Reviews

Book “Reva and Prisha” Plays With Stereotypes And Turns Them On Their Heads In A Spectacular Narrative Performance

The portrayal of the dynamic between parent and child in this book is almost subversive - where the norm is parents who believe themselves to be in control and the final authority on all things, Reva and Prisha are irreverent towards the scope of control and capabilities of their parents.

When you pick up a book that’s coded as a queer-affirmative children’s book, you anticipate a certain comforting tone, and an active attempt to affirm. You expect the story to be anchored by a queer struggle or the discovery of queerness. Shals Mahajan’s book of little stories, ‘Reva and Prisha, does not carry the burden of that agenda. Instead, it chooses to play with stereotypes throughout its narrative.

As a victim of the thinly-veiled moral stories of Enid Blyton, the universe that Shals Mahajan constructs in this book swept me off my feet. The quick questions and discoveries of Reva and Prisha as they navigate their seemingly mundane lives captivate the attention of the reader. In their individually endearing and disarming ways, the girls are witty, hilarious, compassionate, and confident. Even before you’ve finished a single page, you can tell that the author’s first priority was to be relatable, fun and real. The book aims to entertain, make you laugh, immerse you and baffle you with the questions of the young protagonists of the stories.

Interestingly, the book removes the adult from the narration – duly and accurately representing the way children experience the world. The mothers are treated by both the twins and the author as benevolent and well-meaning – they are entertaining, peripheral entities.

The mothers – Runu and Pritam – are endearing and aspirational. We see in the little personality moments that the author has spared them, that they are busy yet attentive caretakers, frequently hassled by their daughters but with a generous side of chill that they believe their children deserve. They treat their girls as beings with agency and intelligence. They joke with their children (and about their children to each other). The mothers are also openly fond of each other. They work as a team. They buy each other the flowers that their daughters instruct them to. They accommodate their daughters’ fussiness, needs and curiosities with earnestness and love.

The portrayal of the dynamic between parent and child in this book is almost subversive – where the norm is parents who believe themselves to be in control and the final authority on all things, Reva and Prisha are irreverent towards the scope of control and capabilities of their parents.

The chapter ‘Fish Curry’ delightfully addresses the simple, easy jobs that the girls believe their mothers have. The way the twins narrate the confusions and knowledge gaps their mothers have in the chapter ‘What is Food?’ is also kindly and indulgent. Throughout the book, as in real life, the mothers have accepted their role as hands-off caretakers of very wise kids with good humor and a pleasantly-defeated grace.

The tone of the book is not always silly, though. Real life has real problems and the book handles the whiplash pace of silly to serious with grace and plenty of space for the kids to articulate and figure stuff out on their own. In a gentle chapter, ‘Coffee and Kisses’, we watch how Runu informs Prisha that she would not like coffee, yet allows Prisha to see for herself why. The few moments of conflight and unpleasantness are typically resolved by the children with as little mediation from the adults as is required. In fact, the spirit of collaboration shone brightly through so many of the little tussles in the book. In a chapter titled ‘Why do People Shout?’, the mothers apologize to the daughters for not being present and helping someone who clearly needed help. The mothers give their daughters the space to let them figure out their problems, learn the way they will, and ask for assistance when they feel they cannot do things themselves.

Most importantly, the book continuously impresses in its attention to detail and earnest depiction of reality. Even when discussing the obstacles and difficulties of an “unconventional” family, it addresses religion rather than queerness – where queerness is the expected, and religion is the out-of-syllabus conversation to have. Naturally, throughout their lives as a family, how to address the structure of their family would have been a frequent navigation for both the mothers and their daughters – at school, this conversation is taken care of by the administration for their daughters. When their daughters come to Runu and Pritam with a troublesome question asked by their classmate, remarkably, the confusion is about how the daughters of one Muslim and one Hindu parent could possibly be both Muslim and Hindu.

The stories are truly slice-of-life in the way you’d want to read about the domestic lives of your friend with the cool parents who raised their child with love and good sense. You fall equally in love with the soft pearls of wisdom and scheming of the kids as you do with the nuttiness and good humor of the caretakers of these delightful “brats”.

As a book, ‘Reva and Prisha’ is not a hug, a blanket, a collection of affirmations – it’s a glimpse into the common, complex, gross and hilarious inner lives of the family many yearn to have (past, present and future). 

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