10-year-old Nanju wears a diaper to school and hobbles around as he has crooked feet. He lives with his Appa and older sister Shanti. He doesn’t pay attention in class and regularly scores zero but manages to hide the evidence from his father, who threatens to send him to a hostel. Happy in his world, nothing seems to bother him much. His best friend is Mahesh, who is terribly clever and lets Nanju copy all his answers. He gets by with a lot of help from his friends.
When I was reading Simply Nanju many people commented on the lovely book cover. The face of an innocent child with an endearing smile, who can resist that? (People who have hearts of stone, that’s who!)
It is business as usual in school with petty rivalries and merciless teasing, greeting teachers in a singsong voice, and the class turning into a fish market when the teacher leaves the class momentarily. Class topper Aradhana’s notebooks vanish and return days later in a shoddy condition. Nobody knows who is behind it and Nanju makes it his business to find the culprit when fingers are pointed at him. Mahesh and Nanju, though not quite Holmes and Watson, set out to solve the mystery. Do they manage to find the thief who isn’t a thief? Read Simply Nanju to find out.
For these differently abled kids the school is a safe (more or less) haven where they aren’t singled out or tormented because they are different. They are normal the way they are and look to each other for support. Growing up, it is important for a child to find belongingness anywhere he or she can get because the world outside is a tough place to survive without the reinforcement of allies. Some times one just needs to not feel alone and Zainab Sulaiman does a splendid job of showing that. I wish I had read such books when growing up – it would have been like having a friend who understood. Above all, Simply Nanju teaches you to be comfortable in your skin and lets you define what your normal is. A must read for both children and adults.
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Mild spoiler ahead!
Seamlessly integrated into the narrative is the story of a drunk abusive father, who is otherwise concerned for his son’s future but is harsh on him because he wants a better life for his son. You could say this shouldn’t find a place in a book meant for children but the author showed this ugly truth with panache, and without any melodrama. Children know and understand much more than we give them credit for. And they deserve to know the truth of what is happening around them. Armed with information they will be better equipped to protect themselves from the onslaught when they do make their way into the world.