The story of Lilavati, one of the first women mathematicians in India, is brought alive by Geeta Dharmarajan through an episode of her life in the picture book, How to Weigh an Elephant (2012, Katha, appropriate for 5+ years). At a time not too long ago, a king wanted his favourite pet elephant to be weighed. As all the wise men of the kingdom scrambled to resolve the crisis — nothing in the kingdom appeared to be sturdy enough to weigh the beast — it was mathematician Bhaskaracharya’s daughter who offered a simple, efficient solution. Dharmarajan’s story, which lets the illustrations take precedence over the text, is followed by a brief introduction to Lilavati and some other Indian women who excelled in the sciences.
In Anna’s Experiments with Weather (2019, Pratham Books, appropriate for 6+ years), Nandita Jayaraj tells Anna Mani’s story and her journey towards becoming one of India’s wisest weather scientists, credited with building more than a 100 weather gadgets. One of India’s first women meteorologists, Anna Mani (1918-2001) was born into an affluent family in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, where her family owned large cardamom estates. Anna Mani, however, was more interested in books than expensive gifts, and one of her most cherished possessions was a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, given to her on her eighth birthday. Later, she would go on to work with pioneering Indian scientist CV Raman at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. This slim introductory picture book on the Indian science stalwart is accompanied by the very talented Priya Kuriyan’s illustrations.
Following the success of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (2016), a desire to show up the insidious way in which gender divides work in a country like India led Aparna Jain to come up with a biographical anthology of over 50 of India’s most well-known women. Like a Girl: Real Stories for Tough Kids (2018, Context, appropriate for 10+ years) features women as diverse as tribal activist Dayamani Barla and transgender activist Gauri Sawant, writer Bama and classical singer Kishori Amonkar, scientist Tessy Thomas and queen Razia Sultan. Jain steers clear of stereotypes and offers a clearsighted overview of issues such as caste, mental health or women’s safety.
In a vein similar to Jain’s book, The Girl Who Went to the Stars and Other Extraordinary Lives by Ishita Jain and Naomi Kundu (2019, Puffin, appropriate for 6+ years) is another illustrated collection of brief biographies of Indian women who fought odds and went on to become doctors, scientists, politicians, artists, sports and business women, writers, astronauts, pilots and scientists. From Fatma Begum, India’s first woman movie director, to journalist Prabha Dutt, from iconoclast Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay to mountaineer Bachendri Pal, the arc of the narrative spans a wide range of women from different walks of life.