Lands of Belonging
Donna & Vikesh Amey Bhatt and Salini Perera
This splendid book written by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhatt, with input from Dr Rajbir Hazelwood, historian of South Asia and Modern Britain, is published for the 75th anniversary in August 2022 of the Partition of India. Its reference frame is that there are many ways to tell a story, depending on your viewpoint and experiences. I visit India at least once a year, once spent six months teaching and doing social work in Rajasthan, have made many close friends there and in other parts of the country, – people who have taken me into their homes and their hearts – and was born in Pakistan to British parents, so it is of particular interest to me. Indeed author Vikesh in posing the questions, What Makes You, You? and Where Are You Really From? at the start of the book really made me stop and think and essentially I go along with ‘you are the experiences you’ve had throughout your life’ as what’s made me what I am.
The book’s subtitle is ‘A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain, and this itself indicates that this is a complicated subject. It takes readers on a journey – cultural and historical – through India of the past (that includes today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh) showing how this ancient land was one of big thinkers, inventors and skilled craftspeople and traders, many religions, many kings, rulers and empires.
Next comes a topic that makes me feel uncomfortable – that of India under the English East India Company and the way in which the British gradually took over the entire land and how the British Raj treated those who called it their home. Then come Independence and Partition that resulted without due consideration of the long term effects, in the dividing of a nation and its people that still has repercussions today.
There’s also a look at the global impact of India/Pakistan/Bangladesh both on recent times and today, and at the contributions of some South Asians of today and yesteryear.
One of the things that strikes me anew every time I visit India is its cultural richness, its multitude of cuisines, traditions, (I learned to do and to teach yoga there), its languages, festivals, dance styles, music,
sports and the friendliness of its people. These topics too are covered, and all are vibrantly illustrated by Salini Perera whose art makes me want to jump on a plane, Mumbai- bound tomorrow.
An absolute must have book that makes a complex topic fascinating and approachable: it deserves a place in every school library in the UK.