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Uncle Nehru, Please Send an Elephant!: A review by Myth Aunty

Some books are born of serendipity. When we chanced upon an article in The Caravan about Nehru’s unique ‘elephant diplomacy’, we saw sitting in it a charming story for children. We’d been wanting to get a picture book out of Devika Cariapa, a natural storyteller and one of our star non-fiction authors. So we sent her the piece, she gracefully took the challenge, and did what she does with everything she writes – turned it into a masterpiece! Satwik Gade was so enthused about this story that he magically sent us the absolutely delightful illustrations in absolute record time! So it all happened... And what joy it is when a discerning reader picks up all the little but big things that make it a most unusual and interesting picture book, as Library Consultant and Trainer JoAnne Saldanha does in this Facebook post!

Myth Aunty writes…

In a time that seems like a lifetime before this one, in which most of us communicate through email, Whatsapp messages and SMS, people wrote and received letters...snail mail, as we call it today, named so because it took quite a while for a letter to reach, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru spent a portion of his day reading and writing letters.

On one such day, he opened his mail bag to find a whole lot of letters from Japan, a country quite far away. What was surprising was not that the letters were written by children but rather the request that these letters held. The children of Tokyo, Japan had written requesting that he send them an elephant!! ‘Could you send us an elephant, a real live one...we’ve never seen a live elephant.’...the letters read.

Pandit Nehru was very busy with a newly independent country to run and develop. However he knew that Japan had also been through some very hard times, through the second world war. So he sat down with his advisors and decided to send an elephant to Japan.

A masterful diplomat, he saw this as a way to build ties with Japan, sending a warm letter to the children of Japan, along with Indira, the elephant... named after his own daughter “... a gift not from me but from the children of India to the children of Japan. The elephant is a noble animal much loved in India and typical of India. It is wise, patient, strong yet gentle. I hope all of us will also develop these qualities.”

#DevikaCariapa takes true incidents from history to tell us about Nehru’s ‘elephant diplomacy’. She weaves Nehru’s efforts at building a nation together with amusing anecdotes and his efforts as ensuring that other countries looked on the newly formed nation of India as one that is generous, gentle and noble... much like their gifts that travelled around the world. #SatwikGade‘s illustrations add charm and humour to this interesting read.

I love books which I can use across the grades. Devika Cariapa’s writing prompts many ways to explore this book. While my primary children will love the story of the elephants, and be amused by the range of requests, like the one to ‘dig up’ an elephant for their city, letters addressed to ‘Uncle Nehru’, an elephant being given English lessons, to the anecdote about a child who on being told that elephants were vegetarian, wondering if the elephant will know that he is not a vegetable!

For my older students, I can see this book prompting discussions on diplomacy and the various efforts being taken to build the country, along with animal rights and whether it would be ethical to transport elephants, a creature with close family ties, alone and far away to countries with different weather conditions and vegetation, to what Indira - Nehru's daughter thought about her name being given to an elephant.

I’m a huge Devika Cariapa fan, her writing, the research that she puts into her work, and her interactions with both children and adults that I’ve witnessed at a few of her sessions I’ve attended...I hold it all and Devika in high esteem.

When it comes to history #devikacariapa (in the words of my students) is ‘da bomb’

Love this one and looking forward to using it with my students.

March 30, 2021

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