The book is an extraordinary example of how a carefully structured narration of history can be rousingly interesting as well as evidently informative. In an age when science and economics are increasingly corroding the value that history is perceived to add to our lives, what is important beyond all else is to remind ourselves that we stand today on the shoulders of so many who laid us before themselves in the past. Thus, Pavitra Sharma’s true success lies in her contribution to engage a new generation of readers and thinkers with a subject that contains lessons on how one must live more than any other, and in remembrance of those whose valiance enables our existence in comfort.
The plot revolves around a young girl Rattu who has the magical power to realize her wishes instantly. As she carelessly wishes one day for someone to defend her against her elder sister Poorie, Rani Lakshmibai and Jhalkari Bai appear before her; what follows is Sharma’s masterful interweaving of Rattu’s immediate problems and memorable stories of the historical figures. Rattu’s encounter with bullies is contrasted with Azimullah Khan and Nana Sahib’s struggle with the Company in their [Khan’s and Sahib’s] own voices, increasing the authenticity of the narrative manifold. Bahadur Zafar II’s removal from the Red Fort is explored through Rattu’s grandfather’s moving out from his old house to come to stay with Rattu and Poorie increasing our sympathies for Zafar in imagining how much suffering he endured if we ourselves are so inconvenienced when shifting houses. This connecting with the historical figures not on an academic level through text-books but rather on a personal level in comparing their problems with our own is what drives the plot and makes the book so special.
Parvati Sharma’s choice of making the heroes of the Uprising in 1857 themselves narrate their stories will have a profound effect on the reader. She [the reader] is no longer perceiving these heroes as obscure figures from the past but rather as human beings in their own right, enabling her to connect at a far more intimate level not only with the historical figures themselves but also with the historical events at large. Through this, Sharma ensures that the young reader does two quintessential things: she does not dismiss the historical figures as removed and distant, yet values their contribution to her lives, leading to a deep importance given to them and their actions without discounting them as human beings. A fresh look at history, explored further and more extensively, this pedagogy could transform the outlook an entire generation has on its past.
Additionally, Parvati Sharma’s carefully casual usage of more complex vocabulary and syntax seamlessly enables young readers to develop an intuitive grasp over the English language. Her conscious efforts towards idiomatic expression and the usage of phrasal verbs are but examples of her intention not only to better engagement with history but also with the language at large. Yet, what could have been made subtler is the italicizing of difficult vocabulary to facilitate an even greater seamless development of language skills in children. However, why is such learning significant? That in our world a special emphasis is laid on study as an activity distinct from what is enjoyable, leads to an attitude in students prepared to go only so far as is absolutely required for them. Learning and the pursuit of knowledge, thus, relinquishes its arduous status into something enjoyable and more importantly indispensable.
The bold and novel outlook Parvati Sharma explores through her novel Rattu and Poorvie’s Adventures in History: 1857, not only facilitates learning in readers but also instils in them a unique sense of patriotism born only through a genuine investment in one’s culture and tradition. A must read for anyone waiting to get in touch with their roots!
Aryan Kumar Bhattacharjee is a student in The Doon School, pursuing the IB Diploma Programme in Class 12. He enjoys drama, reading, writing and debating.