The Talking Bird by Swati Sengupta is a brilliantly exaggerated story of a lady who gets into trouble because of a toy she bought for her child from a pavement hawker. With colourful illustrations to support, the story is simple, fun and quintessentially Indian.
I would like to point out two facets of this beautiful book that spoke to me. The first is the rather accurate image of Kolkata and its primary business district – the Dalhousie Square. The busy-ness of the locality, its traffic, commotion, pavement hawkers spring out of the book to paint a very real picture. Illustrator Sayan Mukherjee sets the tone for the setting in the first page itself by putting a larger than life background illustration of the Kolkata GPO – the iconic colonial building of Dalhousie Square. The politically aware Bengali temperament is also hinted at by a quick reference to the Writer’s building, the seat West Bengal’s political power, and the Chief Minister.
The other highlight of the Talking Bird is Ma. She has no name other than just ‘Ma’. No other social or familial relation is mentioned other than that of her with her little boy Tokai. She is engaged in an activity that will bring a smile to her son’s face – buying a toy for him. The story throws light on what parents are willing to endure just to see their children happy. Ma buys a battery operated bird for two hundred and fifty rupees that she can ill afford and faces a lot of embarrassment and trouble while taking it home to her son by public transport. After the unfortunate bird is seized by a cop Ma buys a new one the following day for her little boy. Her character is unidimensional and being ‘Ma’ is the all-encompassing business of her life while she disregards the tiredness that comes at the end of a long working day faced with a long journey back home by an overcrowded bus.
Therefore, this book is a winner for me on both counts – character and setting, not to mention that it has provided endless hours of reading pleasure to me and my child. While he delighted in the picture of the colourful talking bird, I identified with the sentiment of Ma.