(Image Credit: Desanthiti Pathippagam)
A where-The Wimpy Kid-meets-Adrian Mole, with an embellished profundity, S. Ramakrishnan’s Pathin both mesmerizes and provokes. The reader is given a sneak peek into the secret diaries assiduously maintained by Nanda Gopal (“Nandu”). Spanning a decade, the diaries reveal kaleidoscopic escapades of Nandu, ranging from the absorbing to the asinine. The narrative commences when Nandu turns five, before concluding in a hauntingly poignant fashion when the diarist turns fifteen. However, the chapters neither subscribe to the rules of chronology, nor are bound by the rigours of sequencing. Random events occurring in mysterious ways and at unpredictable stages in Nandu’s fledgling life, shock and awe the reader privy to the clandestine musings.
All Nandu’s exploits and enterprises are initiated and implemented by Shankar, an absolute raconteur, dare-devil, eternal optimist, compulsive liar, jack of all trades, and an absolutely trustworthy friend. Older than Nandu by two years, Shankar anoints himself the preceptor of Nandu and initiates him into the rituals of petty thefts and chicanery. A favourite ‘heist’ of Shankar is to frequent random eateries, stuff himself to the brim and when given the bill, to direct the waiter towards his ‘father’. The father happens to be a random gentleman seated at a strategic distance from where Shankar himself is perched. By the time waiter realizes the deception, Shankar is nowhere to be found! As may be surmised, Shankar’s visit to every restaurant is constrained to a solitary trip.
Nandu is as unhappy at home as he is euphoric when in the company of Shankar. Subject to frequents beatings from his father, he is also required to run to the nearest petty shop every night to buy a cigarette for his father. Once when he inadvertently drops the cigarette into a pool of water, his father working himself into incandescent rage, crushes the damp cigarette into a glass of water and threatens to make Nandu gulp it down. A terrified Nandu is saved by his mother, who in the process of prising away her son is forced to tolerate blows that rain down upon her back.
Shankar’s unpredictability is second to none. He chalks up routines at the snap of a finger. Each routine is as bewildering as they can be. From unblinkingly staring at a wall for an interminably long period of time, to noting down the number of people wearing spectacles (bifurcated by gender) that have passed by the duo, Shankar’s antiques are singularly unique! Shankar is also a resolute rock against which Nandu can lean on in times of both grief and joy. When Nandu’s ailing younger brother dies an untimely death, Shankar comforts Nandu by exclaiming that his brother would be born as a butterfly.
Seized by a sudden urge to learn the piano, an excited Nandu makes a journey to Madurai where his uncle, a practitioner of alternative medicine enrolls Nandu with a patient of his who also happens to be a piano teacher. The patient however designates his daughter as the chargé d’affaires. However instead of educating Nandu into the mysteries of playing the piano, the girl berates the instrument and exhorts him to learn the guitar instead. A month and much berating’s later, Nandu is sent back to his parents.
The USP of the book lies in its simplicity. In simplicity lies hidden pearls of ingenuity. Trivial pleasures that fill the heart of a five-year-old with joy cease to be of any meaning to the same individual at the dawn of adolescence. Innocence blooms like an enthusiastic flower only to inevitable lose its quotient. But both trivialities and naivete lend themselves to wit and frolic as nothing else do. Egged on by Shankar, Nandu agrees to double up as a car washer to get access to a bungalow that apparently has multiple rabbits roaming inside, one of which is blood red in colour. Announcing themselves at the gate, they are disappointed to find the entrance to the house irritatingly guarded by a geriatric. Realising their futile ambitions, the duo wait for the elderly man to experience a temporary lapse in concentration, before hurling their rags down and fleeing from the vicinity.
Ramakrishnan succeeds beyond measure in evoking a plethora of reminiscences in the reader’s mind. Reading about Nandu slowly results in transforming into Nandu. Every one of us have been a Nandu during the formative periods of our lives and most of us would have also had a Shankar to lead us down many a rabbit hole. Hell! Many of us might have been intolerable versions of Shankar! Headaches for parents whose only remedy lay in edicts of non-association. Heartaches for the perpetrators and their partners in crime alike!
Pathin – a time to remember, reflect and regale, but without even a sliver of regret!