Flying With Grandpa follows young Xerxes and his relationships with the adults in his family. Xerxes wants to grow up to be like his grandfather who he calls Mamavaji. But his mother Sonji wants him to be like JRD Tata. Mamavaji is old and Sonji believes his eccentric behaviour is a bad influence on Xerxes.
Scared that he and his grandpa will be separated, Xerxes forms a plan. Madhuri Kamat’s writing, along with Niloufer Wadia’s illustrations, takes us on a journey through the mind of a little child as he navigates an adult’s world with its rules and seemingly arbitrary restrictions.
Throughout the story, the author brings our attention to how similar Grandpa and Xerxes are, indicating that people tend to become more childlike as they age. Xerxes has no difficulty understanding his Grandpa’s imagination. What confuses him is his parents’ absurd rules like standing still or never shouting back when shouted at. After a particularly silly game of pretend, Xerxes overhears his mother saying that he should be sent to boarding school. Xerxes then decides that Grandpa must become a pilot like JRD Tata so they can stay together forever.
The book tactfully deals with the theme of old age. Too often in our society, old people are treated like a burden or are ignored. Even in Xerxes’ home, at first, Sonji is impatient with Grandpa. But by the end of the story, we see Sonji as playful and childlike, playing along with Grandpa and Xerxes in their games. When he finds old photos of his family, Xerxes realises that Grandpa, and even his own parents, lived a full life that he knows little about.
The author very subtly also slips in a lesson about bullying and name-calling in school. She describes Xerxes’ worry and sadness when his classmates make fun of his name and his coming-of-age ceremony invitations. The book teaches an important lesson of acceptance and appreciation of difference, whether it is across ages or across cultures.
What did you think of the book? Comment and let us know! Have you read our reviews of the other books on the Neev award 2019 shortlist? Also, check out the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary Award list!