There’s a new super hero in town, and no, this one doesn’t come with underpants in the wrong place. This one comes with seven-and-a-half tentacles and an unusual supply of intelligence, enough to make Jyotin Goel write this almost-octopus’s adventures in ‘Sept-Opus’. He’s called Rot8 too; you know. Rotate – Rot8, because thanks to his missing limb he tends to spin and boomerang back to where he’s running away from, including a killer whale’s killer jaws closing in on him and … but that’s the suspense you need to read for yourself. I’m only going to tell you a wee bit more!
The story in this children’s book takes place in the Goa Sea World, where Rot8 lives with his family and other water creatures. Now, Rot8, ‘a civilized octopus’, is already quite something. ‘His family’s musical vein ran rich in him’, and he was a smart one too. Tumboo, the turtle, is his best friend and not just because she never makes fun of his half-limb, unlike Rot8’s other friends. One day, something happens (It’s a secret!) and Rot8 lands in the lab of vet Reena Ronaldo and the mad scientist Subbu Swami. ‘Heen-credi-bull’ events ensue and a new superhero-with-tools is born! And where there’s a superhero, there’s got be an adventure close behind him, isn't it? Except here, it’s in the tank where Rakshus, the killer whale, is swimming angry and very hungry …
As much as the book made me feel 8-years-old again, I need to tell you in grown-up language why books like ‘Sept-Opus’ are great for young readers who are looking for novelty in their everyday reading. Jyotin Goel has created memorable and witty characters and set them in a suspenseful story in a very real monsoon-rich Goa. But what he has also achieved with this book is connecting with his young readers and involving them, almost reading their mind to take them along, and even asking them to guess what happens next with three bullet-ed options!
Conversational but highly invented language, man meeting animal, the humour all over and interesting trivia to make parents happy are the USPs of this book. The novelty of the story is also in that it doesn’t lecture with a clear ‘thou shalt not’ moral at the end of it, but subtly eases kids into a revelation - the “power” of disability.
Man and Animal Talk
There is no dearth of invention and imagination that has gone into this book. Have you ever met ‘eight-legged blobs of goo’ called Irrit8, Overw8 and even Po8, who writes verses? They speak ‘Octopi’, just like blowfish speak ‘Blowish’. For that matter, every single character in the book, human or animal, speaks differently from the other.
So, if Reena’s helping hand to Rot8 and Tumboo sounds like ‘Letto meeaaloo hellapoo yaouula’, Dr Subbu Swami introduces himself as ‘Dr Zubbu Zwami, proztheticz h’expert.’ It’s a world where ‘no one speaks Fishy well’ and human speech sounds like ‘gobbledygook to all creatures.’ Just imagine the confusion! Yet, they are all communicating (though some like Clumsy Claude are bumbling-fumbling too!) and making themselves understood. When Reena talks to Rot8, ‘he didn’t understand her words, but her meaning was clear.’
In ‘Sept-Opus’, rather beautifully, all creatures are meeting in their truest best sans a shared language, or accent. It is where ideas of sibling love and loyalty, communal support and friendship, loneliness and heart-break, silly mistakes and forgiveness cut across the two defined Kingdoms as we know it, and bring Man and Animal on a common plank, whether above or below sea level.
(Okay, killer Rakshus may just be an exception. But ‘his mind had shrunk to contain just one thought – the last, deepest thought of a killer whale: to find its prey, to hunt, to kill’. Shall we excuse him?)
And this is how the book begins, in peace-time:
‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls … for the Final, Fantastical Act of the Goa Sea World show, preeeeesentinggg the Cleverest Creatures in the sea – the Octopi!’
That announcement had two mistakes. As every octopus knows, the plural of ‘octopus’ is ‘octopuses’, not ‘octopi’ (Octopi is the language octopuses speak). The second mistake was calling octopuses ‘the cleverest creatures in the sea’ – they’re NOT. They’re the cleverest anywhere!’
And this is how it is, in panic-time:
‘Whale …tail…jail…fail…’ Po8 muttered, terrified.
‘W…what are you doing?’ Irrit8 whispered.
‘C…can’t help it…bit…sit…When I’m scared, I rhyme…time…mime…dime… It’s poetic reaction…faction…action…’
While in another corner of the pool, Tumboo has been badly bitten but let alone by the shark with a ‘Pthoooh! Taste terrible!’ Giggly Tumboo pops her head out, ‘I’ve never been so insulted!’ And the kids are breathing again. The book spirals into nail-biting action sequences towards the closure, but little readers will be laughing their lungs out even as they chew their nails. (Parents take note.)
Children love one, don’t they? And Rot8 is special, not just because of the “powers” he acquires in the lab or that he heroically ‘clamped to the whale’s fin’, but also because he is not usual. He has only 7 and a half limbs. And ‘Sept-Opus’ stands for the idea of how every lack comes with a special something in stead, and how disability thus becomes a specialty.
A lovely message without making it sound like one! Should make the parents happy, apart from the fact that the book is also teeming with scientific trivia about camouflage and inks, octopuses swimming at 70 kilometres per hour but not surviving 5 mins in the air, and that ‘what is loud for an octopus (under water) is shattering for the whale.’
Wait, I’m entering spoiler territory now. ‘H’EEM-pozzi-bull!’
Swimming to a conclusion then, ‘Sept-Opus’ is a children’s book that has it all. It will make them laugh, maybe go sniff-sniff in some scenes, keep them interested, entertain them with illustrations and plant a tiny moral seed in them too. It will be a treat to read aloud, thanks to how it has been written, and even more to be read aloud to. I would really love that!
'Sept-Opus' by Jyotin Goel is published by Red Turtle, Rupa Publications, 2015
[Review was commissioned by the publisher. Views are my own.]