The New BeeChi In Town (Book Review – Half Pants Full Pants by Anand Suspi)
I am a huge fan of fiction and read very less of non-fiction. So when I was to review a non-fiction book about real-life tales from Shimoga, I was not very sure what to expect. But nostalgia is my favourite genre and I love reminiscing about good old times, especially childhood times and that is what tipped the scales in favour of Anand Suspi’s Half Pants Full Pants for me.
And then I read this –
“After Malgudi Days, I could never imagine that somebody could create another childhood classic for adults to regain their innocence even for a few hours. Suspi’s tales would have made R K Narayan smile. Oh, that beautiful Kannadiga gene!” – R Balki, Filmmaker.
A huge fan of R K Narayan, this solid recommendation intrigued me! As someone who has grown up with Swami and His Friends, and has survived on a daily dose of “the common man’s” antics, I was also floored by the fact that the book is published by Paper Boat, which is all about memories, nostalgia and trying to go back to a time of innocence and simplicity – all about a childhood lost, much like sand slipping through the fingers.
And then I got to see the cover! This is the most understated cover I have seen so far and that finally, was what made me fall head over heels! The beautifully simple cover, with old 5 paise and 10 paise coins posing on a daring lime green background is a refreshing new take! The humble cover though, says nothing of the larger-than-life childhood tales that make this superbly penned book a delightful read for fiction and non-fiction lovers alike!
What’s it all about?
As I said, this is a book about real-life stories from a city with small-town charm. In this humble book, the author has woven thirty odd tales in a random order. These stories give us a more than generous glimpse of the author’s wondrous childhood in Shimoga; and believe me when I tell you, that each and every one of us, who has spent our childhood in a small town, in a middle class family, with parents trying their best to propel us children towards a better future, will relate to these amusing, arresting accounts!
These are tales of a young Anand and his friends who try to create magnets out of coins, try to stop a theft of molasses, play Kung Fu with mosquitoes, find a lost school bag going all the way back to the school looking for it, see movies and imagine other worldly creatures lurking in the gutters, hate vegetables, take part in dubious money saving schemes, dream of becoming secret agents, fight with their siblings, question religious beliefs and go about their adventurous childhood.
Beautiful stories, plain and simple!
The test of a good book is that it takes the reader to a totally different time and place. And the mark of a good writer is that the readers feel one with the characters the author has created. In this exquisite ensemble we find both. With Suspi’s Half Pants Full Pants we are transported back to our own childhood. We are taken on a nostalgic journey into the unassuming life of little Anand and his friends as they go about their escapades with nary a heed to risks involved or the scolding they invite upon themselves because of their actions.
The little Anand in these stories is you and me – we have been there, done that and lived to tell the tale! As we follow Anand’s journey from a naïve third standard student to a lanky teenager in (accidental) capris, we cannot help but take a wistful look into our own past. And just when we think that things can’t get better than this, Suspi gives us brilliant Bonus Material that takes us back to the main fabric of middle-class upbringing in its full glory!
A friend talking about his childhood…
Usually as we grow older, we leave our childhood feelings and experiences behind. The memories stay but we grow wiser, the naïveté is gone and we become more mature; and then when we take a look back in the past, we end up tainting our memories with our newfound wisdom. But Suspi’s accounts are different. In his stories, we find true characters we can all relate to – the middle class unassuming parents, the siblings ready to pick a fight for no reason, the friends ready to risk anything for a mere bet – and that is where Suspi, as an author wins. His experience as an adult doesn’t come to preach us when we are enjoying his exploits as a child. Reading Half Pants Full Pants is like listening to a friend telling us about his own childhood.
Emotions we can relate to and a culture we are all too familiar with!
In this arbitrary collection of memoirs, we not only see people we know, but also see them emote in a way we are familiar with. We find a diligent mother who saves up for the family and takes care of the home front, but we also see her modest, unassuming lifestyle and a glimpse, just a glimpse, of her vanity. We see a father who is strict, who insists that only studies can take you ahead in life and frowns on learning drums or Karate, but we also get a peek at his leniency and understanding, his sense of right and wrong and even his guilt at losing something that is dear to him. We see a brother who picks fights just because he can, but we also see his worry when searching for his younger brother far and wide into the dark night when the latter has run away from home. We meet the friend who is loyal but we also see his conflict when he has to reveal his friend’s secret to his parents. As Anand matures, we get to see the innocent and earnest zeal for social work, to do something for social good; and although the same backfires hilariously, it is the genuineness of the thought process that touches us.
Half Pants Full Pants is also rife with beautiful references to local culture, language, cuisine, beliefs, sentiments and most of all – Kannada language and the Kannadiga gene! The book overflows with grandiose schemes, wonderful ideas, great risks (that teenagers invariably are prone to), questioning of beliefs and what not; but the most important thing about this lovely memoir is that it is full of wit, humour and innocence all at the same time!
And now for some critique –
Usually, it is the editing that holds a book together when nothing else can, but Half Pants Full Pants is really good enough to stand on its own, irrespective; and that takes away the focus from the fact that editing could have been a little better. Also, it might have felt a tad bit more organised if the stories were put in a more logical arrangement, if not chronological. However, as they stand presently, the stories do not take away anything from the true essence of the book, and that’s a win-win.
My biggest takeaway
Every once in a while there comes a book that one is happy to own and happier to pass on to loved ones. Half Pants Full Pants is one such book. I am planning on gifting this gem of a book to my Dad (who is a big fan of BeeChi) soon, so he can read the stories and the dialogues (especially in Kannada) and chuckle away! A definite recommendation for book lovers of all genres and especially nostalgia fans of all ages, cultures and backgrounds! Because as Suspi himself reminds us, childhood is a thing of past, but the child (in us) refuses to grow up!