Under the Bakul Tree - coming of age YA fiction
Review,  Fiction

Under the Bakul Tree by Mrinal Kalita – coming-of-age YA fiction

Under the Bakul Tree is a poignant, touching, and heartfelt coming-of-age YA fiction, a beautiful tale of friendship and hope.

Under the Bakul Tree

Under the Bakul Tree - coming of age YA fiction

Under the Bakul Tree by Mrinal Kalita, Partha Pratim Goswami (translator)

Publication Date : February 12, 2024

Publisher : Penguin

Read Date : June 30, 2024

Genre : Fiction / Translated fiction

Pages : 301

Source : Many thanks to publisher for review copy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

or

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Disclaimer : This post contains affiliate links.

Synopsis

When Ashim, the bright, cheerful class topper and the ‘jewel’ of Mahendra master, suddenly drops out of school, everyone is surprised. His classmate and academic rival, Nirmal, is deeply troubled by Ashim’s behaviour and decides to investigate.

As Nirmal discovers more about Ashim’s circumstances, a friendship as pure as the bakul flower blooms that stands its ground against the harsh realities of growing up in rural Assam.

A heartwarming coming-of-age tale, the book celebrates friendship, hope and determination as it unravels the devastating effects of poverty and of an education system that has failed the ones who need it the most—the misfits and outcasts.

Translated for the first time from the Assamese, Under the Bakul Tree is one of the finest young adult novels from India and is an invaluable addition to India’s rich literary landscape.

Review

Under The Bakul Tree is a touching and hopeful coming-of-age YA fiction about two young boys who transition from academic rivals to best friends, set against the vivid backdrop of Assamese rural life.

Ashim, once the top student in his class, faces a severe decline in his family’s circumstances, leading to a drop in his academic performance. As his situation worsens, he quit school and work as a laborer to support his mother and younger sister. However, his earnings are consistently taken by his alcoholic father, making their situation appear hopeless.

Nirmal who always came second started becoming topper of the class since Ashim’s declining performance. Concerned about Ashim’s absence, Nirmal’s persistence encourages Ashim to return to school. Unfortunately, Ashim’s return is marred by humiliation from a teacher, extinguishing his motivation until a compassionate young teacher intervenes.

This translated Assamese story features a captivating narrative and compelling characters, enriched by references to Assamese culture, music, and literature. The portrayal of rural life is realistic and resonant, exploring deep and beautiful themes of emotions, relationships, and humanity.

Under The Bakul Tree is layered with despair, the struggles of low-income families, alcoholism, the education system, corrupt politicians, and police brutality. Amid these heavy themes, the story shines with hope, friendship, kindness, compassion, guilt, and atonement, adding depth to this poignant tale of young boys.

The author masterfully depicts complex family dynamic through Ashim and his family condition. It was touching to see boy struggle due to his father’s alcohol addiction and how it impacted his sensitive mind. It was even worst to see there was no help for the family and nor the school teacher could understand what boy was going through. It took a boy with heart condition to see through his despair and tried to find help much as he could.

Nirmal is a wonderful character with a heart of gold, devoid of ego or arrogance despite his academic success. His kindness, compassion, and generosity persist, encouraging and uplifting Ashim no matter how often fates kept pulling his friend down. It was heart melting to see him surrounded by people who saw this in him and kept encouraging his friendship and his will to live.

Anubhav, the young teacher, stands out with his different approach, showing compassion and fostering a welcoming school environment. The discussions among teachers about politics, the education system, modernity, and tradition are thought-provoking, realistically depicting the current socio-political landscape. It was amazing how despite the challenges, they sees hope for the future through proper education.

The discussion between teachers about politics and education system as well as modernity and traditional and meaningful culture was thought-provoking and showed the realistic picture of current socio-political condition of the country. As mentioned in the discussion it was helpless scenario and yet there is hope for future of young generation through proper education.

The story concludes beautifully, with both boys inspiring their teachers, school, and peers. Ashim’s father also takes steps to improve their situation, adding a note of redemption.

While I appreciated the discussions on political and educational systems, they somewhat slowed the pace and often felt preachy and repetitive. We all know there are systemic issues, but these are problems that seem insurmountable. Even well-intentioned individuals working for societal good can only make incremental progress and try to be as helpful as possible. This was evident in the lengthy discussions.

Overall, Under The Bakul Tree is a poignant, touching, and heartfelt coming-of-age YA fiction, a beautiful tale of friendship and hope.

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#UndertheBakulTree by Mrinal Kalita – poignant, touching, and heartfelt coming-of-age #YAfiction.Many thanks @PenguinIndia for review copy.Check out full review –> Share on X
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Hi, I'm Yesha, an Indian book blogger. Avid and eclectic reader who loves to read with a cup of tea. Not born reader but I don't think I’m going to stop reading books in this life. “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

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