Written by Shikhandin
Illustrated by Shabnam Lakhera
Published by Duckbill Books
Vibhuti Cat is the story of Magesh and his Vibhuti Cat. Magesh is different from other children and does not speak much. His interaction with his understanding older brother Vignesh and his love for Vibhuti Cat define Magesh. Magesh’s Vibhuti Cat emerges out of the boy’s own interactions with the world and the people around him. So, when Paati forbids the cat from entering the puja room, Magesh draws the vibhuti on its forehead, making it acceptable to his grandmother. The cat, drawn on pieces of paper, goes around the house, hiding in cupboards and within the pages of books. It even goes beyond the limits of the known and familiar world and reaches Appa’s office and Vignesh’s school.
When Amma finds a school for Magesh, he sets out on an exciting new journey. But eventually, it is his warmly supportive family and the constant encouragement of his brother that help Magesh overcome the limitations of his condition. Vignesh, who obviously has very high expectations from his parents to live up to (the shock of Amma when he gets three sums wrong!!), is always ready to indulge his younger brother. He displays huge reserves of common sense and patience when dealing with Magesh. And when Magesh begins speaking, it is Vignesh who rejoices the most. Magesh’s exposure to the outside world and the encouragement he gets from his own family help him plan Vibhuti Cat’s maiden flight. This incident highlights Magesh’s own soaring desires to fly away and reach the moon.
The Vibhuti Cat as a manifestation of Magesh’s own desires to see the world is a lovely idea that mostly works. In some instances, however, a child will find it difficult to make the leap necessary to connect a flat cat drawn on a piece of paper with a real cat. There are a couple of instances where the vocabulary is not appropriate for the target audience. But it is the organisation of the book that really weakens it. The book lacks a sense of cohesion and of balance and this results in a narrative that is not entirely satisfying. For example, if Vibhuti Cat got to Appa’s office, Vignesh’s school, Paati’s domain- the puja room, why not to Amma’s workplace? We understand that the focus of the book is the wonderfully warm bond between the two brothers, but we would have loved to know more about the jangiri loving Paati.
The book is also awkwardly situated between a picture book and a chapter book. The text heavy book is not likely to appeal to younger readers at whom it is aimed while middle readers will find it a too easy read.
The illustrations by Shabnam Lakhera are lovely. They effortlessly swing between the ordered and neat house and the confusion of Magesh’s world. Wonderfully evocative, they have small touches that children are sure to appreciate. But the hero of the story is undoubtedly the family, with their calm acceptance of a child’s tantrums, and their gentle attempts to placate him.
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