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Confusion says…

A peripatetic school teacher finds modern Chinese life surprisingly idiosyncratic. Jairaj Singh elaborates.

books Updated: Apr 02, 2010 21:18 IST
Jairaj Singh

A Great Ball In China And My Little Taizhou
Shankar Sharma
Tranquebar
n Rs 295 n pp 242

Two years ago, Shankar Sharma ditched journalism for good and took to teaching in China without an elaborate plan. The outcome of that trajectory is A Great Ball in China And My Little Taizhou, a collection of zany, idiosyncratic, reflective pieces of his one-year stint as a teacher and traveller in the eastern fringes of China.

Sharma arrives in China in August 2008 when the Beijing Olympics are taking place. He describes the school garden as “homosexual” (not gay), calls his junior students “ducks” and the seniors “geese”, while he elaborates on the silent moments he shares with his fashionable-yet-formidable colleague, Mrs Chen, who sits facing him at work.

Clever wordplay and speculative meetings take us to a classroom in Taizhou in Jiangsu Province, as Sharma blends reportage and travel writing in one tight-fisted narrative. He observes the “piquant absurdities” that fill modern day Chinese life: the rigorous meritocratic educational system, the ephemeral façade of modern architecture, the willingness of the students to adopt whimsical western names, the A to Z of Chinese diet…

Sharma deals with China’s politics towards the end, talking about the “victimisation” the average apolitical Chinese feels from the slander his country receives from the world press. To dispel stereotypes, Sharma reminds us “that theirs is a nation formed by popular protest spawned in turn from a previous regime born of protest, and came close to anarchy not that long ago because of protest”. In fact, the novel, a fine, rollicking read on China, seems to tell us that the country doth protest too much.