Shades of Enid Blyton’s Amelia Jane apart, Shreekumar Varma’s story about a creature that holds a seaside village to ransom is fascinating.
The story starts with the author wondering why a rich old stranger left his house to him— till he finds a book written by Mr Anchanbey, the grandfather of the benefactor. This book is about the reasons (Nu-Cham-Vu is one of the reasons) for the large-heartedness of the old man and about other stories in the village of Anchan Bay, which housed the magic store that Nu-Cham-Vu owned.
Nu-Cham-Vu is an oil-barrel-shaped creature children love and adults hate. The children like him because of the beautiful, magical, children-only store that he owns.
The store is unique in the sense that the talking toys sell themselves. No parents are allowed inside. No money changes hands. It is all on barter. If, for instance, a boy wanted to buy a toy monkey, he had to stand on one leg for an hour. Payments had to be made in whatever way Nu-Cham-Vu fancied. Since the children don’t understand a single word of his language, the creature translates everything through the Jasmine Doll.
The grown-ups try every trick in the book to throw the monster out of the village, including blaming him for kidnapping the only horse-cab owner in the village. But the children stand by the magic store owner. The elders of the village, led by Mr Anchanbey, put up with the antics of Nu-Cham-Vu till he plays a dirty trick on one of the parents.
Chhabiya’s father enters the store by mistake and promises his daughter that he will buy her a magic flute. An angry Nu-Cham-Vu lays out his terms. Run all the way (on the knees) to Mount Amorobo, 33 miles away, and get his thumb, which was left behind on the mountainside, within 24 hours. The poor man does as he is told, only to be betrayed when Nu-Cham-Vu refuses to part with the flute. It is the last straw for the elders and they think of unique, lawful ways to throw the creature out of the village forever.
Though it is a bit difficult for the reader to keep track of the stories across three generations of the Anchanbey family, as well as the author’s notes, what Kumar has done is weave in the fantasy element that keeps one’s mind on what else Nu-Cham-Vu has up his sleeve.
Also, thrown in between the war of the adults and the creature is the story of Professor Shandilyan, an Australian scientist, and his family who are washed up on the shores of Anchan Bay. Shandilyan promises to bring electricity to the village, though he eventually disappears when the villagers suspect him of actually building a contraption that will blow them out of existence.
Illustrated by Varma’s son, Vinayak, the wondrous tales within tales make this book worth a read. The Magic Store of Nu-Cham-Vu comes with a plug by Ruskin Bond. It is the first of the new Puffin series called Ruskin Bond Recommends.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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