Monday, May 28, 2012

Growing up with Enid Blyton's Novels

I love Enid Blyton’s novels. I always have. Right from the time I was six or seven and went through a copy of her Secret Seven series, I have been in love with this woman’s novels. I have read hundreds of them and even at twenty-one, once in a while, I do go through them to feel good.

I absolutely adore her novels, because they inspire me, and inspire not in a Steve Jobs kind of way. They inspire me with the free-spirited, easy-going, honest world that the characters are set in. The quintessential beginnings where the main protagonists come back home for their summer holidays, the lovely farm houses and delicious food descriptions, the nicely set adventures, the team meetings and deductions – they all seem so innocent and full of life.  

My favourite character used to be Frederick Trotteville ‘Fatty’ from The Five-Find-Outers series: intelligent, cheerful and a little on the plump side. The way the five got the better of Mr. Goon, the local policeman, was delightful to say the least. No wonder I would have two great friends later on in my life, fitting the exact same mould. One is a doctor now and the other is as good an electronics engineer as I am. The doctor sat with me through entire high school discussing Physics, Biology, Maths and Philosophy. With the one in college I spent 3 years of lab time deconstructing (to the extent of ridiculing) all the Physics, Maths and Engineering I had learnt.

Coming back to Blyton’s novels, critics say, and I must admit that they are not completely wrong, that after some point of time the plots of her over seven hundred novels seem to head towards similar predictable ends and due to the restricted use of language in her novels, after a certain age the novels become too childish to read. But for children novels you need the same predictable end. Good needs to triumph over evil and you just cannot add a twist to your plot to spice it up. I becomes predictable because she has written so many of them and frankly speaking, I am thankful to her for that. As I have grown up, I have continued to read the novels again and again, because it brings back memories of the time when I used to read them. It’s almost funny how your mind reacts on listening to old music and reading old books. More than the song or the book, you remember the time and the people.

I had just relocated to Siliguri when I began to read Blyton. It was around Y2K. We lived in a beautiful colony with a lot of children of my age group. We played in the evenings, had buchha parties, and went to kitti parties for a good spread when our mothers had finished playing housie, celebrated Holi, Diwali, Christmas and Durga Puja as one large extended family. I remember going to school in our colony bus. Our school was situated in a piece of land carved right in the middle of a gigantic tea garden at the foothills of the Himalayas. At eleven o clock every morning, the toy train from Hill Cart road hooted and puffed as it made its way to Darjeeling.  During Autum and Spring, when the skies were clear we could spot the Kanchenjunga peeking at us from top of the clouds.

As interesting school was, even more interesting were the bus rides. Twenty odd kids using the back of the seats as drums and singing on top of their voices. We played Antakshari, DumbC and sometimes just chit-chatted. The girls discussed about why Hrithik Roshan should marry Amisha Patel (post ‘Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai’s huge success) and we boys about cricket. There was also a beautiful temple on the way to our school. Marble plated, it was magnificent in its grandeur. We stopped the bus and prayed inside the temple on the days of exams and when the results were due. Looking back now, well, it kind of looks a little selfish on our part to visit GOD only when we needed him. But that was, I guess, selfishness in its most innocent form.   

The summer holidays were always vibrant. We woke up early in the morning and went jogging followed by a round of cricket. This was followed with early morning Disney World where we religiously watched Uncle Scrooje dipping in to his giant pool of gold coins. Later in the afternoon we gathered around someone or the other’s house to play computer games. Road Rash has been a timeless favourite among all. What I really loved though was a tank-based strategic game Recoil that I played with one of my closest friends on his Compaq P3. A couple of years later when I came to Durgapur the first thing I did was to buy the same computer model and same game and play it hundred times over.

Nowadays when I see seven, eight year olds going to three different tuitions and coming back home to watch anime and poke at computer screens, I really wonder whether they are missing something essential. The kind of child hood our generation had. Then I look at myself always hooked on in front of the computer screen, fixated on American Soaps and Social Networks and realise I am the one who is definitely missing something beautiful. Aah, it’s Nolan’s Doodlebug all over again!!

There was a time in school when I wrote an essay on the topic the best things in life are free. I wrote about the joy in scenic beauties, playing hide and seek with your best friends, sleeping on your mother’s lap, quarrelling with your sister, learning football from your father. At that point in time I genuinely believed in those principles. However, in the past few years of JEE, IIT, internet and rising petrol prices I just seemed to forget it. And that’s where Enid Blyton and her novels come in to picture. Her novels remind me that the best things in life were free in 1950 England; they were free when I was growing up and they still are in 2012 India.

The Toy Train on its way to Darjeeling. This also somewhat resembles the setting I imagined for Blyton's novels.

Enid Blyton was a real life bitch. This is what her daughter had to say about her (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
"The truth is Enid Blyton was arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct. As a child, I viewed her as a rather strict authority. As an adult I pitied her." 

For those who have not watched Nolan’s Doodlebug, do see it. To me it serves as a prelude to ‘Inception’ or a way of looking at things recursively in a kafkaesque setting.

I wish I were connected to my friends from Siliguri. For once, having Facebook back then would have been helpful.