Author: Devapriya Roy
Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan
About: In a government school classroom in Delhi, young Indira Thapa is set an unusual assignment by her favourite teacher: to write an essay around her name. Who was Indira Priyadarshini, the person after whom her grandfather named her? And why her? What is her legacy as India’s first—and only—woman prime minister? Over the course of a long, hot summer and a curious friendship with an artist who is working on a biography of Mrs Gandhi, young Indira gets tangled up in the life and times of her memorable namesake. Sometimes by design and sometimes by accident, story after story comes alive—about a childhood spent in Allahabad growing the Vanar Sena, of a youthful romance with the charming Feroze Gandhi, of stints in jail and elephant rides through pouring rain, of a magnificent audacity that catapulted India onto the international stage, and of the final, tragic end that ripped apart the fabric of the nation. Real and imagined worlds, the past and present, text and image all entwine as Indira walks us through the most formative decades of political life of India.
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Biographies are amazing for the perspective that they provide on an individual's life. Before reading this book, I must say that my opinion of Indira Gandhi was moulded by the decisions that she made during the Emergency.
Now I know a little more about her. I've always known that she grew up in a household dedicated to the cause of nationalism, but I didn't realize it meant that "she got used to prison sentences being passed down at the drop of a hat."
Her mother was ill and passed away when Indira Gandhi was 19 years old. In her political life later, Indira was not afraid to take a stance in matters of national defence, as proved by her role in the independence of East Pakistan, known as Bangladesh today.
The book itself is composed of two parallel narratives: of young Indira Thapa, a school student who's helping her mentors with their research into Indira Gandhi's life. This portion of the book is brought to life with text. The second narrative is of Indira Gandhi herself, finely portrayed in illustrated vignettes. This sort of book is called a "graphic biography," as Indira Thapa mentions to her mother in the story.
The art is stellar. There are spreads that make you want to stop and take in every detail, like the depiction of Chowk Mirganj and the conversations among its residents in the run-up to Indira and Feroze's wedding.
The text has stand-out moments of writing as well such as this description of an artist named Piya preparing to get started with her work on Indira Gandhi: "It took her a while to select the right pencil. And then, with the ease of a practised swimmer, she jumped in, and instead of hitting her desk, she magically emerged in Allahabad, circa 1917."