Author and Illustrator: Aishwarya Krishnan
Publisher: Notionpress 2017
No. of pages: 24
Subthemes: Social inclusivity, poverty, welfare
Timeline: Contemporary Kolkata
Shiksha is the touching tale of thirteen year old Kamala, a young girl from a slum in one of the rural areas of Kolkata, and her journey towards claiming the right to education for herself. Set in contemporary Kolkata, the poignant tale is an important reminder of one of the most crucial aspects of human society in general and Indian society in particular – the quest for education for youngsters.
The narrative revolves around Kamala, who is the central plot device taking the theme of the plot forward on her own shoulders. Hailing from an urban poor household in Kolkata, she is eager to be educated but finds it to be a hard won battle against her parents and age old socio-cultural norms. The themes explored through the narrative include many socially relevant issues including child labour, gender discrimination, poverty and social inequality, as well as orthodoxy and familial pressure. The dark monochromatically intense artwork is particularly effective in bringing out the somber nature of these issues, and the hard hitting dialogues magnify the impact.
The narrative follows a linear plot, beginning at a point where Kamala is forced by her parents to drop out of school and join work at a house as a cook. She is vocal in her eagerness to attend school and be educated, but only finds resentment in her parents, who are tied down by oppressive social norms that expect them to marry off their daughter at a young age. They consider education to be useless for the daughter, a sentiment they voice repeatedly as the accepted norm of their caste and community. The lady of the house where Kamala works is shown to be an enlightened individual who notices Kamala’s inclination toward writing, and tries to convince her parents to allow her to attend school, even offering to take on all her educational expenses. Initially there is intense anger and opposition on Kamala’s parents’ parts, but a gradual transformation is seen in her father’s thought process, even though he remains conflicted about a future where his daughter gets educated as opposed to married. There is also a small section that reveals the inherent hypocrisy and exclusionary tendencies of people from financially privileged backgrounds toward the less fortunate for their own petty conveniences. However, the lady of the house is finally able to convince Kamala’s parents to allow her to attend school and Kamala stands victorious in her quest to education, leading to her having a bright and successful future as a teacher.
At twenty odd pages, Shiksha is a pithy narrative about the importance of universal education. The plot is neither unprecedented nor extraordinary; however, it is effective nonetheless in passing on this vital social message. The author, herself a girl of fifteen, has hit the nail on its head with her direct approach to the issue, making the story distinctive in its own right.