A simple and sweet story, The New Sweater is about a little girl Paptu, who is a ragpicker. Every day, when she picks waste, she thinks that she will buy a new sweater for herself. Days go by but there is never enough money. She has to give everything she earns to her parents. But her dream of buying a sweater remains strong. She pictures herself in sweaters of various colours. Every day, she wears a new sweater in her dreams. Finally, she starts saving a little bit of money from what she earns after selling the scrap she has collected. And then, one day, after a taking a nice bath, off she goes to the market to choose a new sweater.
What colour sweater does she buy for herself? What do her parents say when she returns home, much later than usual, at night?
The New Sweater is all the more poignant because the story is by the real Paptu. She lives in Bhopal and collects scrap for a living. The back cover describes her as someone who is “fiercely independent and squarely faces all the challenges that life has to offer.” It’s clear that this story has come from her own life experiences.
I tried to imagine Paptu after I read the story and the little biographical note about her. How old is she? Does she get to go to school at all? Will these stories live and grow with her? Or will they wither as she gets caught up in life’s struggles? I have a feeling that that will not happen. Paptu is a bright spark. In the story, if she wants a new sweater, she works hard for it, saves for it, and in the end, she does get it. I am sure in real life too she has many ambitions that she wants to work towards fulfilling. With her determination and resilience, one feels that all her dreams will come true.
This bilingual book, in Hindi and English, is a good reminder to children of all backgrounds and in different conditions that it’s okay to dream of something better. But when that dream becomes a reality through hard work and honesty, the happiness is manifold. The Hindi words are straightforward, much like the English ones, with few flourishes in the language.
The illustrations by Soumya Menon are lively. They convey the innocence of the main character along with a bright-eyed feeling of hope amidst the squalor and difficulties she lives in. The design is competent and, on the whole, it is a neat-looking book.
The work that Eklavya does through its publishing and Muskaan, working in the slums of Bhopal for the education of children, among other things, is truly commendable. With books like The New Sweater, they have given voice and visibility to bright souls like Paptu. May she prosper and go on to tell many more stories.
Author: Paptu Dhurve
Illustrator: Soumya Menon
Co-published by Muskaan and Eklavya, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Book