Author: MENAKA RAMAN
Publisher: Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger Books.
Year of Publishing: November 2020
Loki Takes Guard is a coming-of-age story of an 11-year-old girl who wants to play cricket. But for Loki, playing cricket is not as easy as it may seem for an 11-year-old boy. Nor is it just a game for her. Cricket is a means for Loki to realise her dreams, to voice her opinion and to make her presence felt as an individual.
Loki Takes Guard is a tale that will strike a chord with every age group and not just young adults. Loknayaki Shanmugam or Loki’s story is that of hope, resilience, of trials and triumphs that she encounters while chasing her dream. The universality of relatable struggles and memories amongst every age group that Loki bring, is one of the solitary and distinctive things about this otherwise children’s book.
Loki and her family’s daily minutiae is much like how every middle-class family in India operates yet her family is as quirky as the name of their building where they reside. L’Eiffel Abhirami reflects the semi-urban population’s aspiration with globalisation and urbanisation. The author makes keen observations throughout Loki Takes Guard: for instance, a random conversation with a teenage girl at a school bus stop develops into a very poignant and relatable issue of present times.
Despite women winning accolades and flaunting shining medals won in different international games prove their mettle for it but despite all that, there are some sports that still remain male-dominated such as cricket. The lack of encouragement and negligence that women face towards some of these sports stem from their own home and from their own surroundings itself. This is a theme which is very well brought out in Loki Takes Guard. The discouragement not in words but in subtle action that Loki receives from close quarters such as her family and her society throughout the course of this book is a scathing remark on the gender divide that still is very much a part of largely every society.
In an article titled “Bowled out of the Game: Nationalism and Gender Equality in Indian Cricket” (2013) published in the Berkeley Journal of Entertainment and Sports Law, Raadhika Gupta writes, “There are great disparities in opportunity and recognition between men and women in cricket. Women’s cricket occupies a small and almost invisible space, while men’s cricket shapes Indian nationalism in powerful ways. Given how important a role cricket plays in the lives of Indians, it is unfortunate that India has failed to significantly address inequality in Indian cricket.”
Loki’s quest to affirm her identity starts when she becomes a lone girl who wants to play for a local cricket team called Temple Street Tankers. The team have a ‘boys only’ rule and it is this status-quo that Loki is resisting against for which she starts a petition that sees both rejection and acceptance from people around her.
The author has tried to weave a story that discusses the social stigma and taboos from the viewpoint of young adults such as the caste and class discrimination that exists in subtle ways within our homes. For instance, Loki is shown feeling for the plight of community workers like Thambi uncle or Rani akka, when she visits them to get her petitioned signed and they tell her some uncomfortable truths.
The moment Loki’s petition becomes a matter of tea-time gossip for people around her society, it ultimately places her akin to the Norse god of mischief, in the eyes of her parents but to many people she becomes a beacon of hope like her brother. The awkward silence she has to face amidst her family members when a famous TV personality, Rasna Arya approaches her for an interview unsettles her family peace deeply. These are the nuances that will help readers connect with Loki.
The author has also attempted to cover the stigma around menstruation and puberty. It may not be normal and acceptable to discuss the “women problem” in the drawing room of a conservative family like Loki’s but the lack of empathy that young girls or women receive during the onset of their puberty and the strange quietness that they feel around their reproductive health continues to last their lifetime.
Getting periods is as natural a biological process as aging and it should be discussed and embraced openly in the families rather than getting swept under the carpet (away from male gaze). Loki’s physiological and psychological growth can be traced by the way she matures from being stubborn as a child to making just and conscious demands about her rights and opportunities as an individual and when Loki says, “If I don’t think about my life, who will? I don’t want to sit here watching mega serials and eating curd rice for the rest of my life, Amma. I want more.” It’s clear that she doesn’t want to live a life that society or her family will chart out for her on the basis of social prejudices related to her sex rather she wants to live a life crafted out of merit. The way Loki evolves throughout the course of novel is the true parameter of any bildungsroman novel.
Loki Takes Guard has standards of being a novel of manners, for example, the way society alienates Malati Akka for being a divorcee is not just condemnable but also a mirror that judgement about a person till date are formed out of prejudices and not by his/her real sel. The author has very subtly tried to bring out the whole criticism of being and behaving the ‘feminine’ way. Loki’s distinct way of smiling or looking a certain way may not fit world-made beauty standards but who decides what is beautiful and what is not? Being a delicate, damsel-in-distress is certainly not the beauty standards young girls should grow up with and Loki feels this whole idea of getting singled out very deeply. “I am the only Lokanayaki in what seems to be a class full of Tias, Kias, Pias and Nias. And it’s not just my name that sticks out like a sore thumb.”
Loki may or may not get the consent that is she is after but to have this kind of courage and resilience despite every discouragement and setback that can possibly be is what makes Loki who she is. Loki is not the kind of character that will impact people momentarily. It will invoke passion and strength in every stargazer and dejected dreamers of all age and gender to move and persist for what he or she stands for.