Review: Flat-Track Bullies by Balaji Venkataramanan

December 20, 2013

Author: Balaji Venkataramanan
Publisher: Duckbill Books And Publications
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9789383331000
Rating: ★★★★☆
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Fast-Track Bullies delves into the life of a boy growing up in modern India, with all its pressures and expectations. The author manages to turn it into a beautiful work, mixed with some hilarity and a lot of maturity. 

I found Priya Kurian’s cover intriguing. As I began reading the book (it has pages modelled on a diary and quotable quotes at the bottom of each page), I had the feeling I was on to something good.

The author has captured the typical Tam-Brahm mentality beautifully, and made use of all the funny situations that arise. He uses language with a distinct local flavour – very well done.

The annual vacation begins, and Ravi (the protagonist) has to fill up two pages of his handwriting notebook every day. The eleven-year-old does just that, while turning it into a secret diary! We get a peek into Ravi’s thoughts as he goes from storytelling, tennis, music, cricket and chess to IIT coaching classes.

The author nonchalantly takes a dig at all the ridiculous things grown-ups propagate, from superstition to ruthless ambition. Refreshingly honest and outrageously funny!

The book had an impact on me on many levels. It brought back childhood memories … As a parent, it made me introspect. As a writer, I was amazed by what the author has managed to pull off.

Ravi’s irreverence, his interactions with his parents, grandparents and friends – it is all very real. It is fiction and yet it is almost believable. That is just how a good book should be. One can’t help wondering how much of Ravi is Balaji (the author), do any of the characters exist or are they composites of different people, is the author drawing from real life or from the world around?

While it is most relatable to those from a cultural background similar to Ravi’s, the book is bound to resonate with kids anywhere in India – Ravi’s schedule is distressingly close to today’s kids’.

Somewhere along the way, I began to think, ‘it is hilarious and original, but is that all?’ That is when Balaji surprised me and elevated it to being more than just an entertainer. I was blown away by the transition from funny to hard-hitting. The author seamlessly brings in children from a different background, without ever seeming condescending.

Balaji breaks all the rules and definitions of writing well… and goes on to write really well. Powerful and unconventional.

By the time I’d reached the last page, I was sufficiently impressed and had declared ‘Flat-Track Bullies’ a thought-provoking coming-of-age story.

If you’re interested in this, you might want to check out this piece about the book, an interview with the author and this article. Also, here‘s the book’s Facebook page!

Arundhati Venkatesh

Writer at IndiaBookStore
Arundhati Venkatesh is a children's writer and editor. In her previous work avtars, she managed projects at an IT major and headed communications at a non-profit.

One Comment

  • Pooja April 28, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    Dear Arundhati, If you are interested in reviewing books still, is there an email id where I could send you my pitch?

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