THERE is something irresistible about the book, Advaita the Writer, by Ken Spillman. It's not just the story, the characters, the setting, the language or the structure. It's something else, something less conspicuous, like the roots of a tree buried deep inside. Sometimes it's the turn of a phrase, sometimes it's the shape and contours of Advaita's mind, sometimes it is the clash of the adult world and the adolescent world, but always it is there. That something which makes you want to reread and relive the story, breathing in Spillman's sheer genius.
Advaita the Writer is many stories rolled into one. It is the story of separation, of belonging, of space, of identity, of dreams, of inspiration, each an intrinsic aspect of growing up. Right from page one, we are pulled into Advaitaâ€™s unique world, as she readies herself to leave for the Dunham Girls' School in Dehradun, venturing from the familiar to the unknown. Her first experiences at school, her loneliness and fear, her yearning for home, her inevitable withdrawal into the world of books and ideas, and the natural evolution of her thoughts revealed in her letters, makes every single nuance of her character real and tangible. So when she discovers that her favourite author, Ruskin Bond, lives in Dehradun, breathing the same air as she does, the disbelief she feels is palpable, as is the awe she goes through when she actually meets him. And when she is finally at peace with her situation, you feel calmer too, finding comfort in the sanguinity of life that Advaita discovers in the end.
What keeps this delightfully unpredictable world of Advaita aloft is Spillmanâ€™s narrative. It flows like a happy river, meandering through difficult emotions and exciting metaphors with equal ease, as it runs its preordained course.
Throughout the book, Spillman gently pushes the boundaries of language, never once compromising on the intelligence of the reader or taking it for granted. Itâ€™s a delicate balance that is rarely achieved in books for young readers.
The illustrations by Menon too are spot on, hovering, almost respectfully, behind Advaitaâ€™s story.
Read this book to be touched by not just the magic of Ruskin Bond, but also that of Spillmanâ€™s through lovely, whimsical Advaita.