Local author Ritu Hemnani has drawn on her own family history to conjure up a tale for children about Indian partition.
One day my daughter Nadia came home from school saying she had to answer a question – why do people migrate? So we talked about Hong Kong being a transitory place, and about refugees in Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. It suddenly hit me that our own family, just two and three generations ago, had been involved in one of the biggest mass migrations in world history – Indian partition. I realised it was something not only my own children should know about, but all children, as partition and the subsequent migration was a life-altering historical event.
The story I have written is a true account of how my children came to learn about the partition of India and why the Sindhi-Hindu community is scattered like diamonds across the world today. Most importantly, it establishes a connection of how how these events relate and should matter to them today. I don’t want to give too much away, but Gope and Meera, the two young friends in the book whose lives are tipped upside down by partition, are the actual names of my parents. I used their names to symbolize that, like them, my ancestors were just ordinary people who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
Their strength and determination – in the face of heartbreaking circumstances – enabled them to not only survive, but to thrive in various parts of the world today, whilst preserving our inherited values and culture. This, I believe, is something to celebrate and pass down to subsequent generations to help build a bridge for them, back to our homeland of Sindh (now in present-day Pakistan), that through no fault of our own, we had to leave behind.
I work as a private tutor, freelance voice actor and I’m a mum of three, so I only really have time to write after the kids have gone to bed. Writing is definitely a challenging discipline when you’re first starting to establish a framework for your story, but once you get going, you need the discipline to stop and go to bed! I tried to write or edit for at least an hour or two up to four times a week. My research involved reading books, newspaper cuttings and previous interviews online and listening to stories from my own family and other senior members of my community.
It took me six months to find an illustrator. Eventually I found the right ‘fit’ – someone who was able to understand my vision for the characters and setting. It was important that she would express more than what was written, through her expressions and images.
As a child I loved imaginative stories, like Charlotte’s Web, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Famous Five. They took me into worlds and cultures that I knew nothing about. I wanted to imagine what it was like to walk in the shoes of a person I’d never met. Favourite authors included Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Judy Blume. These days I soak up every word of Khaled Hosseini, Lois Lowry and long time favourite Jane Austen.
I’m currently reading The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition by Narendra Sindh Sarila for my bookclub. I’m also enjoying When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.
Since finishing Gope and Meera I’ve been working on an historical fiction novel set in pre-partitioned Sindh. It goes much deeper into the history and personal impact of partition. It’s due to be completed next year.
Gope and Meera – A Migration Story will be launched on August 19, 4-6.30pm at Parc Palais Function Room, Yau Ma Tei – all are welcome. The event will be attended by the co-founders of the Sindhi Association of Hong Kong and China and the Indian consul general. Indian Independence Day is held on August 15 and this year celebrates 70 years since partition.
Signed hardback copies are available from rituhemnani.com with free worldwide shipping. Books are also available from amazon.com and Bookazine stores.
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