Goodreads blurb: I see you. Legs like toothpicks, body and face all ribs and cheekbones. And that hair. Come on, what is it? Like friggin’ barbed wire. I see you with a hand-me-down cracked bat creaming a leather ball, in a sock, hanging from the branch of a mango tree.
Being accepted into an elite international school on a cricket scholarship doesn’t mean your life is going to change. Except it does, because hunky Indika – I for Indika, I for Incredible – takes you under his wing, drags you to posh restaurants and shows you pictures from glossy magazines of women who … well, never mind, that’s not the point. The point is: if your best friend snogs your girlfriend, can he still be Incredible? Was he ever? But don’t sweat the small stuff. There are cricket matches to win, examinations to pass, a horrifying past to forget, a sinister schoolmaster to avoid … and, of course, a first kiss to finally experience. Prabu’s life is never going to be the same again.
Funny, diamond-sharp and unapologetic, Panther is a novel about that familiar, fractured passage to adulthood that can make us magnificent if it does not kill us.
While all authors (at least the good ones) need to have the ability to harness the ‘voice’ of their main protagonists and antagonists, very few ones successfully manage to convince their readers so comprehensively that the lines between the author and his characters’ voices blur. The really good authors do so in a manner that the readers begin to believe that the author is narrating his own story and from his own autobiographical experiences rather than writing a novel or a story which is fully fictional in nature.
With Panther, the author Chhimi Tenduf-La almost managed to convince me that he had a childhood which was spent in a Sri Lankan Tamil rebel fighter camp, that he was separated from his parents and taken there, that he had deep dark secrets during these years that still sear his memories and scare him till date, that he developed this wonderful friendship with a Sinhala ‘wannabe Sachin Tendulkar’ and that the two of them had some really good times and a few bad times as well at school together. The lines between where the author is telling us a story versus where he seems to get autobiographical are so blurred that for most part of the book, I felt that Prabu, the protagonist was the author as well. That is how well the author has managed to get under the skin of this particular character.
As the blurb and the above paragraph states, this book is essentially a ‘coming of age’ story of Prabu, a young Tamil rebel fighter in Sri Lanka who is undergoing the process of rehabilitation in a country were a bitter, cruel and terrible civil war has ended and is currently coming to terms with its new multi-cultural reality. Cricket seems to be Prabu’s only way out of the messy situation he finds himself in at that point in time and it provides him with a gateway to an education and a school life which he wouldn’t have even imagined possible otherwise. But there’s another deeper, darker motivation behind him joining school as well, and that to me, is that makes this book more serious and way darker than it looks and reads at the outset.
Suffice to say that Panther gives us an unique insight into a whole generation of teenagers and youngsters who have grown up on both sides of the Sri Lankan civil war and provides readers with at least a vague idea of both perspectives, while being interesting and fun enough to read without getting all too serious about it.
A copy of this book was provided to me by the author, Chhimi Tenduf-La expecting nothing whatsoever in return. Thanks Chhimi, this book was as enjoyable, if not more, than your earlier publication, The Amazing Racist whose review I had published here [Link to review]