My Name is Gulab
Gulab, the daughter of a manual scavenger, is mocked by her classmates as ‘Stinky Gulab’, not because she is filthy but because her father’s profession involves cleaning of clogged sewer drains and gutters.
So, on science day at school, Gulab takes her first bold step of showcasing a machine to clean up drains without involving degrading human labour. She names it ‘Gulab’ which she believes will remove dirt and spread fragrance.
The story revolves around the pernicious class divide prevailing in our society. Both Gulab and her bullies are victims of this societal malaise, one as perpetrator and the other as victim.
The dream in the child’s mind is to put an end to her father’s miserable job and to cleanse society of distinctions between people on the basis of the jobs they perform.
Accompanied by excellent illustrations this book is a joyful read. The words are reflected in its colours and shapes, the details in the characters and vice versa. Both words and pictures have combine to complement and present a unified story.
In contrast to popular fairy tales, where a prince rescues a princess in despair, this story deals with a real life situation. Here Gulab is the princess capable of handling her own miseries innovatively.
A poignant turn in the story is when Gulab’s father describes his demeaning job, how with officer babu placing his salary on the floor so he doesn’t have to touch him. He has accepted his ‘untouchable’ status unquestioningly. But Gulab doesn’t and so she plans to build the cleansing machine for the school’s science exhibition.
Sagar Kolwankar ends the story with a strong message of hope for changed mindsets of people in our society. Children aged five-eight will understand and like the book, though the text is primarily aimed at educating younger children. It’s an interesting read even for grown-ups.
It introduces key concepts of social injustice and inequality which culminate in major socio-political issues. The book reaffirms our belief in social justice and harmony that will prove useful to all of us in the long run. If only people realised how much all lives might be improved in an egalitarian society, they would work towards it. But it’s hard to foster greater understanding of this truth. If we want changes in society, it’s best to start with children. This book serves that purpose very well.
Sagar Kolwankar (The Book Review, November)