By : Anil Menon  /  2017


Anupa Lal
Prabha Mallya
162 pages
Rs 199.00
ISBN: 978-0143334095
Penguin Books, 
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Oddbird’s heroine Oddy is a miniature human girl who lives in a cupboard and is looked after by a couple of pigeons called Ma and Pikku and a squirrel, Chottu. They bring Oddy things to eat, take her out on trips, protect her from “normal”-sized humans, and help her come to terms with the possibility that she is going to stay tiny.

Fans of fiction with miniature characters will be reminded of novels like The Borrowers and Stuart Little. As in those novels, Oddy’s miniature size has significant consequences, but no one in the story, especially the normal-sized humans who meet her, seem particularly disconcerted by it. Oddy’s daily routine is quite charming but it requires some serious suspension of disbelief. Scaling laws make it impossible to shrink a human to Oddy’s size and have her remain human. Anupa Lal covers up the sheer physical impossibility of a four-inch human quite cleverly by providing more details rather than less on what Oddy wears, eats, her daily ablutions, and so on.

I suspect many young readers will want to know how Oddy got to be so tiny. Did she fall into a vat full of radioactive gloop? Was she bitten by a mutant spider? Is she from another planet? Did she drink some potion labelled “DRINK ME”? But as with other novels in the miniature-character genre, the story sidesteps this “how” question. The kid who wants to know how Oddy is an exception to the laws of physics should be given another book to read.

So, if this story isn’t interested in miniature physics, what is it interested in? Well, Oddy is technically frozen in height, that is, spatially, but she is really frozen in time. She reminded me of Peter Pan. Most children in children's fiction are busy trudging towards various epiphanies and/or happier situations. Peter Pan is a fictional exception to this oppressive pattern. He has no interest in becoming any larger or different or smaller or a Java programmer or anything else for that matter. Peter Pan stays Peter Pan, no matter how the world around him changes. However, he has to pay a price. He is condemned to live in the present. We adults can fork and slither around in time, but unlike us, Peter Pan is innocent and condemned to be free.

Oddy also stays Oddy. At the start of the story, Oddy already has all she needs, so all she really needs to do at the end is to simply step out of the story. Of course, she has a few adventures along the way. These adventures are of the how-will-this-tiny-person-cross-the-road variety, and perhaps a little dull. The characters aren’t particularly memorable. Other than Oddy, they’re all seen from the outside and come across as flat. The plot is mostly a matter of hiding Oddy and her friends in various locations so that they eavesdrop on conversations. The only exceptional feature in this story is Oddy’s size, and unfortunately this feature is so exceptional, the explanations offered by the story don’t really make any sense. If Oddy were normal-sized, the story could just as easily have been that of an orphanage girl trying to figure out who’d left her at the orphanage. Perhaps it would have made for a more poignant tale.

In Barrie's novel, Peter Pan is unable to hold on to his memories. Here, Oddy seems to be luckier. She keeps her friends, her memories, her daily routine. But it is unclear if anything will ever happen again to this little girl, frozen in time. Oddy’s author imagines her happy. I hope she is right.

Anil Menon started out wanting to be an accountant, took a long detour through computer science and ended up a fiction writer. He’s the author of The Beast With Nine Billion Feet (Young Zubaan, 2010) and Half Of What I Say (Bloomsbury, 2015).



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