Twelve-year-old Sarojini’s best friend, Amir, might not be her best friend any more. Ever since Amir moved out of the slum and started going to a posh private school, it seems like he and Sarojini have nothing in common. Then Sarojini finds out about the Right to Education, a law that might help her get a free seat at Amir’s school – or, better yet, convince him to come back to a new and improved version of the government school they went to together.
As she struggles to keep her best friend, Sarojini gets help from some unexpected characters, including Deepti, a feisty classmate who lives at a construction site; Vimala Madam, a human rights lawyer who might also be an evil genius; and Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, a long-dead freedom fighter who becomes Sarojini’s secret pen pal. Told through letters to Mrs. Naidu, this is the story of how Sarojini learns to fight – for her friendship, her family, and her future.
June 10, 2013
Dear Mrs. Naidu,
I guess you’re wondering why I’m writing you this letter. Honestly, Mrs. Naidu, so am I. Amma says I’m not allowed to speak to strangers. You would think that also meant that I shouldn’t write to them. But since this is a school assignment, she says it’s okay. (Here is a tip, Mrs. Naidu: if you ever want adults to let you do something, just tell them it is a school assignment. They will one hundred percent agree to it every time.)
Maybe I should start from the beginning. The beginning was last week. Last week I started Class Six and I met our new teacher, Annie Miss, who is not like any teacher I
have had before. For example: Annie Miss says she doesn’t think school should be about memorizing things and saying them back. She says memorizing things and saying them back makes you a parrot, not a person. She says she wants us to grow our brains and our hearts.
When she said that, I wanted to ask how growing our hearts will help us pass our exams and get into college and get a job and buy a house with a proper roof and maybe even a garden, which are all the reasons why I go to school. But I didn’t. You know how adults are, Mrs. Naidu. They don’t like questions.
Even though it was only the first week of school, Miss gave us an assignment. (Miss says that now we are in sixth standard, it is time for us to be serious. Every teacher says this every year. But none of them ever gave us assignments during the first week of school, so Annie Miss might mean it.) The assignment is to write letters to someone we would like to get to know better. She said that we could pick anyone, as long as we explain why.
As you have probably concluded, Mrs. Naidu, I picked you. (This is the first time I have said written the word “concluded.” It’s an English word that means “figured out based on clues and evidence.” I learned it by reading detective stories, even though our English Miss says they are useless rags. I think this proves I conclude that she is wrong.) I understand if you find this confusing, Mrs. Naidu. After all, you and I don’t have much in common. For one thing, I am alive and you are – well, you are not.
Excerpted with permission from Dear Mrs.Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian, Zubaan. You can buy the book here.