A review of Ritu Hemnani's illustrated book on partition seen through the eyes of Gope and Meera.
Phyllis Chan | August 19, 2017
Indian independence takes its place in history as a cornerstone. In 1947, ‘the Raj’ left the British Empire after over two hundred years of British domination. It marked the rise of independence campaigns in countries all over Asia and Africa. Mahatma Gandhi became an icon. Yet such a positive tide of change; the right of self-determination to subjugated peoples, was marked by a violent beginning – Partition.
Ritu Hemnani’s new book “Gope and Meera – A Migration Story” tells the story partition and why the Hindu Sindhi community is scattered all over the world. As Hemnani notes in her book, it caused one of the largest mass migrations in history, over twice as many the number of Syrians who have fled their country today, as of 2017. The irresponsible, poorly marked divide made by a British lawyer, with the use of outdated maps and census information, split into two chunks a subcontinent of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims who had been living together in harmony for thousands of years. Those who found themselves on the ‘wrong side’, essentially, were forced to move. If they did not, they were subject to religious violence. Over a million died trying to escape. Families and lovers were torn apart.
How, then, to explain these brutal acts to your children? It is increasingly important as we become more and more accustomed to the rights and privileges our forefathers have fought for, that our children learn and understand how they came to be; respect the foundation they stand on. In Gope and Meera, Hemnani creates a touching portrayal of two refugees, who are fictionalised versions of her own two parents. She takes the reader on a journey not with Gope and Meera, but their grandchildren, Nadia, Anoushka, and Tarun. The charm of Gope and Meera’s courtship amongst the idyll of mango-picking in Sindh – where ‘birdsong echoed across the valley, as white butterflies hovered above wildflowers that burst with a sweet perfume’ – is set against the tragedy they are plunged into when they are forced to leave.
Hemnani’s book is nuanced, despite its audience. She does not condescend; Nana/Meera tells her grandchildren exactly how many had to uproot themselves and how many died. She details the triumphs and the downfalls of Gope and Meera’s journey beautifully, accompanied by the charming artwork of Samidha Gunjal. She creates an interesting and educational story for children that both entertains and enthrals them. More importantly, she provides a foundation upon which parents can teach their children about history and migration. In the book, Nadia is doing her homework, in which she has to answer the question, ‘Why do people migrate?’ The answers are endless; Gope and Meera’s story is only one experience out of millions.
Hemnani also includes a brief tribute to the victims of Partition and a reading guide at the back of the book, as well as a glossary and a beginner’s guide to Sindhi conversation. This is not a book only for Sindhi Hindus or even Indians; it is for all children.
Order the book online: Ritu Hemnani Official Online Book Store
Attend the book launch on the 9th of September: Book Launch by Bookazine
Looks like you made a move and your account activated successfully!