|Pic courtesy monikaschroeder.com|
Written by Monika Schroder
Published by Frances Foster Books
"Nothing changes because of our doing. It's all in the hands of the gods."
That is what Akash, a motherless boy who lives in a small village in Rajasthan, is told all his life. Gifted in Maths, all 12 yr old Akash would like to do is learn more, study and win a scholarship to a school in the city. Life has other things in store for him, though. His father, a small-time farmer, dies, and Akash is sold off to the landlord to work off the family's debt and save their small piece of land.
Working at the landlord's quarry, breaking stones, Akash soon realises that there is no way out, except to run away. He escapes and lands up in the big city. At the New Delhi railway station, he is befriended by a gang of boys, who make a living by scavenging, stealing and drug-traffikking.
Akash does get tempted by the easy means of making money, to pay for a tutor in Maths, but his faith in Saraswati, the goddess of learning, brings him back on the right path. He is enouraged by Ramesh, the magazine stall owner on the platform who recognises that Akash is different from the other boys who work and live on the railway platform. He does not sit back waiting for the gods to act, but goes about finding his way proactively. And finds out that the only way is by being trusting his better instincts and being true to himself and his goal.
Is Akash's faith in himself vindicated? How does Saraswati show him the way? Does he realise his dream of going to a good school?
Monika Schroeder, the author, is of German origin, and has been a teacher in schools in many developing countries, and was a librarian at the American Embassy School in New Delhi at the time of writing this book. While reading the book, I was struck by the minute details about Indian customs and street life of the vagabond boys that the author seemed to be familiar with. Yet it was clearly an outsider's view. There was a clarity to the descriptions that is usually not found in the writing of someone who has grown up with the culture. It also had the unmistakeable stamp of making things understandable to a non-Indian. Like I found in this book. I was curious to know how she could manage that fine balance.
Searching online, I found a discussion between Uma Krishnaswami and the author. Ms Schroder speaks about her life in India, and the challenges in understanding and writing about a culture so different from the one in which she had grown up. She also speaks about her efforts to learn about the life of street children in India, so vividly potrayed in this book.
As she says in the author's note at the end of the book, "One of the sad aspects of living in India is seeing the effects of poverty on children. A boy like Akash has only a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India. Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck, achieves his goal against all odds."
A Crystal Kite Award winner under Middle East/India/Asia for 2011.
A was fascinated by Akash's proficiency in maths, and we learnt a few tricks from vedic maths that Akash tries to teach the boys that befriend him. A system we will certainly want to explore more fully!
Click here to watch a trailer based on the book. Worth a watch.