Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Between the ages of four and six, our hero is judged to be the smartest, gets “revenge against the whole world,” and is preferred by the girls.
The central character in Rajendra Pachauri’s 2010 novel, Return to Almora, is a male named Sanjay. Violating the first rule of fiction writing, Pachauri tells us things about him rather than showing us. As science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer explains, in an essay titled Show, Don’t Tell,
“telling” is the reliance on simple exposition: Mary was an old woman. “Showing,” on the other hand, is the use of evocative description: Mary moved slowly across the room, her hunched form supported by a polished wooden cane gripped in a gnarled, swollen-jointed hand that was covered by translucent, liver-spotted skin.
In this regard, Pachauri is hopeless. He simply declares that, at age four, Sanjay “was soon recognized as the most intelligent child in his class.”
Six months later, while attending kindergarten at a different school, we’re informed that Sanjay’s class will perform a short play. What’s the play about? What characters are involved? Are there costumes? Who knows. The point is that Sanjay becomes the understudy when the boy assigned to the main role falls ill.
We’re informed that he “rehearsed diligently,” but on the day of the play, the other boy has recovered and opportunity slips through Sanjay’s fingers. In what passes for character development (superfluous commas notwithstanding), we then read:
He locked himself in the toilet and cried at this unfair turn of events…Soon his grief turned to anger, his indignation to determination. He would show them all. He would win the frog race that afternoon and make his parents proud. In a burst of energy and amphibian ability, Sanjay leaped on all fours faster than any other child, finishing the race, yards ahead of the rest of the class. He felt as the though he had got his revenge against the whole world. I’ll remember this moment all my life, he thought to himself, even when I grow up. He returned home, triumphantly that evening, proudly bearing the little badminton racket he had won. He would show the world, who he really was. He wanted so much to be a grown-up.
A bit later, Sanjay – who is a Hindu – gets into a fight with a Muslim boy. Pachauri tells us:
After that, Sanjay took to carrying a small pen-knife, hidden under his clothes. A few days later, he told his parents he would kill a Muslim with the knife and string his body up on the electricity cable in the street. [His mother] sat down and gave him a long discourse on how all human beings are born equal, warning him that one should never judge people on the basis of religion or race.
Skipping ahead a few pages, we’re then advised:
He was now six years old, and very mature for his age.
It was a novel experience for Sanjay, to be in a school dominated by British children…Sanjay enjoyed the attention he received from the pretty girls, with lovely rosy cheeks. In his class, there was Marion Poole, who had beautiful, blue eyes, and Barbara West, who was the niece of one of the teachers. Sheila Thompson was tall and slender…And he did enjoy his studies. Soon, he was ahead of all the children, and even though he was brown skinned, he started getting much more attention from the girls than the white boys…
It’s difficult to believe in this character. I spend time on a regular basis with a bright, six-year-old boy and almost nothing in the above-quoted passages rings true.