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Fantastic Mr. Dahl: A tribute

Fantastic Mr. Dahl: A tribute

Roald Dahl writes with some serious hyper activity. That is the best part about reading his stuff. He is fantastic and fabulous all at once and his characters jump and their eyes sparkle and that’s why, as a reader, you get carried away. Some of his plots may be a little silly (George’s Marvellous medicine) but he makes it work with his style of grabbing you by the throat and shaking you till your eyes rattle in your head. Okay that was a bad analogy. As a kid, I would gaze at the Quentin Blake illustrations on the page and imagine that I too could say things like “How absolutely dashingly gorgeous, my friend. How ripping and downright lovely, small boy.” A Roald Dahl world is an exciting world on a sugar rush, whether you’re with James and company on the peach, whether you’re wreaking merry havoc with Matilda or even if you’re in the throes of a deadly adventure a la The Witches.

Other reasons I love him? If you’ve read Boy: Tales of childhood, a pleasant anecdotal volume about his boarding school years and his giant Norwegian family, I wouldn’t have to explain. A lot of Dahl’s stories are exaggerated versions of true events. (Obviously I don’t mean the Vermicious Knids, that’s just kick ass imagination.) No, what I’m talking about are honest to goodness true events that ended up triggering off some of the most awesome children’s books since the Brothers Grimm. For instance, Cadbury used to send bars of chocolate to Dahl’s boarding school as tester. The boys used to taste the bars and write out comments on a little sheet of paper. Boy Dahl remembers writing, at 9, “Too subtle for the unsophisticated palate.” It was this routine that started a germ of an idea for Charlie and the Chocolate factory.

Dahl wasn’t one of those writers who never get out and just live through their books. At school, he played at least three different sports. While at Shell Company after school, he all but begged his boss to let him travel to exotic places like Africa and India so that he could have adventures. And he was a flying ace in World War one. But how does this have anything to do with his writing? It doesn’t, but it’s awesome anyway.

Dahl is also a delightful rhymer. If he sticks a poem into a story, you can be sure that it will be wicked, funny and amusing. (Oh knid, you are vile and vermicious. You are horrid and slimy and squishous). He writes one liners filled with all manner of 1960s styles racial stereotypes (China is so full of wings and wongs , every time you wing one, you get wong number.) He jeers at America and American presidents in his books, which is even more fun by the fact that he was actually invited to the White House by Roosevelt in 1945.

So listen up, read and re-read Dahl as an adult. He will be your golden ticket (nudge nudge) out of this humdrum, adult world. If you have kids, make them read Dahl. He’ll be fun and relevant, even when we’re sharing a Churchgate slow with robots. I cannot stress this enough. Read. Dahl.

 

– Sheena

A few of my favourite things

A few of my favourite things

This is my love letter to all the books that I read as a child, a little girl and then a teenager. To the stories from the Big Book of Bedtime Tales that were read out to me by parents, to the illustrations I pored over and the comics I borrowed from friends. (“Archie’s isn’t something you buy” my mother used to say). You filled my soul with “wild imaginings” and with my nose three inches from your pages, I could be anything I wanted.

Thank you Louisa May Alcott for Little Women, Good Wives and Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. Making Jo March a rough and tumble tomboy who also cried piteously over books broke the stereotype.

Enid Blyton. Thank you for Hurrah for the circus which made me believe that one day, an ordinary child could just get up, join the circus and live the rest of his days in a caravan. Thank you for The Folk of the Faraway tree, for Mr. Pink Whistle and for teaching me that parents said things like “By George” and children said things like “Good golly.”

To The Five find outers and dog, with Frederick Algernon Trotteville aka Fatty at the helm. You had the best mysteries and were the funniest, The Famous Five, you came a close second.

As for the debate over whether Malory Towers was better than St. Claire’s, well we might as well just give up. Malory Towers had a swimming pool that filled with the tide and was hacked out of a rock. But the girls at St. Claires had better midnight feasts.

To The wind in the willows for Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad and all their lovely adventures. Also for the beautiful pictures of their little homes: Checked table cloths, slippers by the fire and strings of onions that hung from the ceiling at winter time. (How cute.)

Thank you to the slim volumes of Ladybird classics and Childrens Illustrated that made complicated literature simple for the benefit of my 9-year old brain.

To the Just William series by Richmal Crompton for introducing me to the uproarious, scruffy William and the Outlaws. The great thing about William is you can read it as an adult and still laugh your head off. On another note, William totally turned up his nose at his meat and potato dinners which meant that meat and potatoes (feast and fancy dinners here) were boring sabji-roti type meals in England. Curiouser and coriouser. Which brings me to Alice in Wonderland. Thank you Lewis Carrol, for The Mock Turtles story with its amazing wordplay. And before you bring it up,the mad hatters tea party was wildly overrated. Yes, I just said that.

To Sweet Valley and The Babysitters club series. For all the fun, the fights and the drama.

To Judy Blume for keeping it all real.

To JK Rowling and CS Lewis, for endless magic and wonder.

To Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz and all the books about Dorothy that followed. For fantasy and clever, breathless adventures that left me disoriented when the last page was turned.

To The Secret Garden, A little Princess, The Railway Children and Daddy Long legs for the beautiful imagery, the lively descriptions but mostly for the happy endings.

To the Diary of Anne Frank for infinite beauty and because it got me to love history.

To Roald Dahl, for things like Oompa Loompas and Vermicious Knids. Also for the rhymes (Aunt Spiker was as thin as a wire, and dry as a bone, only drier….)

To Lois Lowry for appealing to my dark side. To Madelaine L’Englebert for the genius that was A wrinkle in Time. Also, because Meg Murray was the first female protagonist who was bespectacled. At least the first one I read about. Yay, girl power and glasses.

To the Little House series, for the sumptuous detail, Christmas dinners that went on for chapters and for filling me with a restless thrill every time Pa Ingall’s “wanderin’ foot got to itchin.’”

To books that taught me things, books that stayed with me and books I left behind, books that I grew up on, the ones that made me cry, laugh or think. To authors who made me vow that I wanted to be “just like him/her when I grow up.” Thank you for all the love. Thank you for all the reading.

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