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Sowmya Rajendran

By Mathangi Subramanian
Young Zubaan, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 286, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 11 November 2015

Twelve-year-old Sarojini goes to Ambedkar School in Bengaluru. Her feisty Amma works as a maid and cares about her daughter’s education deeply. Sarojini is fine with the school and its inadequacies till her best friend, Amir, moves away from their area into a better one and starts going to Greenhill, a posh private school. Things are not the same between them any more, Sarojini feels. And so, she decides that she must go to Greenhill too. Or bring back Amir to Ambedkar School. We learn all this from Sarojini’s letters to Mrs Naidu, her namesake and a famous freedom fighter. The letters begin as a class assignment but Sarojini goes on writing them even after the assignment has come to an end because she sees so many parallels between her battles and the ones that her confidante had to go through. It’s an interesting premise, the juxtaposition of a contemporary struggle with an historic one and Subramanian deftly weaves in fact with fiction without overdoing it or turning the book into one of those dreadful ‘edutainment’ texts. Mrs Naidu remains in the background but the little things we learn about her (which we certainly haven’t learnt from textbooks) bring her alive as a character who is still relevant despite being dead (a fact that Sarojini tiptoes around in the book all through, not wanting to offend Mrs Naidu). There aren’t too many fiction books that talk about child rights or the law and Dear Mrs Naidu deserves applause for tackling the subject with light hands. The Right to Education Act, which can put children like Sarojini in schools like Greenhill, can be a powerful tool if implemented but it sadly remains under-utilized. However, while I appreciate the simplicity with which the RTE has been explained, I wish the same treatment had not been extended to the characters in the book. The rich are unvaryingly portrayed as mean, insensitive and uncaring people. The only rich person who doesn’t appear this way is Vimala Madam (for whom Sarojini’s Amma works) but then, she’s a Human Rights lawyer. The poor are spirited and supportive of each other—they might gossip about Hindu-Muslim couples eloping but they are essentially good people we are supposed to like. Deepti, Sarojini’s friend from a construction site, is cheeky and does not appear to be as vanilla as Amir ...

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