Our Nana Was a Nutcase (Ranjit Lal)
(Red Turtle, 2015)
Seventeen-year-old Avantika Singh, better known as General Gosling, and her three siblings live with their Nana (maternal grandfather) in the rambling old Shadow House in the fictional hill-station of Mahaparbatpur. Their parents, big-shots in the Foreign Service, are too busy jet-setting about to bother with their kids, who have all been raised by Nana. There’s fourteen-year-old Harshita (Major Duckling), and ten-year-old twins Nihal and Niharika (Privates Dingaling and Dumpling). While Duckling usually has her nose in a book or adding to her innumerable collections, the twins are perpetually busy thinking up their next money-making scam. They are ruled over by their grandfather, an ex-army surgeon. Nana is a stickler for rules and timetables, but he’s also nuts in a fun sort of way—the sort who turns up in a refurbished ancient Rolls Royce, complete in a chauffer’s uniform, to pick the kids up from school! Their household is rounded up by Nana’s two Gurkha batmen, Mahavir and Paramvir Chakram (the Chakrams), and their wives, Neerabai and Meerabai (the Neerameerabais). And finally, there’s Shabnam (Shabby) Aunty, Nana’s devoted partner—they’ve been together for decades, but continue to live apart for propriety’s sake. Finally, there’s there goofy dog, De-Big Bazooka.
Gosling and her siblings’ idyllic life is turned upside-down when Nana starts to forget things. It starts with small things, like giving the twins their pocket money twice, but soon things start to get worse—and scarier. Nana faints on a couple of a occasions, makes mistakes in the hospital he works in, doesn’t recognize his own daughter. As his dementia progresses, the children, Shabby Aunty, the Chakrams and Neerameerabais rally to keep things as normal as before. But of course, it isn’t that easy.
When the children’s parents find out about Nana’s condition, they put together a terrifying plan—of selling Shadow House, putting Nana in a care facility and the children in boarding schools. This leads Gosling and her siblings to counter with an audacious plan of their own to keep their lives from falling apart. But in doing so, they might just have made things worse.
Our Nana Was a Nutcase could have been a touching story about the relationship of the children with their grandfather, but is somewhat undone by the last one-third of the book. Gosling’s plan to prevent being separated—no spoilers here, but suffice it to say that it was incredibly irresponsible and it was a wonder they all survived—doesn’t make much logical sense, and it is somewhat alarming that she suffered no consequences for it. The reconcilliation with their parents was also rather tame. Overall, it all descended into a rather Bollywood-like climax.
Even though the book has an unsatisfactory ending and a rather simplistic take on the complicated relationships in families, it is nonetheless a decent read. Credit must go to the author for picking up a topic hitherto unexplored in Indian YA writing.