Recess by Mohit Parikh
Reviewed by Ajay Patri
Manan, the protagonist of Recess, is an unwilling Peter Pan. He wants to be like any other boy on the verge of turning sixteen: tall and strong with a cracked voice and a face marred by facial hair. Instead, he grapples with a late onset of puberty that has left him in a child’s body while his friends are morphing into nearly-men.
The story follows Manan through a few hours of school life, from the initial excitement of discovering that puberty has, in fact, not passed him by to the crushing realisation of how far he has to go before he can compare himself physically to his friends. This realisation does not arrive in a eureka moment; like the puberty he fantasises about, it comes in spurts, from being ridiculed for sounding like a girl on the phone to being mothered by a kindly teacher in a way she would not have done with other boys his age. Manan is as good-natured about these slights as a teenager in his shoes can be, a facet of his personality that only makes a reader more sympathetic to his plight. For readers who grew up in the nineties, the story provides an additional jolt of nostalgia with its references to Windows screensavers, Chinese pens, and wrestling icons.
While Manan works perfectly well as a coming of age tale, and that is how I first approached it, a recent rereading exposed the commentary on masculinity that undergirds the story and makes it particularly timely for today’s world. Manan is a sensitive and sensible individual, an anti-thesis to the conventional norms of brutish masculinity paraded by the boys around him. As the story ends, one cannot help but hope he retains these qualities instead of sacrificing them at the altar of conformity when puberty finally embraces him.
Note: Recess is an excerpt from Mohit Parkih’s debut novel Manan. For readers who were charmed by the story, this reviewer would definitely recommend reading the book.
Reviewer Ajay Patri's 'Enrolment' appeared in Out of Print, March 2016 and his 'Shifting Lives' was one of the winning stories in the 2014 DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction Special.