Children’s book ‘Asha The Auto-Driver’ is an ode to Chennai’s hardworking women

Aruna Shekar’s latest book has vibrant illustrations by Sandhya Prabhat

Updated - April 07, 2024 07:30 am IST

Published - April 04, 2024 02:14 pm IST

The story is about a cheerful auto-driver in Chennai

The story is about a cheerful auto-driver in Chennai | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Many of us may have come across an Asha in the city. A khaki shirt over her sari, her long hair in a braid, a tired, but cheerful smile on her face, she would navigate her auto through peak Chennai traffic. Asha The Auto-Driver, recently brought out by Tulika Publishers, is an ode to many such hard-working women in the city. “The story is inspired by the auto drivers I came across in Chennai,” says the author Aruna Shekar, who is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

As someone who lived in Chennai’s Indira Nagar in the late 1980s, she has fond memories of auto rides through the city. The author completed her Master’s at Madras University and eventually moved. Aruna visits her sister, who lives in Kilpauk, every year.

Author Aruna Shekar

Author Aruna Shekar | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

In her book, she takes readers through Asha’s routine through the week. “She is proud of her auto, and is ever cheerful,” says Aruna. The story begins at the railway station, where Asha waits at an auto-stand with her auto that sports bright pink flowers. There is something else in her auto: a bag of jasmine buds she bought from the flower market in the morning. Asha strings the flowers as she waits for her passengers to arrive: when she is not riding, she is stringing flowers.

Sandhya Prabhat, the illustrator, brings alive the essence of Chennai and its people: the beach with its carousel and shoot-the-balloon games; the lighthouse and football grounds, and the cows that amble through our streets.

Sandhya Prabhat, the illustrator, brings alive the essence of Chennai and its people

Sandhya Prabhat, the illustrator, brings alive the essence of Chennai and its people | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Aruna, who used to teach Product Development at Massey University in New Zealand, is all for replacing the many gadgets children are exposed to, with books. “I wish more children pick up books to read; books will make them more curious and will open their eyes to different cultures,” she says.

Asha The Auto-Driver is available in nine languages, and is Aruna’s first book with a traditional publisher. She has previously self-published three children’s books, Guess Whose Tail This is, One of a Kind and Pet Pals. “I’m now working on a story about an ostrich and a camel, that takes place in Rajasthan,” she says, adding that there is another title about mangoes in the pipeline, also for children.

Asha The Auto-Driver is available at tulikabooks.com

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