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Book review: Mr. Oliver's Diary

books Updated: Mar 18, 2010 13:15 IST

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Book: Mr. Oliver's Diary
Author: Ruskin Bond
Published by: Puffin
Price: Rs.150

What, you wonder, can be new in the story of a not-yet-40, bald and a bit lonely teacher at prep school, replete with the antics of juvenile boys, a parrot that screeches "bottoms up", frolicking frogs and a violin-playing headmaster?

But Ruskin Bond, who has more than 30 children's books to his credit, uses all the old tricks to make Christopher Oliver a funny and loveable little hero in the hills of Simla.

As a new term begins, our Olly, with his big nose, is not quite the dashing bachelor who evokes instant admiration. He wears a wig that amuses the boys no end - one day they send a barber to his door! Without it he is even declared "topless" by Anjali Ramola, the pretty colleague he is not-so-secretly in love with.

There are, of course, no secrets between the reader and Olly, as he pours his heart out in his diary. "Such a pity caning has been banned," he muses one day.

Another time he writes, "No self-respecting leopard would think of attacking and consuming Miss D'Costa. It wouldn't get past her earrings."

Slowly it dawns that Olly is quite a man. He can teach, box, play football and give as good as he gets - in his own polite way. Bond, 75, who has honed his art with more than 300 short stories, essays and novellas, even bestows him with a quiet sense of humour. Sample this conversation with Anjali Ramola:

"You're so gallant, Mr.Oliver. Just like an elder brother."

"Elder or older?"

"Whichever you prefer. You don't mind, do you?"

"Better than saying I'm just like a father."

Olly it is who gets called upon to tackle every crisis, be it an army of frogs or a sleepwalking student or a lightning strike or a missing headmaster.

Bond's prose is simple, heartwarming and decidedly funny. Some of the illustrations by Anjali Nayar are quite amusing - like the one where nurse Babcock snores so hard that a paper bag floats away by the force of her breath.

The situations may be a little predictable. And the motley crew a little typical, making you wonder if children, with today's distractions, will fall for it.

But Bond has his finger on their pulse. As mischievous Mirchi tells Olly about his opinion of a perfect school: "A school without exams, sir."