‘My parents have been picking flowers their entire life. I hate picking flowers.’
The opening lines and the heap of pink flowers welcome you to no ordinary ‘flower picking’ but a metaphor for something rather stark – manual scavenging. Written by CG Salamander and illustrated by Samidha Gunjal, Puu is about a little girl who helps her parents in manual scavenging before heading to school. The story juxtaposes her three different worlds – one where she helps her parents ‘flower pick’, two, how although she does not like to do that, she finds ways to make the work simpler, and three, her place in school and seeking peace within herself.
The mindful choice of the sensitive and the deeply real plot of Puu is a fresh introduction in children’s books and an issue that has been of much concern over the last couple of decades. Despite prohibition of employment by law as manual scavengers since 1993, we still do find adults and children, in rural and urban spaces whose sources of income are solely through manual scavenging.
The beauty of the book lies in its unique textual and pictorial narration. While one wonders what the pink flowers may be all about, the pigs within the flowers offer a hint, so does the bees around the flowers instead of butterflies. And during the child’s confession, ‘I don’t have too many friends’, we find a little pig waiting for her outside the classroom. Such subtleties keep making bold revelations throughout. However, there is one aspect of illustration which I have not found an answer to – why while the skin colour of all human characters is brown, but like no other, the protagonist child and her parents’ is a few shades darker. And I wonder what the colour bifurcation may additionally suggest.
But all in all, it is a fascinating presentation of discrimination and the story of ‘lesser humans’, holding promise of exposing many children and adults to the world which they are insulated from. Two thumbs up to CG Salamander, Samidha Gunjal and Scholastic for creating Puu! Hope this book finds a place in more Indian languages.