Twelve year old Akash sees patterns of numbers in his head. The village math teacher can only take him so far in math, bu he puts an idea in Akash’s mind of winning a scholarship to a school in the city. So Akash prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, to make a way for him to hire a tutor to teach the math he needs to know to pass the scholarship examination.
The last book I read, Words in the Dust, was set in Afghanistan and was very Muslim, and now this book, set in India, is very Hindu. Akash prays to Saraswati, goes to the temple, performs Hindu funeral rites for his father (Bapu) in hopes that his Bapu’s soul will be freed to go . . . somewhere good. If this honest and vivid depiction of Hindu religion makes you uncomfortable, as I must admit it did me to some extent, then maybe that’s a good thing. I tend to forget that there are people who live and die in the grips of what I would consider an enslaving and false religious tradition.
Akash becomes a child of the streets, living in the railway station in Delhi. He works and works to find a way to attend a school where he can learn more, especially more math. He makes some good decisions (saving his money and not sniffing glue) and some nearly disastrous ones (dealing drugs to make money). And in the end, the reader is left with only the hope that Akash might, just possibly, be able to go to school and get off the streets.
Author Monika Schroder says in her Author’s Note:
A boy like Akash has only a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India. Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck, achieves his goal against all odds.
If you like this book about a street child in India and you’re interested in similar or related stories, I recommend:
Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth. Brief Semicolon review here.
Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins. Semicolon review here.
Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.
What Then, Raman? by Shirley Arora.
The movie, Slumdog Millionaire.