Dear Mrs. Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian

When I wrote Book Uncle and Me, I was seeking to enter a conversation of books and children and civic life and the intersecBook_Uncle_and_metions therein, all of it taking place in an urban setting in India. Now I’m delighted to come across Dear Mrs. Naidu, an epistolary novel for young readers. This book feels as if its continuing that very conversation.

Twelve-year-old protagonist Sarojini writes to her long-dead, famous namesake–India’s celebrated poet and freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu. What begins as a school assignment becomes a life journey for our young hero–I use the word “hero” advisedly rather than its more submissive feminine counterpart.

Dear-Mrs-Naidu-lo-resThe structure is tight and the pacing sound, but it’s the heart of the story that beats in sync with the reader’s concerns for the young people in this book. Subramanian nails an Indian preteen sensibility securely, right across the class and religious markers of urban society. Here is a novel that does not flinch from facing social issues but manages to avoid being about those issues. Dear Mrs. Naidu is a wonderful offering from Young Zubaan, a publisher known for their innovative titles for young readers.

Note: I read this book in a pdf version from the publisher. A fuller review will appear shortly in the online desi literature journal, Jaggery.