Shades of Enid Blyton’s Amelia Jane apart, Shreekumar Varma’s story about a creature that holds
a seaside village to ransom is fascinating.
The story starts with the author wondering why a rich old stranger left his house to him— till he finds a book written by Mr Anchanbey, the grandfather of the benefactor. This book is about the reasons (Nu-Cham-Vu is one of the reasons) for the large-heartedness of the old man and about other stories in the village of Anchan Bay, which housed the magic store that Nu-Cham-Vu owned.
Nu-Cham-Vu is an oil-barrel-shaped creature children love and adults hate. The children like him because of the beautiful, magical, children-only store that he owns.
The store is unique in the sense that the talking toys sell themselves. No parents are allowed inside. No money changes hands. It is all on barter. If, for instance, a boy wanted to buy a toy monkey, he had to stand on one leg for an hour. Payments had to be made in whatever way Nu-Cham-Vu fancied. Since the children don’t understand a single word of his language, the creature translates everything through the Jasmine Doll.
The grown-ups try every trick in the book to throw the monster out of the village, including blaming him for kidnapping the only horse-cab owner in the village. But the children stand by the magic store owner. The elders of the village, led by Mr Anchanbey, put up with the antics of Nu-Cham-Vu till he plays a dirty trick on one of the parents.
Chhabiya’s father enters the store by mistake and promises his daughter that he will buy her a magic flute. An angry Nu-Cham-Vu lays out his terms. Run all the way (on the knees) to Mount Amorobo, 33 miles away, and get his thumb, which was left behind on the mountainside, within 24 hours. The poor man does as he is told, only to be betrayed when Nu-Cham-Vu refuses to part with the flute. It is the last straw for the elders and they think of unique, lawful ways to throw the creature out of the village forever.
Though it is a bit difficult for the reader to keep track of the stories across three generations of the Anchanbey family, as well as the author’s notes, what Kumar has done is weave in the fantasy element that keeps one’s mind on what else Nu-Cham-Vu has up his sleeve.
Also, thrown in between the war of the adults and the creature is the story of Professor Shandilyan, an Australian scientist, and his family who are washed up on the shores of Anchan Bay. Shandilyan promises to bring electricity to the village, though he eventually disappears when the villagers suspect him of actually building a contraption that will blow them out of existence.
Illustrated by Varma’s son, Vinayak, the wondrous tales within tales make this book worth a read. The Magic Store of Nu-Cham-Vu comes with a plug by Ruskin Bond. It is the first of the new Puffin series called Ruskin Bond Recommends.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s mM VenkateshLIVEMINT.COM & THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Indian writing in English has certainly come of age, but what about Indian writing in English for children? It is an unfortunate truth that most Indian children, or parents who buy books for their children, almost inevitably turn to foreign authors when it comes to selecting bedtime reading material. This could be because of the easy accessibility of foreign kids' books, the way they are marketed by publishers and bookshops, the fact that they are easy to read and beautifully illustrated and a host of other reasons—some cultural, some commercial.
What our bookshelves have lacked, till very late, are books that are global in their language but Indian in their ideas. But a slew of authors are changing that with smart, intelligent books that do a great job of what is, essentially, the only thing that draws kids to books—telling awesomely good stories.
Author Shreekumar Varma has just joined the ranks of authors such as Manjula Padmanabhan, Anushka Ravishankar, Vandana Singh, Poile Sengupta and—surprisingly for such a list—Salman Rushdie, with his first children's book The Magic Store of Nu-Cham-Vu.
Varma's book is strongly reminiscent of Rushdie's endearing Haroun And A Sea of Stories, of which the Booker-winner is, incidentally, writing a sequel. The resemblance lies not so much in the plot or even in the writing but in the fact that it provides a similar mix of the magical and the mundane that enthralled fans of Haroun.
The Magic Store of Nu-Cham-Vu chronicles some startling events that took place many years ago in Anchan Bay, a seaside village in an unknown corner of the world. The village is fairly typical and potently unexciting—except for a toy store that is literally out-of-this-world, run as it is by the other-worldy and faintly monstrous Nu-Cham-Vu.
It takes a powerful imagination to create toys and characters that are both fascinating and menacing, and Varma clearly possesses that going by his vivid descriptions of the toys that 'people' Nu-Cham-Vu's store, which he runs with an iron fist, allowing children to 'buy' them only after they have performed tough tasks. His autocratic and erratic behaviour keeps getting worse till the village elders decide he will be given four chances, or be allowed to commit four crimes, before being thrown out of the village. Soon, more of Nu-Cham-Vu's dastardly acts come to light, including his attempts to steal scientific secrets from yet another stranger who makes his home in Anchan Bay. A bunch of kids sets out to discover this secret in good old Famous Five style—and runs into adventure, sorcery and a struggle, literally, for power.
The best thing about Varma's book is the way subtle and sometimes complex moral lessons are woven cleverly into the plot instead of the heavy-handed and obvious way morality is often delivered in Indian children's books. Lovingly illustrated by Vinayak Varma, the author's son, The Magic Store of Nu-Cham-Vu is a thumping good read that, much like all good children's books from Enid Blytons to Harry Potter has the power to engage readers of all ages.
Shrabonti Bagchi DNA
Of magic, mystery and more
....presented with a desi punch, this is a lovely tale that has been recommended by none less than Ruskin Bond. Some striking illustrations by Vinayak Varma add to the appeal of the text. THE TELEGRAPH
THE MAGIC STORE OF NU-CHAM-VU is one of the first mainstream novels to be also available as a 'talking book' for the print challenged like the blind, dyslexic, etc with the participation of the Centre for Society and Internet, and in keeping with the spirit of the Right to Read Campaign.