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  • Writer's picturePriyadarshini Panchapakesan

Unsung Sheroes and Heroes

About “Unsung Sheroes and Heroes”

The word "Shero" is used by the black feminist writer Maya Angelou to refer to extraordinary women who have done great deeds. Angelou deliberately refrains from using the word “Hero”, to refer to women, as it has the pronoun “He” in it, making the word exclusive to men alone. Drawing upon Maya Angelou's terminology, Priyadarshini has titled her book "Unsung Sheroes and Heroes". Her book is a work of fiction and chronicles the lives of lesser known Sheroes and Heroes such as the lady who strings jasmine flowers and the man who irons clothes. Priyadarshini has used a series of descriptive passages to highlight the skill and beauty in the work of the real contributors of society.


Click the link below to listen to me reading out an excerpt from "The Jasmine Flower Seller".




Priyadarshini successfully manages to draw focus to the unmatched skill, expertise and talents of people like the tea brewer, the jasmine flower seller, the bus conductor, and henna artists. We may not see much of the works of the wall painter anymore (the trend of advertising through wall paintings died out in the 1990s), and we may not often hear a flute player on the streets anymore, but this book manages to paint a beautiful picture in quite a poetic manner.

Teacher Plus:

Unsung Sheroes and Heroes is a collection of 16 portraits of people she considers have made 'small yet definite contributions' even though they are considered to be unintelligent and without any skill. In essence, they are portratis of ordinary people. But the beauty of Priyadarshini's eye (like that of any good writer) is that it elevates the ordinary to the extraordinary. She achieves this by zooming into their craft, the nuance, the skill, the complete focus, and absorption required to do the seemingly ordinary. This is quite in contrast to what a lot of children's literature does when it tries to deliver amazing facts or fantastical stories to children.

While we wouldn't bat an eyelid to think twice about the magic that takes place in the iron man's shop or pay much attention to the wall painters whose skill is what renders the dull city or town walls a lot more appealing, Priyadarshini's book is devoted exactly to such non descript personalities. They are both individuals and also categories of occupations that have been relegated a marginal place in society. However, they aren't obsolete either: each of them performs functions that still have immense value and require skill and finesse of a different nature.

Mehendi Artists, The Parotta Master, The Wig Makers, The Basket Weavers, The Coin Collectors, The Jasmine Flower Sellers are some of the portraits she paints in this wonderful book. Each portrait is about a page long, but Priyadarshini's evocative use of the language makes it a rich reading experience, such that the reader emerges extremely satisfied at the end of each one, having gained an almost tactile sense of the work they do.

She also manages to evoke a variety of emotions in the reader ranging from wonder, awe, pity, respect for those heroes and also manages to infuse some thought-provoking social commentary. For instance, the portrait of the Palm Tree Climber ends with the words: "When people bought his jaggery, they did not see a man who had conquered the world. In fact, they saw nothing at all."

Many of us would have had similar fleeting thoughts about the dexterity involved in simple occupations and indigenous crafts, but rarely do we dedicate much thought or time and dwell on them. Priyadarshini's book allows us to do exactly that. It's a celebration of the ordinary- of human skill and effort.

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