How prolific is Nandita da Cunha? Her latest, The Dog With Two Names: Stories That Celebrate Diversity, comes hot on the heels of two titles, both of which came out in March this year. One, titled Who Clicked That Pic? and published by Ektara, is about the life of photo-journalist Homai Vyarawalla, with art by Priya Kuriyan. The other, titled Where I Belong: Meera’s Village By The Sea, published by Katha, is on community and living, with art by Kripa.
The Dog With Two Names is a slight departure from the previous two in that it is not picture-heavy. Instead, it is a collection of 12 short stories, each of which stands on its own. In a general sense, the approach da Cunha takes with the stories can go either of two ways. The newsiness of themes worked into the stories can be attractive to some readers, or to the adults who shape, either directly or indirectly, the reading preferences of their young readers. Others might wonder if, for example, bringing in the war in Ukraine is indeed necessary in fiction meant for a tween.
I fall in the former category, and that made da Cunha’s collection enjoyable. For instance, the story of Mongalina-Asha, the eponymous character from the collection’s titular story, is a shining example of how lessons—on sectarianism, secularism, environmental consciousness and community participation—can all converge into an endearing, plot-driven story. Then, there is the story that follows Krish, the protagonist in The Super Swoopers and one of the strongest characters in the book, who is served well by da Cunha’s tight focus on crafting a story on citizen activism against a disingenuous razing of a low-income neighbourhood.
The minor flaws in most protagonists make them real. However, the lack of tonal consistency in the messaging slightly weakens the collection: Some stories, like The Nose Knows, are light and filled with minutiae even in dealing with serious issues, while others, like Uniformity In Uniform, are a bit too on-the-nose.
As it ought to be with short stories with lessons, much of the collection leaves you with cosy, triumphant endings. This makes the book a great weekend read for all ages. Especially because the easiest way to brace oneself for a Monday morning is to stay in a world where, even when dealing with real-world issues, the nice kid doesn’t finish last.