Shreekumar Varma’s Devil’s Garden is one of those delightful children’s books which will please the adults as well
The myth surrounding the Devil’s Garden (Chekuthan Thodi) is that when Lord Parasurama reclaimed a brand new land from the sea and named it Kerala, all the creature of the sea were displaced, and this included strange, supernatural and hostile beings. Having nowhere to go, they ran amok, threatening and destroying humans on the land. With the help of a grand ritual, the Brahmins (whom Parasurama brought in from the North to populate his new land with pure new progeny) shut these spirits and creatures inside a thick forest. This came to be called Chekuthan Thodi or Devil’s Garden.
The violin-shaped village of Pappudom (named after a rebellious old ruler, Grand Pappu, who refused to accede to the authority of the British) is separated from the forest by the River Tarangam. No one crosses the river or goes to the forest because of the wild stories floating around and government restrictions. The story is about Pappu, Grand Pappu’s great-great-great grandnephew and his friend KP. Pappu sees what he thinks is a monster in the river and quizzes KP’s grandmother. She is a treasure-trove of lore and fantasy, with her own story-telling techniques and an unfaithful memory. Soon after, KP’s cousin Unni disappears; and Pappu and KP decide to enter the forest to find him. Pappu also believes that if they run into danger, his granduncle will come to rescue him from Between Times, the region of ghosts and spirits. He has already been taken back in time once by the old ghost (in Back To Pappudom, Puffin Book of Funny Stories, 2005).
The book is full of colorful characters like a weird beggar who captures Unni, a roving old journalist named Lo (for Lohitakshan) who has invaded the forest, and his compositor at the press, Charlie, an old man with no particular ambition or will and KP’s young and wilful cousin Ammu who plays detective and follows Lo around. Humour, fantasy and a bit of doctored history are the main planks on which Varma has built the story. And there is a lot of local flavour.
Jyoti Nair Belliappa Sunday Express
Inside the forest
A small village called Pappudom on the banks of the beautiful Tarangam seems the ideal setting for adventure. But as if this was not enough, there is the Chekutan Thodi close by. The people of Pappudom know that they are not supposed to go into the forest for it is unsafe and legend has it that there are evil spirits roaming there.
But all this changes when Pappu spots a monster emerge from the river. And soon after a cow is found dead and the last straw is when Unni goes missing. Now Pappu knows he has to act. He ropes in his friend KP. But the sacred pact has been broken and somebody has to pay for it. Pappu has some very interesting adventures, travelling into the past with his ancestors.
Will Pappu be able to save the village?
It is a remarkable story, with the right mix of history, folklore and legend adding mystery and suspense to the tale. Varma skilfully takes the reader back and forth from the present to the past.
NIMI KURIAN Young World, The Hindu
A boy, a forest, a river, a monster ... perfect ingredients for a wonderful adventure.
There is nothing better than an engrossing action-packed tale for children, for such stories allow them to visualise and let loose their imagination during as well as after reading the book.
Devil’s Garden is the story of Pappu who lives in a violin-shaped village that is located next to a mysterious river and a spooky forest. Pappu’s ancestors liberated this village from the British and hence it is called ‘Pappudom’, named after his great-great-great grand-uncle.
Pappu happens to be strolling along the river one afternoon when he thinks he has spotted a monster coming out of it. This leads to his misadventures. He reveals this to his friend KP who lives with his aged grandmother. Since KP lives in a joint family set-up, Pappu loves staying over at his place. His own house simply comprises of an older brother who doesn’t care about him, a mother who finds television more entertaining than her son and a father who is a very busy doctor. Children in KP’s family do not watch television before they go to bed. Instead they listen to their grandmother’s tales comprising mainly of historic or ghost stories and tales about the forest they all live next to.
Things start to look grim when one of KP’s older cousins, Unni, goes missing in the forbidden forest. At first the boys decide to stay put but like all curious lads of their age, they eventually venture into the forest to find the boy. KP’s grandmother gives them enough food for thought about the history of Kerala and how the forest and their village came to be. She warns them about ghosts and other supernatural powers and even gives them tips on how to defend themselves against them.
Pappu is eager to call forth his great-great-great grand-uncle’s ghost that has not come to his help in a long time, although he has gone with him into the past a number of times to help him defeat the British army.
In a series of thrilling events it is revealed why the creatures of the forest were infringing upon the human world and with a little help from the forces of the past and future, little Pappu, along with his dead ancestor, manages to maintain the peace of his village once again.
SAIMA SALMAN Dawn (Pakistani daily)
Pappu, the protagonist lives in Pappudom, a sleepy village on the banks of the musical river. Pappu’s family includes his father, a busy doctor, his mother who watches ample TV serials and a brother who concentrates too much on having a good physique. Woof! Sorry, I forgot to include Hitler, Pappu’s cute pooch.
Chekuthan Thodi or Devil’s Garden is the forest that borders the village. According to local lore, spirits abound the jungle. A pact has existed between the villagers and the inmates of the forest which has created an imaginary border. None of the sides transgress this border. A Guard of the Bridge has also been appointed to keep watch against such transgressions.
Someone has entered the forest and violated the understanding between the two worlds. Queer things happen in the village. Pappu sees a monster in the Trangam river, a village animal is brutally killed and then a boy from the village goes missing.
Pappu enters the forest along with his friend KP hoping to find the lost boy. The missing boy is found and returns home with KP. Pappu is left behind in the Devil’s Garden and embarks on an adventurous journey of his own. He meets Chaver Appan, his ancestor. Accompanied by the fat dhoti-clad ghost of his great granduncle Grand Pappu and the lovable Hitler, Pappu enters the interiors of the forest. He bravely faces marching trees that attack, a toothless tiger with no pupils, a horrific bird, a tapping spirit, the Transformer Spirit and other magical creatures. Varma has beautifully entwined the characters of the enchanted forest in his story.
The writer is at his descriptive best as he introduces the amiable Ammoomma, wily Jones, Ammu the journalist in the making, crafty Mr Lo, freaky Rambo. The young readers will be easily able to identify with characters like themselves who go to school and surf the Net. Young Pappu and Grand Pappu’s visit to the Jones camp is infused with snappy humour. The book has magic, mystery, ghosts and spirits. Read on further and meet Pappu and his friends. If Pappu asks you, do join him`A0on his next visit to the forest. Amarinder Sandhu Spectrum, The Tribune