He said the bag wasn’t empty. There were books in the bag they were dragging. Books could survive malba, but not ashes.
Would he sell the books for pulp?
The boy looked up, and even in the waning light, his anger was clear to see.
I can read, he said.
Mridula Koshy makes you sit on a bicycle and pedals away into the life of what we call the underprivileged. As you ride along the stench of the naalas, cans of water being filled up from the community tap, one room shacks with just a curtain hanging to separate the outside world, the images seem familiar. As if you always knew of the existence of this ‘other’ world and it was now simply rising out of the subconscious in front of your eyes. You find yourself on the other side of the high rise from where the ashes that smear the life of Noor and many like her are not visible. From where the voice of the kabadiwala could never reach you and therefore his vanishing away from the streets went unnoticed.
Between Noor’s thirteenth and fourteenth birthday, you grow up in many ways and outgrow many assumptions you may have nursed about people and their life. The best part is Mridula does it without any trace of sympathy or judgment. The road turns, smoothly and gently sans any drama. In the end what remains is a story so relatable that it could rather be a story of you and me, may be in a different setting.
Noor’s clings with fierce loyalty to her father and his profession as kabadiwala. To the extent, she wants to ride her bicycle into the streets calling ‘Kabadi le lo’ and becoming the first kabadiwali. She is okay with mother preparing sooji ka halwa on her birthday inspite of knowing she loves aloo with poori. As long as that keeps her brother and family together, she is happy. When Haseena finds joy in giving up her school to ensure her brother walks to the school, Noor mourns the loss of a dear friend rather see it as a sacrifice. The afternoon sun embalms the tender love growing between Noor and Ajith. Life moves on and so does Noor, without her knowing how much she is changing and how much inside her remains unchanged.
As Noor pedals away towards her dream, she soon finds her green bicycle rampaging into her desire for the togetherness of the family. She questions and wonders about the power of imagination taught to her in school by one of the teachers.
“Could one imagine a green bicycle, one that had never existed, into existence, but then not be able to imagine a family that had once existed back into existence?”
To see Noor ask her mother not to throw away the old green anarkali gifted to her on the thirteenth birthday and at the same time wanting something western for her fourteenth birthday brings you to crossroads of your own life. Where you want to save memories in the trunk but you also want to fly away with your dreams. Without a care in the world. Without the afternoon sun bothering you. Without knowing how to stop. Just going bicycle dreaming.