My Rating – 5/5
Language – Marathi
“That day I realised the real fun of school. There are classrooms, benches, students and teachers. There are subjects – maths, geography and even civics. But I am not into any of these. I am free – like that white bird, sitting gaily on the back of a cow. I am sitting in school, but I have a separate school of my own. That school does not have classrooms, walls, black boards and teachers; but the lessons it teaches me are really beautiful.”
Shala is a beautiful novel that took me on a nostalgic journey back to my school days. It is about a group of friends and the story spans one year of their life – 9th standard, the best year of our school life. Set in the 70s during the emergency period in India, the story is narrated by the protagonist “Joshi”. It is a story of a bunch of friends around 14 years of age, just on the threshold of adolescence – a story of their school, friends, their “bhankas”, competitions, cricket matches, scout camps, those “butterflies in stomach” before exams, first love and their coming of age. Bokil has a lucid style and the book simply casts a spell that takes us straight back to our favourite bench in the classroom from where we can steal a glimpse of our first crush. The main story line revolves around Joshi’s first love and his attempts to catch her attention. Those were the days when “He talks to girls” was an adjective seeped in either derision or jealousy, mostly both. So Joshi has to be very discreet in his manoeuvres, not even letting his best friends in his secret. (I know this sounds ridiculous today but this was fairly the state of affairs in most schools even in metro cities till early 90s.)
On a different level, the book talks about love, infatuation, schooling system, discipline, those wonderful days when we wanted to be care free as birds but were caged by the system, society and their so called ethics and morals. It is about despair and loneliness of a young boy in love. It is also about inseparable friends who will soon step into a new, adult world waiting for them outside and may never see each other again. Bokil has captured the urban middle class and its outlook succinctly. What makes this book highly enjoyable is that this could well be your own story. We all have a “Joshi” hidden in us somewhere and Bokil through his perfect portrayal of the school, its atmosphere and different characters (I am sure you will identify most of them in your life) pokes the calm surface sending ripples that bring back the bitter-sweet memories of the good old days once again.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
The book is available cheapest in India at –