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Mayil is back and she is all grown up! An older teenager, she pushes boundaries for herself and her family. A look at the series read with my kids, now with the 3rd book, This is Me, Mayil.
Mayil has spunk. She is can express her thoughts amazingly well. She is witty. She is curious and is not afraid to ask questions. She has a keen sense of right and wrong. She is a fictional character created by authors Sowmya Rajendran and Niveditha Subramaniam to kick-start much-needed conversations around growing up in modern society.
The set of 3 books Mayil Will Not Be Quiet!, Mostly Madly Mayil, and This Is Me, Mayil are no-holds-barred, mind-to-print, #NoFilters pre-teen journal entries of the central character Mayil, who also signs as Mayilwriter. For many Indian kids in their teens now, Mayilwriter was a friend who understood what they thought and felt, and her diary felt much like their own, if they did write.
Through this character’s keen observations, the books explore the questions that a pre-teen or a teenager growing up in today’s world might have. As Mayil grows from a vivacious 12 year old to a sulky 16 year old, she continues to write honestly and through her writing offers her readers glimpses of her mind, something children identify with. As for adults, we often forget how confusing growing up is, and reading Mayil’s rumination serves as a grounding, slows us down, and helps us to look upon our children with more patience and gentleness. At least this is what it did to me.
My children were 6 and 4.5 when I picked up the first Mayil book, Mayil Will Not Be Quiet! in 2011 (this book won the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar award in 2015).
At that time I had strict rule about my children reading books in which the protagonist was about their age. I was sure that they would not be reading Mayil for another few years. But after reading The Snow King’s Daughter, I had unequivocal trust in Sowmya Rajendran and her ability to explain difficult topics in a way that gets children to think. Plus I live in eternal fear that books would go out of print, and when I needed a book it may not be available!
As the girls grew lot my rules about reading and books fell through, rather they just smashed through them. Right now what they read is a combination of what piques their interest and what their friends, school librarian and I recommend to them. At 14 and 12.5 they have read all the three Mayil books.
This Is Me, Mayil picks up two years after the second book. We see that she is exhibiting most of the traits of a typical teenager.
When you don’t see your friend’s pre-teen child for a few years and when you see them again, you are zapped by the fact that the child is no longer a child, but almost an adult. I say almost because though the physical transformation is drastic, you do see traces of the small child you once knew under the mask of moodiness and sulkiness they have put on. It is the same with Mayil in the third book. With her poems and thoughts she sounds so grown up, but the child is still there, underneath.
At the risk of stereotyping, if you are a parent of a teenager you would identify with all the hallmark characters of adolescence:
affinity to junk food – check
hatred for keerai (leafy greens). And what is with this “Ayiooo keerai-a??!! For the second time in a week?” whining? It is not like I get a prize for making keerai!) – check
losing oneself in a book while school work languishes – check
recreating a pig sty in one’s room – check
treating friends as family more than family – check
at times trying to become invisible like Violet Parr in The Incredibles – check
the stomping, the fuming and the door banging – check
empathy when you least expect it – check
flooring you with flashes of brilliance when you are wondering if anything has ever sunk in – check
At home we do have conversations about the different books we are reading. When I asked them about the three Mayil books, my younger child said that Mayil is very honest, relatable and because it is her diary she did not have to read between the lines. And she finished with, ‘Mayil sounds mature but confident in the third book.’ My older child said that she identifies with Mayil a lot.
The books discuss a huge range of subjects. Some very heavy, like how all generations struggle with establishing boundaries in social media, work place harassment, how society treats people with disabilities to normal everyday sibling rivalry. Of the plethora of topics, if I wanted to discuss a few things with my children, I would have prioritised on body image, infatuation and girl-boy dynamics. But no matter how I circled and danced around the topic (and oh how I danced!) they were quite tight lipped.
But over a period of time a few topics have come up when I least expected it.
Like for instance, one morning my older daughter said that reading about the hidden cameras in dressing rooms made her nervous. And how it is a violation of one’s privacy to do something cheap like that. She connected it to how in Mayil’s story, Ki’s boyfriend morphed a picture of her on to a someone else’s body and tried blackmailing her. We talked about how there are things that we are in control of and are responsible for, like Ki, though was erroneous in her judgement was responsible the intimate pictures she took with her boyfriend. And there are things beyond our control, like the hidden cameras. We can only hope to be aware of things and take informed decisions but not worry about the million things that could go wrong and be afraid to live.
Another topic that came up (inspired by Mayil) was having a public blog to record their views on growing up and… wait for it….that this blog would be a secret just for one person in the whole world. Any guess on who this unfortunate person is? There are times I get confused with this multiple personality… the same children who floor me with their flashes of brilliance and empathy, can also close be ostriches no matter how much they read, and decide that what affects the rest of the world will not affect them! We talked in length about cyberbullying and how nothing is really private on the internet; rather I lectured, hoping that this seed I am sowing would germinate sometime when the time is right!
And just as I drew parallels between Mayil and my teenagers, my children equated Maya and Ganesan to my husband and I! Which makes me think, inspite of all our thoughts that we are all unique and have very unique problems, maybe there is some kind of soothing universality to our roles and behaviour patterns!
I take comfort in the thought that just like Mayil, who I am equating to my children, inspite of her precociousness and indiscretions knew when to ask for help when the time came, my children would also trust us enough and ask for help when they find that they have bitten more than they can chew. And my hope is that my children would understand that no matter how angry Mayil gets at Maya, Ganesan, and Thatha, no matter how much she hates Mayag’s nags, she would always keep the conversation going and never shut them out, and do the same with us.
Happy reading to and with all the Mayils and Mayas out there.
If you’d like to pick up the books in the Mayil series by Sowmya Rajendran and Niveditha Subramaniam, use our affiliate links: Mayil Will Not Be Quiet, Mostly Madly Mayil, This Is Me, Mayil.
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Image source: Sowmya Rajendran & Niveditha Subramaniam, and book images Amazon
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Anitha Ramkumar is a teacher, librarian, a dreamer and an independent spirit. She used to
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