Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adventure, Enid Blyton style

As a child, I longed for adventure. The hunger for adventure had been enkindled by the books I read and the characters that peopled them. These were the Five Find-Outers, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven, written by a certain Enid Blyton.

In those days, there was no real market for children's books with an Indian ethos. Enid Blyton ruled the Indian market. And almost every Indian child who read had a lot of Blyton books in his/her treasure hoard.

I took to Blyton pretty late in the day. So I didn't have any acquaintance with The Faraway Tree or with Noddy. It was the stories about children aged around 9 to 14 that charmed me the most.

The children in the Five Find-Outers, Secret Seven, Famous Five etc had a raucously exciting life. Together they explored deserted islands, hidden cottages, ruined castles and underground tunnels.They would carry packed lunches and set out on their adventures, and exciting and exhilarating things always happened to them.

The characters in each series were different, but the basic premise was the same: islands to explore, solve mysteries, even crimes. They got into trouble, of course, but they managed to get out of it using their intelligence, common sense and wit.

I longed to be part of a group like that. When I tried to recruit my older brother into a group of my own, he told me to get real and grow up. He said real life wasn’t like that. At that time I was greatly disappointed. Since then I’ve come to realise that real life is a much larger adventure. Sadly, packed lunches aren’t always a part of the deal.

My desire for adventure was not thwarted by his refusal to join me. So I tried to talk my childhood friends into being a part of a group that boldly went out in search of adventure. Not being voracious readers of Blyton, they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. In fact, quite a few had never even heard of Blyton.

When I explained the whole concept to them, I had the satisfaction of seeing their eyes brimming with suppressed excitement. I smiled like one of those Happy Buddhas, at a task well begun. But it was not to be.

It seemed that my friends had managed to get hold of the wrong end of the adventure. Considerable vehemence was expended on the contents of the packed lunches. Traditional Indian cuisines are rich with varieties of gravies, dals, pulaos and biryanis, one-pot meals, bhajis, rotis of all kinds, milk-based desserts and sweetmeats. Not the sort of thing that one can carry around, certainly not on an adventure. 

Having read one Enid Blyton too many, I was fixated on the lunches she described. But none of my playmates had any idea what muffins and scones were. I had heard of them, but only because I had read about them. I had no idea what they looked like.

Mercifully, I knew some of of my friends were strictly vegetarian so I didn’t bring up the subject of ham rolls. Or of ginger beer, for that matter.

One of my friends, who hailed from the state of Andhra Pradesh, said her mother would never let her leave without idlis, dosas and chutney. Another friend from Gujarat said theplas and chunda were a hardy food that feared no spoilage.

The noise around the subject of meals to be carried with us had taken so long to be resolved that I didn’t quite have it in me to introduce the subject of a password to be resorted to in moments of difficulty. Or a secret badge and a headquarters where we would meet, a la the Secret Seven.

I also longed to join a boarding school. Mallory Towers was just so much fun. Since we were generally well-behaved children, my parents never felt the need to threaten to send us to boarding school. Since they weren't bringing up the subject themselves, I once told my Dad that I'd like to go to Mallory Towers. He told me that boarding schools weren't as much fun as they seemed to appear to me. That there would be strict regimentation, and that I would have to fend for myself, and pick up after myself etc. 

I told him that I didn't want to go to any boarding school. Only Mallory Towers for me. I also insisted that Mallory Towers was different from all other Indian boarding schools. I wanted to play lacrosse, and ride horses and engage in midnight feasts, and learn the piano.

Today I wonder if any other children's writer has fired the imagination of little children as much as Blyton did. JK Rowling has breathed life into the world of magic with her six Harry Potter books and the movies. But do kids these days want to join Hogwarts and become wizards?

Sigh! Maybe we were just more naive back then.

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)

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  1. yr post took me down memory lane where my whole class read and exchanged Enid Blyton books, Chandamama, Jataka tales and Panchantra books. but the Secret Seven and Famous Five were very interesting. Fatty, Pip,Buster, Mr. Goon were all part of our lives.

  2. Thanks for bringing up that memory, Kalpana. My classmates and I too used to read and exchange books. I used to read as fast as I could so I could go ahead and exchange another as soon as possible.

  3. Wow... You rekindled my nostalgic memories... I was called Georgina aka George of the Famous five coz of my boy cut!!! :) :) :)
    Came here via Indibloggers Family group on FB! :)

  4. Hi, Bhushavali, George seems to have been the favourite character of a lot of girls. I too wished I was her. Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Hi Cynthia, enjoyed your post immensely. I loved Enid Blyton's books. Famous Five, naughtiest Girl series, Mallory Towers, St. Clare have read all. In fact, I am reading famous five with my daughter presently.
    I remember I used to feel hungry while reading about the tea, cakes and scones, muffins and Ice-cream.
    Thanks for a trip down the memory lane:)

  6. I completely understand you, Cynthia!! I was so taken with the Faraway tree, I really wished for the tree near my home to have different lands on it every week!! For me, the Faraway Tree series tops all Blyton reads :-). I'd read them even today!!

  7. Nostalgia on all the books I read -Enid blyton, Nancy drew, Amar chitra katha, Phantom & Bahadur, Panchatantra, Jataka tales... I guess, we had no option but, to imagine. Nowadays all books are converted into movies and cartoons. There is little left to imagine. I don't know if this is good or bad :)

  8. Wow! This took me down the memory lane. I always wonder which bibliophile would have not read her. I mean its what always draws us together. A mere mention of her books gets all of us excited!


  9. I still read Blyton. And like you I too wsnted to join Mallory Towers and inspired from that book we used to have those midnight snacks in boarding. Enid Blyton always took to a magical land of mysterious and fun.

  10. I did read Enid Blyton too, but remember very vaguely what it was like. I guess after this post , i will revisit or may be borrow a book from you. :) Priyanka



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