There are four kinds of Indians in Singapore.
1. Singaporean Indians
2. India Indians who are PRs.
3. India Indians who are not yet PRs but on the way to PR-dom.
4. India Indians who are from the back breaking construction industry.
First time author Azhagunila has covered most of these types in her book ‘Aaranju’.
Each group has its own preconceived notion about life and each looks at the other from its own perspective. These two aspects are well covered in her stories.
While Singaporean Indian has his own worldly view and issues to grapple with, the category 2 Indian is obsessed with schooling for his child and the all encompassing PSLE exam. Category 3 Indian still has doubts as to where he belongs – India or Singapore – while category 4, devoid of his family in Singapore, often longs for his family in India and gets on with life, enduring the physical hardship in Singapore while hoping for a better future in India.
The star story of the collection is, of course, ‘Aaranju’ that details the point of view of a PSLE student. Every stake holder in the education arena has had an opinion on the PSLE and the effects of streaming of children. But no one has spoken of the PSLE nightmare from a student’s perspective. It is he who has to undergo the trauma without having the ability to understand the exam itself. Unknown to him, the child undergoes the strain while not being able to comprehend what is happening and what the implications of the exam are. Azhagunila is brilliant here as she shows the PSLE from a child victim’s perspective. This one story is a great candidate to be translated into Mandrin and English so that it reaches the other affected parties in Singapore. Kudos to the author for the intelligent choice of name and the narration.
As the story is from a child’s perspective, the author is not judgmental or condescending. She describes the situation as a child sees it and leaves it at that, thus creatively including the reader as a co-author to script the un-written story of what to do with the PSLE. The satire that runs along the story captivates the reader’s attention. (Suggested Further Reading : The Good, Bad and the PSLE by Monica Lim )
The story of a hot tempered male protagonist who turns a new leaf is extremely well written with a fantastically unexpected twist in the end. The author glitters in this story.
There is an interesting story on inter-racial marriage between an Indian woman and a Chinese gentleman and how the lady finds acceptance in the family once her grandchild is born. This is a story that has great depth than meets the eye. The author’s ingenuity shows itself in her deft handling of the story line.
Social media adoption by a senior citizen and its power to alienate loved ones is a more contemporary topic. The author touches upon this as well,in her unique way, in yet another heart warming story.
The story on the special child on a train, narrated from an Indian construction worker’s perspective, has a novel approach that makes the story interesting. Juxtaposing the worker’s thoughts about an earlier experience with a special child with the then current situation in the train, is a brilliant idea.
Vivid imagery, quick dives into the stories, surprising turns and a wholly Singapore content covering the Indian community in Singapore are some of the salient points in Azhagunila’s ‘Aaranju’.
My recommendation for the book: Read it. You have an interesting writer on hand.