Manan reviewed by The Sunday Guardian




"Mohit Parikh's debut novel is an eloquent, sensitive and restrained look at the onset of puberty. Its earnest protagonist stays with you long after the last page is turned, says Aditya Mani Jha."


Check out the review at the newspaper website:
http://www.sunday-guardian.com/bookbeat/manan


Pasted below in full too (without permission :|)




ADITYA MANI JHA  23rd Aug 2014

An Urmila Shastry illustration from Manan
hen you think about it, literary trends aren't that difficult to predict. The year is 2014. Young writers (say, from ages 25-35) today, including the ones beginning to find their feet, are likely to be teenagers (or pre-teens) at a crucial phase in India's history: 1991-2000. We're all fairly familiar with globalisation's effects on middle-class India, thanks to books like Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. The rise and rise of coalition politics has also been written about in some detail. As someone who was a young boy in the '90s, I can tell you that my generation was quite aware of the momentous changes that we saw all around us, the changes that we couldn't wait to immerse ourselves in. But the tricky part was taking our parents along with us, convincing them that the new world held only possibilities, that it would leave behind only those too weak or too stubborn to see them.
And so, in recent years, we've seen quite a few nostalgia-tinged first books about the '90s, the most gloriously tacky decade since Independence. Tharun James Jimani's debut novelCough Syrup Surrealism spoke about the '90s like one would describe a torrid, hard-to-forget affair. (Also, the protagonist's relationship with his parents was a bit of a lost cause.) But its protagonists were up to their eyeballs in psychedelic drugs, and hence had the license to hint at subliminal truths, cloaked in automatic, surrealist speech. While reading Jimani's novel, I felt myself wishing, more than once, for a glimpse of his characters as children. Oddball 20-somethings are likely to have been marvellously sensitive kids, in my (limited) experience. 
Mohit Parikh's superb debut novel Manan fills this space with aplomb. Through its titular 10th-grader's stream of consciousness (a nod towards the protagonist's name, which means "thinking" in Hindi), Parikh lays bare the insecurities of a boy who has just hit puberty. ("That day while, when bathing he has noticed a hair on his balls, and all his life's problems are in the past.") 
However, Manan is still short for his age, and over the telephone his voice is often mistaken for a woman's, much to his chagrin. When he asks his friends if they knew when his voice would crack, they are silent. There is a sense of awed complicity in his peers' silence, and this, I feel, has been captured particularly well by the author. It's a moment that feels familiar at a visceral level, yet manages to convey the isolation that Manan feels. (Later, he feels something similar at home when he starts changing clothes behind closed doors, and nobody seems to question this.) 
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The restless imagination and the endless self-analysis of the bookish child lie at the heart of the narrative: Parikh’s achievement here lies in capturing a likely train of thought for such a 14-year-old.
"They go quiet. Shrey seems to be on the verge of saying something funny but Rajat shakes his head. He looks from one face to another: all at a loss for words, all discomfited by his inappropriateness. All making a concession to him: Manan, 140 cm, 35 kg, not Kshitij, not someone else, someone who is their equal, so they won't ridicule him. He hasn't yet earned the right to be ridiculed. And they understand this too well."
The restless imagination and the endless self-analysis of the bookish child lie at the heart of the narrative: Parikh's achievement here lies in capturing a likely train of thought for such a 14-year-old. This is also manifested in the way Manan rhapsodises about every little step on the path to adulthood. Consider, for instance, the following passage, where Manan is surveying the aforementioned hair on his balls, ad infinitum.
"The hair. Still defying gravity. Give it space and it will point toward the sky at seventy-five degrees, towards the evening star at twilight. The hair has germinated like those adamant trees, those that poke out of cracks in sewerage walls and fort walls and walls of old buildings, feeling their way through at odd angles for sunlight and air and stability. Geotropism. Phototropism. Thermotropism. Life finding its way. That's what the doctor inJurassic Park said."
also loved the way Manan tells us about the lives of the adults around. In some of my favourite books involving children (like David Mitchell's Black Swan Green or Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha), such a venture feels like spying on someone through a peep-hole, or listening through a closed door, the surreptitious air skilfully and gradually built up.
Manan has been observing, for instance, the way his cousin Pinky is not allowed inside the kitchen when she's menstruating. "It makes him want to ask her in their jovial argumentative way the reason for this cannot-in-be-the-kitchen practice, to make her agree that this is a stupid practice and therefore she is a stupid person because she observes this practice." However, he knows that he cannot question things openly, especially in the presence of his uncle. "In Tauji's presence, he must treat the women of the house as a man of the house must: from distance, through instructions."
The novel also anticipates the madness of the Internet era in a mischievous yet earnest way, describing it as "the puberty of society". Manan realises that this may be one of the few freely available sources of information that he has, but that it does not suit his tastes at all.
Finally, Manan features some very adorable illustrations by Urmila Shastry. I liked, in particular, how some of Manan's more macabre or surreal flights of fancy are drawn — through a very Wes Anderson-like whimsy rather than with any real darkness or intensity. Manan is highly recommended for everybody really, but particularly so for thinking teens such as the protagonist himself.

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