Part 2, in which we wish we were eating more Indian food as we discuss the murder that has just occurred in Nayana Currimbhoy’s Miss Timmins’ School for Girls. This time, the four schoolgirl detectives Nandita, Ramona, Akhila and Shoba take centre stage as they use skills gleaned from Agatha Christie novels to try to figure out who killed Miss Prince. Meanwhile, Charu Apte lies brokenhearted in her room, and Merch, well, he’s as mysterious as ever.
Laurie: Hi there! So we’re on to the murder mystery part and the three little schoolgirl detectives!
Alex: I can’t wait to get to the point where I know whodunit!
Laurie: Are you a read-the-back-page-first kind of girl?????
Alex: Nope, I am just very curious! The more I read this book, the more I like it.
Laurie: As you should be! “Curiouser and curiouser,” as the girls say in the book! I’m glad you like the book. I find the mix of murder and characters so intriguing and I find the writing very good and so funny in parts. Currimbhoy has a way with words and the girl detectives are so captivating.
Alex: She has some stunning one liners that are funny because they’re so insightful. What was your favourite, Laurie?
Laurie: I love the part when Ramona keeps insisting there will be a second murder, and Akhila says, “‘I’m told second murders are easier than the first,’ as if she personally had tea and toast with first and second and third-time murderers.”
Alex: Me, too. And, of course, seeing it from the very divided perspectives of the teachers and the students.
Stacy: I loved the feeling of this part — very murder-mystery, especially at the beginning.
Laurie: The different perspectives are wonderful: the way Nandita refers to Charu as being as shy and nervous as a fawn.
Stacy: Whereas Charu from her own perspective isn’t fawnlike at all.
Alex: She has this very poetic and economic way of describing things.
Laurie: And the girls being so sure of themselves and their opinions and how they’re so sure life is like a mystery novel.
Alex: And they seem to know more than the adults at times and have more of an understanding almost.
Laurie: But Nandita is actually very perceptive: she sees Charu’s true beauty, and she acknowledges it took her a while to see it.
Stacy: Except they’re investigating without knowing all the facts — if only Nandita knew what her dear Miss Apte got up to (sex, drugs and rock & roll!).
Alex: True…the teachers are really falling off their pedestals right now. It’s like through the inquisitive girls, we find out more about them and how naive they are.
Laurie: I loved how Nandita says she was about seven when she realized she was more clever than most of the teachers, when there was that whole incident when she asked the one teacher about people’s colours….that did it for her.
Stacy: So true — it’s almost like that moment when you realize your parents are actual people, not just mum and dad.
Alex: That’s exactly the moment I was thinking of, Laurie.
Laurie: Have you reached that stage, Nandita, um, I mean, Stacy?
Stacy: I’m more clever than everybody. What are you talking about? Lol!
Laurie: It was quite shocking, I think. (As for you Stacy, aka Nandita, well, that’s a whole other story.)
Stacy: Seriously though, I did totally identify with Nandita, or rather, saw a lot of my younger self in her.
Laurie: It makes you wonder really, what sort of lunatic Miss Nelson was to have teachers like that influencing these poor children.
Alex: I was kind of obsessed with Charu.
Laurie: You and Miss Prince.
Laurie: Haha! And Merch.
Stacy: Nice one!
Alex: I can’t talk about him. He’s an idiot but I’m not supposed to know that yet.
Stacy: He’s kind of… something else. I can’t decide how I feel about Merch, actually.
Laurie: Funny how the girls, especially Shobha, (but not Nandita), can’t fathom what everyone sees in Charu.
Stacy: I don’t think it’s so simple as he’s an idiot. Yes! Like her spot is the only thing they all see.
Laurie: No, not quite an idiot. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Stacy: Meanwhile both Prince and Merch see so much more in Charu.
Alex: Well, right now he seems like a a typical male, and he’s not in my good books.
Stacy: Aww, Alex.
Laurie: It’s all not quite so simple. Just like Charu: She’s not just ugly, there’s so much more to her than what’s on the surface. And Prince isn’t just a pain…
Alex: Haha. Thanks SLK. True. And what was the relationship between Merch and Prince? Who do you think did it? Am I the only one who doesn’t know?
Laurie: I think Merch and Prince were just friends. He was a great friend to her. I have no clue who did it, quite frankly.
Alex: Phew. You always know.
Stacy: No, no. I have no idea.
Alex: I wonder if it was Charu.
Laurie: Did Prince jump? Was she pushed? Who knows? It’s so Agatha Christie. The one person I don’t think did it, however, is Charu. It just doesn’t fit.
Stacy: I’m totally convinced by each of the girls’ successive arguments. But I don’t think it was Charu, either.
Alex: Oh, OK, but Charu did start to reveal how she’s kind of dark like her dad.
Stacy: She did, but I think it was more about selfishness than actual murderous intent.
Laurie: Charu killing Prince would serve no purpose really. Unless she’s a lunatic…
Stacy: She sees that the decisions she’s making are self-serving, but she still makes them. Like leaving her mother’s bedside to go back to the school.
Alex: Do you think her dad really was behind that scandal?
Stacy: Wait is that even in this part? Oops!
Alex: She’s learning to be selfish, isn’t she SLK? I find that I respect her for it, though.
Stacy: True. I think the spot made her always think of how others saw her (like she said in the first part about how she sometimes smiled before it appeared, but always smiled after).
Alex: I agree.
Stacy: And being with Prince freed her from living according to other people’s expectations.
Alex: Charu is so open and truthful, I find. Some of the parts told in her voice are so arresting. For example, the cast of the complex family power struggle is so effortlessly, effectively communicated.
Laurie: And she even finds it in herself to stand up to Prince. Even though she later realizes how much Prince needed her. Sad that.
Stacy: I was so heartbroken for Prince when the context was revealed.
Alex: And I felt that I understood the first love she felt.
Laurie: But Prince, so defiant, couldn’t just say what happened, couldn’t open up and tell Charu.
Stacy: No. But that’s the tragedy of Prince, I think, that she could be outspoken and talk back to whoever spoke to her, but couldn’t actually open up.
Laurie: Charu would have so been there for her.
Alex: And even though I’m heterosexual I imagined myself behaving exactly as Charu did.
Laurie: Yeah, the lack of ability to communicate was Prince’s real curse.
Stacy: It’s almost like a family trait — Nelson couldn’t reveal the truth to Prince, who also couldn’t reveal the truth to Charu.
Laurie: And then: tragedy.
Alex: She was born into a life of secrecy and she died in intrigue.
Laurie: But still, in the midst of all that, humour. That’s what makes me love this book. The idea of those three little girls running around, trying to light a damp match to smoke a cigarette, running into teachers, playing detective and Ouija board — crazy!
Stacy: Yes — Nayana did a good job balancing the tone.
Alex: I know! Scaring each other senseless!
Laurie: And all going nuts and wearing panties!
Stacy: The panty checks!
Laurie: And the scream! What was that scream???
Alex: And not wearing panties! What a way to rebel.
Stacy: It’s really the perfect rebellion for straitlaced schoolgirls — breaking a big rule, but not so obviously that everyone knows (speaking as a former straitlaced schoolgirl, lol).
Laurie: And the scene with the nit-killing DDT floating about in the air as they suck back that tonic stuff in their dorm….ick!
Stacy: I just couldn’t stop thinking about the potential health effects of all that DDT. Ew.
Alex: I loved that. They were drinking cough syrup!
Laurie: Was it really like that, Alex???
Alex: Well, I never went to boarding school, and I don’t think my teachers were as hell bent on preserving something that had obviously died out for a reason. You know that school and its structure seemed to exist as much for the teachers’ protection as the kids’, if not more so.
Stacy: Such a good point.
Alex: What a weird in-between world.
Stacy: Because all those teachers needed some kind of protection — well some of them, at any rate.
Alex: In between cultures and eras.
Laurie: Where do you think Miss Raswani went? And what was up with Ramona during the exam?
Alex: Miss Raswani….I don’t know.
Stacy: No idea. Such a mystery.
Alex: But I love the way she gave that letter over.
Stacy: She’s another one I feel sorry for, though. Idolizing and really, being half in love with Miss Nelson.
Laurie: So many lost souls floating around on the hilltops of Panchgani. Is she the guilty party? Is Miss Nelson? Merch? Charu? Did Prince commit suicide? I guess we’ll find out next time!
Alex: It’s all a mystery to me, indeed it’s very Scooby Doo.
Stacy: “And I would’ve gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!” Very, ahem, excuse the pun, apt!
Alex: Haha! Nice!
Stacy: Yes, ma’am!
Next week, Part 3 (pages 345 to 491) and the final chapters in our discussion of Nayana Currimbhoy’s Miss Timmins’ School for Girls.