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Is Munni really a monster?

She was angry too, angry inside; about this unknown person who was being suddenly forced into her perfect life. That she would have to give up her room-her bed!-and share Thamma with this-this . . .'
Mishti's life changes when her grandmother's cousin Munni, who has cerebral palsy, comes to live with them. Her only thought is to make her leave, somehow.

But as time goes by, Munni shows strange endearing habits and when matters come to a crisis, Mishti is no longer sure that Munni is really the monster she thought she was.

A funny moving story about a ten-year-old dealing with strange and difficult changes and disability, and above all, about love.

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Munni Monster beautifully depicts the journey of a person with the genetic disorder of cerebral palsy and her family, their emotions and their journey together.The author has addressed the topic of cerebral palsy, without making the book too grave or severe. She wonderfully explains, how, while children may seem very grown up, at times, their ability to understand and gauge situations and react to them, is, at times limited.

You will become so much a part of the book, of Mishti's emotional journey, of the unfairness that Munni has to deal with, of the family's economical condition while Munni is hospitalized. You will, at times, wonder in amazement and confusion like Mishti, be empathetic like her mother is towards Munni, get teary eyed when Thamma cries for her, and will pray for her speedy recovery just like Mishti and her family do.

Read Munni Monster

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My first ever encounter with someone with Cerebral Palsy was as a kid. There was a boy, officially older than me, who used to go to the same Montessori school with us. Let's assume his name was 'S'. He had difficulty managing his limbs and getting up and down the steps of the bus. He had difficulty with his speech and used to cry profusely and his face was always smeared with tears and trickling saliva. Every school day, it was an ordeal for his father to get him on the bus. I still remember the pensive face of the father, who helplessly watched while the ever-irate conductor of our bus used to shout at 'S' for being daily trouble. I remember his sombre younger sister who grew up faster than her age trying to manage her elder brother. And I remember that I somehow felt sad when the rude boys used to laugh at him. We stayed in a very small town quite far away from the state capital and this boy was probably the only individual around with Cerebral Palsy --- a condition about which not even the elders had enough scientific or empathetic ideas.

Much later, while working as a multimedia content developer and working on a project aimed to be designed as a tool of communication for children with Cerebral Palsy, I got the opportunity to visit the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy and realised how, with proper guidance and care and some amount of love and respect, we, the so-called 'normal' people, can befriend and assist those with CP to flourish as much as possible.

It is good that nowadays we have stopped using terms like 'mental retardation'; it is good that even though sparse in number, some schools are thinking of being 'inclusive'.

All such memories have been rushing in and out of my mind since I started reading 'Munni Monster' by Madhurima Vidyarthi. A pleasant read for both young and adults, 'Munni Monster' is a story told from the point of view of a little girl Mishti, whose otherwise picture-perfect life gets a lot of overhauling when Munni, an aged relative with Cerebral Palsy, comes to stay with her family in their two-bedroom flat. This is a 92-page long story --- or we may call it a mini novel. The author deftly portrays the caring, practical and responsible elders around Mishti. The essentially good-hearted little girl Mishti and her flamboyant best friend too, are portrayed to perfection. It is good to notice that Mishti's points of view are given due importance ---- her problems and the solutions she finds for the same are not overpowered by the points of view of the narrator or adults. Also, without being didactic, the writer has introduced the concepts of equality for differently-abled people, the practical issues of burgeoning medical expenses, the apathetic attitude of medical insurers about mental, neurological and not-so-common health issues, and dwindling finances --- topics that ideally should not appear in a 'children's book' but are possibly needed in today's world.

Written in lucid English, with the right amount of detailing and characterisation and nice illustrations by Tanvi Bhat, 'Munni Monster' by Madhurima Vidyarthi can and should easily be included in the list of 'easy reading' or 'must read' books in schools.

I thank Madhurima Vidyarthi for penning down such a feel-good and heartwarming story. I hope she gets this book translated into Bangla soon. More and more such stories should be written and read, so that children like 'S' can feel not apathy, but empathy all around.

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