayil’s relief is not unmixed with some serious self-examination on when she has also been complicit in situations where someone was being bullied. You stand in her shoes as you read this and it is like a slow release tablet in your system diffusing the compelling idea of learning to take responsibility.
Mayil writes her way to clarity throughout the book. She tries everything to get to the heart of the matter and even her most convoluted outpourings begin to make perfect sense. Her fearless drive to express herself is endearing (and dare I say charming! I’ll risk it). Her relationship with Tony and their shared interest in writing is presented with the lightest feather touch. The last verse of his performance poem Do- It- Yourself reads…
If I’m in a good mood,
I’ll do my how-to-show-you’re-cool-
around-people-with disability impression
or maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll just
shake my own hand for not making
this is a let-me-explain poem
for those who were sorry for me
even before they met me,
for those who can’t be comfortable
unless they feel bad for me,
for those who don’t really see me.
Mayil sees him and so do we.
Mayil is growing up in a complicated time and proof of that is strewn across her diary. Whether it is her outrage at Vaishnavi’s Brahminism getting corrupted by eating an egg or Thatha’s ‘Hindu’ sympathies bubbling forth unexpectedly, all his sense of humour notwithstanding, nothing escapes Mayil’s piercing gaze. For the most part, her impatience with cant and her sensitivity ring true.
However, there are occasions when Mayil seems to carry more than she can hold. Every possible issue ranging from sexual harassment at the workplace, solo holidays for women to the disillusionment and self-discovery of her young neighbour with the ‘hot’ left-leaning husband has a walk-on part. This portmanteau strains credulity at times because some of these leads don’t go anywhere much. This gives a slightly uneven feel because the full-bodied pieces are so well etched.
But this is a small quibble in a book that is going to launch a thousand diaries or convert many a reluctant diary writer into a regular. Niveditha and Sowmya have created an absolute cracker of a character and its bursts of brilliance stay with you long after you have turned the last page. More power to them.
Manisha Chaudhry who headed Pratham Books, currently runs her own not-for- profit publishing house called Manan Books in the education sector since 2018.