I never felt it right to introduce kids to stories of families battling with poverty, and with a loss of a parent at a very young age. And so, when I heard Anita Desai’s book, The Village By the Sea, and the story that it contained, I wanted to read it first before recommending it to someone, and letting (may be at a later date.. 😉) my son read it. And honestly, this is a book every budding reader should read.
The novel takes place in a fishing village near the sea. Poverty has stricken a family with three children, whose mother is ill, and whose father who drinks excessively. The oldest children, Lila and Hari take up the responsibility of taking care of the family, and Lila takes care of her mother while Hari works in the fields, barely making ends meet. The description of the of the house and the daily activities of the family makes the story an easy read. The maturity of the two kids, Lila and Hari also tries to impose a sense of responsibility into the young readers.
Back to the story, good news arrives when it is rumored that a factory is planned to be built in their village. The author describes the village beautifully, and soon you are transported to rural India, which is by the sea and basically a fishing community. The fish arriving from the sea, the hustle and bustle of the huge crowd trying to get hold of the best catch, and the interaction of the kids with the other villagers will be a new experience and a very interesting read for children. Although the villagers start dreaming about getting jobs at the factory, Hari realistically thinks about finding a job there.
A major turn in the story happens when the De Silva family arrives at the village. A posh family, they employ Lila and Hari, among other villagers as servants. Understanding the dire situation of their family, Mr. De Silva offers a job to Hari in Mumbai in a car wash. Hari realizes that he has to take care of the family and also get his sister married, and so he decides to go to Mumbai, not informing his sister.
The narration of the story changes drastically once he arrives in Mumbai. The readers are now transported to a bustling city, salted with tall skyscrapers and bustling markets from a quite and petite village. This change helps kids to understand the emotions that must have been going through Hari’s mind.
Once Hari reaches Mumbai, he makes an earnest effort to search for Mr. De Silva, but he is unable to do so. Hari is then spotted by one of the servants who then kindly introduces him to Jagu, who provides him a job in his restaurant. Hari finds and makes new friends among the other two employees, and Hari starts sending money home. The next few pages teaches kids the importance of not hesitating to make new friends, wherever they may be. Back home, Lila is helped by Mrs. De Silva, who takes Lila’s mother to the hospital and with the proper treatment and right care, she starts to get better.
During this, Hari meets Mr. Panwallah, a character who brings a pivotal turn in the story. He is a watchmaker, and teaches Hari the trade. By this, readers are introduced to a kind man, who shows a personal interest in the boy, to help him make a living. Hari now has a decent earning, and decides to go back home. Mr. Panwallah wishes him the best, and sends him back.
Hari returns to the village, and decides to start his own business raising animals, with a view of opening his own shop in the near future. Hari and Lila’s mother’s situation improves, the father begins to support the family, and the story ends in a good note.
The story is a wonderful lesson in showing kindness. The backbone of the story is of a family who is pushed through kindness of strangers, hard work, and determination to not give up. And kids need to develop these valuable qualities. And the story, aimed at young readers, helps in cultivating them. Overall, it is a great book, and a well recommended read!