The contents of 'A Clear Blue Sky' belie it's almost pocket-sized appearance as it boasts of an impressive collection of short stories from India and the subcontinent - linked together by the twin themes of conflict and hope.
In Asha Nehemiah's, 'A Time to Mend', a little girl and her brother survive an attack on a church during a riot and help restore a precious altar cloth (and some faith, too!)
Read Paro Anand's chilling story, 'The New Game', and you will think twice before you give your child violent games. (I read it to my teenaged students and there was a stunned but thoughtful silence).
Bulbul Sharma writes a touching story on how children's innocence and purity of mind survives the worst sort of violence and hatred.
Aditi De's strict old fashioned protagonist recalls a chilling essay written by her student and shows us how what we call history is being being made right in front of us - for better or for worse.
Sandwiched in between is the inimitable Gulzar's little gem of a poem that poignantly asks - "Is it that necessary to grow up?"
Poile Sengupta's most unsentimentally told "Oranges" is a refreshing little story within a story about two silly communities who learn the fun of living and sharing together once again.
Manjula Padmanabhan's realistic "Stun" touches upon the disturbing ways in which the children learn from the world around them that is 'Dark' is 'Ugly' and how all it takes is a gentle empathetic and wise adult to undo the damage with some humour.
'Making Stones Dance' by Subhadra Sengupta brings alive the stupidity of caste in a beautifully narrated piece of fictionalized history from the times of Krishna Deva Raya.
The last one from which the collection gets its name is Elmo Jayawardene's heart-stopping portrayal of a Sri Lankan boy whose dreams of becoming a bowler are probably shattered. Though real conflicts like the 1984 riots, Partition, or the Sri Lankan civil war are the settings for these stories, none of them are too dark or didactic.
There is a freshness of vision and unsentimentality of tone which will win today's young readers over. Like the clear blue sky that calmly arches over all of our adult world's madness, these stories provide a clarity and purity of vision that only characters like the protagonists in these stories can impart to us - their vision - as yet (hopefully) unsullied by 'Grown up' bigotry and prejudice.
A must for all 11 or 12+ preteens and teens and might I add - 'grown-ups' too - including those of us who need to truly grow up from our narrow and destructive visions of the world. There is hope, as Narayana Murthy says in his preface, if we do not let our courage, determination and hope "lie dormant" . Buy the book for your child and read it yourself.
Note to parents: Wouldn't it be a great idea to give these books as take away gifts instead of the usual items at birthday parties?
Two thumbs up!