The story starts with our boy and his Dad on a wonderful day out chasing their rainbow , looking for the pot of gold at the end, coming back to hot bhajiyas, even more excitement as a friend calls him to see a rare snake captured, then appreciation for his drawing- seems like a wonderful day ? It would have been… if it was true, it had all happened in his head while he sat alone on gloomy day, while his friends played outside, feeling inexplicably sad. Then he looks into a cardboard tube into this dark hole and plummets into a terrible memory.
Each time he looks in , he falls into his dark , cold moments – From his first day at football, that he didn’t care for, yet it hurt when Dad said “you kick like a girl”, especially when the only girl there kuhu kicked better than the boys. A robust oiling by a well intentioned Mum leads to him being teased by the school bullies Chandu and Bandu “After all, he’s a dragon with protruding teeth that can spurt oil”. Dad running errands instead of waiting to watch his dismal game. His horrid name and even worse his nick name, being jeered and the nightmares. He loves poetry but his teacher wants him to focus on punctuation. His only escape is his sketches . But Dad says drawing himself as Sunil Chetri is not going to help. Now his drawings come out in knots and tangles , scribbled so hard that the page looked scratched and bruised. “ Like a mess. Hurt. Bruised.” He cannot understand this darkness, it manifests in different ways but always leaves him drained , exhausted.
His sketch of a book of his favourite poems seem to create a glimmer, but is it even possible? A lunch visit to Kuhu’s home and her toothless granny and father, have caused a flicker of light. Where will this dark hole end? Will there be light again? Then one day Kuhu and Lobo come in , take a look at his cardboard tube and change everything!
This story left me with tears in my eyes. It is brilliant because it is brave and hopeful, a way for a child feeling depressed to see there are others who go through it, unable to express it , unable to fathom the why, wanting it to end but finding themselves in pieces. At the same time , it is empowering , because all that is required is an eye that can truly see, a hand that reaches out and yanks them out, telling them that they are not alone. That’s all it takes.
The author Vaishali Shroff has deftly and delicately opened the door to conversations that are urgent and must be had, in way that it is light and simple enough for younger children to grapple with the darkness . Each chapter title is an insight in itself . In her own words, the simple message that each kid needs to hear , “To all the heroes who help. To all the heroes who seek help. You’re brave!”
The art adds a layer of subtle subtext in the book, the pencil grey sketches, the unravelling threads, the scribbles help greatly to be able to create a picture of what it is seen through the eyes of a boy in a dark hole.
Read it if you are a parent and you might wince as you catch yourself saying some of these very things that may seem so trivial to you, almost necessary as a parent , but invalidates and negates and reinforces what a child may be feeling. I can’t remember covering up for my kid ever and could see why a child would wish their parent would cover up their burnt cake with an icing once in a while. While we as parents are looking to motivate and inspire our children to blossom and grow, sometimes all they need to hear is that they are enough and more, today.
Questions for discussions with kids
( Parents/teachers, brace yourself for you may hear something you didn’t know before…)
What is in a name? Nicknames are common, what nickname has hurt you? Why?
Chandu and Bandu tease Kuhu She didn’t seem to be affected—but do you think it bothered her? “How can anyone not feel hurt after being spoken to like that?”
“Like a girl”…what does that mean to you? What are the things that girls cannot do? What are the things boys cannot do? Why is it important to correct this whenever you see it?
Case in pt – After a BBC reporter congratulated Andy Murray on being the first “person” to win two tennis gold medals, the tennis star reminded him that Serena and Venus Williams have won multiple golds. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72D4_sQ6I64)
“Have you ever felt like this too, like nothing is going your way, like the entire world is on one side and you are on the other?”
Can you express sadness in a drawing? In poetry?
Do you think you can make a choice between light or darkness by yourself? How will you ask for help? If you are not able to step out and mix with friends because you’re in a dark hole , then what can you do?
Childhood depression is one of the most misunderstood and undiagnosed issues today. It is a cry for help. Vaishali Shroff has put a serious concern about children’s mental health in today’s times and even more relevant in this pandemic, in a very approachable way. As a parent , are you missing a cry for validation? As a friend , just like Lobo , you may be surprised to realize someone you interact with closely has not been able to reach out. As a child in the dark hole, there is light waiting for you.
Do not miss reading this one. It is a must have conversation and no better way to start than with this book…