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Book Reviews
Review of Dear Mrs. Naidu by Mathangi Subramaniam
August 31, 2015
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Written by Aishwarya

When it comes to attaining a quality education, so many of us are privileged to even be a part of the race, crouched and ready for the whistle to blow. Hitherto, there are far too many who don’t have the same privilege. They may have the grit and maybe even the capacity to come first; yet, they never make it to the starting point. Why? This book explains exactly why.

The first of her novels, Mathangi Subramaniam’s “Dear Mrs. Naidu” is an inspiration before anything else. Mind you, the book is no fairy- tale; it’s what I believe to be reality in its most unembellished of forms; a reality, we dwell in ignorance about.

Dear-Mrs-Naidu-lo-res

Though a work of fiction, it is so much more than just a work of creative imagination. The book highlights real, prominent and pressing issues in India. It apprises readers about something as simple and vital as the Right to Education Act and its failure in making the impact its enactment intended. One truly feels like a part of the story, a character in the backdrop; someone though aware, is not aware.

You know those dark places, the ones even though in cities, are unwelcoming, bleak and tend to give one the sense of hopelessness and helplessness? Like a coconut grove that’s squished between a brand new hospital and a shopping mall full of western stores? You know the one’s I speak of, those places, the one’s where some of us hold our noses or shake our heads at or get really angry for a second? “Dear Mrs. Naidu is a book written in that setting. Yet, it gives you a sense of hope; one that emanates from a 12 year old. This young 12 year old describes that place to be her home.

Written exquisitely from the perspective of a young girl, Sarojini, through letters to her idol and namesake, the late Sarojini Naidu, the book highlights all that is wrong with growing India. The chain of letters which began as an assignment encouraged by a just-and-beautiful-world labelled teacher, Ms. Annie, developed into more than just that: a journal of sorts.

Through her letters, Sarojini pours her heart out to her secret pen pal, describing all the changes in her life from her best friend shifting schools to her new friends, her perspective of the people who surround her, her frustration with the education system and her willingness to change it. It is a story of how Sarojini learns to fight- for her friendship, her family, her future.

Sarojini’s letters are not just touching, sure, they pull at the strings of your heart, but they are also full of humour. The letters leave you yearning for more; the story having no slow points, complete in every way.

The letters show the very young Sarojini relate to the life of the late freedom fighter in ways more profound than just name. Though drastically different in time and circumstances, the connections drawn are well within the realm of sanity. For this very reason, in one of her letters, Sarojini writes “..you seem like someone who understands kids like me..” The book is an enriching blend of history lessons on the life of Sarojini Naidu and the present spirit towards getting one of the freedom fighter’s prime life goals- education, recognised.

Through her letters one will witness Sarojini realize (through Child Rights Club started in school) that she has rights. She, along with her friend Deepti, begin to learn about these rights; they rope in a lawyer aunty, befriend a young female journalist and convene the community to form a school management committee. An ardent clique of strong women, they fight for a change, a scuffle to transform a government school into a ‘good school’ through compelling the implementation of the provisions of the RTE.

The multitude of characters from the lackadaisical headmaster to the nighty-clad gold jewellery wearing local politician, are very real, nonetheless they never fail to entertain. Each of them play an operative role in helping one understand all that is wrong with our education system, each relatable, touching upon a different aspect of society.

The language of the book is rather simple and easy to comprehend; the ideas realistic; and the story engaging. One may come across a few grammatical mistakes here and there, but well, in my opinion, they deserve to be overlooked being that it is nearly impossible to eradicate human error entirely.

I would recommend it to every person, every child, every parent, and every teacher and even to all those politicians who do nothing to better our society but slither themselves into the limelight wherever fortune and fame are to be claimed.

The cover of the book, attractively illustrated in black and white, draws you towards it. Highlighting Sarojini with her neatly oiled plaits writing one of her many letters, it gives one a gist of the entire story; from the teacher writing on the blackboard, to the day-to-day filling of pots of water, to the journalist with a camera looking for the next big story, it’s all there.

The contact list of various NGOs, which devotedly work for child rights, incorporated at the end of the book with the staunch belief that “You’re never to make a difference” must not go un-noticed.

The book is captivating and its ending fails to disappoint. The words found by Mrs. Naidu “A chacun son infini” (to each her on infinity) describes the book in the best possible way. How a little thing, a little effort, from a little someone can make a difference in the lives of not only hers but that of many and may go on forever and ever and ever.

To conclude I quote Ms. Annie where she said – “I wish the rest of your class cared as much about rights as you two.” I do wish that we all care about rights as much as the young fictional protagonist Sarojini did.

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