In ‘Friends Behind Walls’ by Harshikaa Udasi, we see 8-year-old Putti take charge of a sensitive situation. The book, published by Puffin is set in Deolali. Neel aka Putti is a young boy from Mumbai. He talks dime a dozen and is mighty excited to visit Deolali, his native place which is a small-town Air force cantonment in Maharashtra. This is a first time visit with his unwilling parents, the Sabharwals, for reasons best known to them. He is mesmerized by Deolali’s beauty and Shanti Park, the small society with six houses.
While his parents get busy cleaning up the place with Bhalerao Kaka, the caretaker, Putti gets busy exploring. He connects with Indrani aka Inu Savarkar a little girl with plaited hair, who has a sweet melodious voice and plays the sitar. She lives with her mother in the adjacent house. But both sets of parents scream and shout and warn them to keep away from each other.
But, what fun are the holidays without friends? Holidays can get boring on the long summer afternoons. Putti soon befriends Inu with a game of parroting and repeating sentences, the ice breaker (which she loves) and they connect and spend time together playing Hopscotch, Lagori and talking.
Asking the parents why the two of them cannot be friends is always met with a cold stone of silence and the threat that they will all return to Mumbai. So, Putti and Inu take it upon themselves to solve the mystery of why a wall separates each house from each other. What is that wall of conflicts and friction facing the members of the society? They secretly connect with the other old residents of the society, Mr Om Namaha aka Chimanroa Gadbade and Dr Maya Solanki, secretary of Shanti Park and an animal doctor who invariably cracks jokes and gives the children many hints but talk in riddles.
Putti and Inu are told to pay a visit to Tekdichi Mhatari, (TM for short) an old spooky lady who lives up on the hill who may just be able to help them. She gleefully does. But how is her ‘Potion of Memories’ Magic’ going to help the adult members and the new surprise arrivals to Shanti Park solve all their bickering problems?
Through the simple story of Putti and Inu’s blossoming friendship and coming together, Harshikaa conveys a far deeper meaning that children, though young ,can teach us adults a thing or two about letting bygones be bygones.
The title, Friends behind Walls is absolutely apt for the present scene around the world. Hilarious and providing many a chuckle, the story is interspersed with funny local colloquial language/lingo, with Bombaiya/Mumbaiya words. It is a moral story for our modern times in the times of conflict. Funny and eye-catching illustrations by Krishna Bala Shenoi add zest to the story. And, the cover design by Devangana Dash stands out as if saying, ‘Pick me up and start reading!’.