The Katha Chest
Radhiah Chowdhury and Lavanya Naidu
Allen & Unwin Children’s Books
Despite all that has happened since 2018, the UK retains its rich cultural tapestry, one that we all should celebrate.
I have never before seen a picture book that celebrates Bangladeshi culture so I was thrilled to be sent this one by an author and illustrator who draw on their own Indian Hindu and Bangladeshi Muslim heritage respectively.
Together they have crafted a fascinating story of young Asiya’s visits to her Nanu’s house which is full of treasures, Asiya’s favourite being the large katha chest containing quilts Nanu has made over the years from old saris. The little girl loves to immerse herself among these soft warm quilts and imagine the stories they hold just waiting to be whispered; stories both sad and happy, told to her by family members.
To begin with she shows readers a purple and blue quilt and we learn of Bora Khala’s medal from the war represented by the circular patterns on the fabrics. These help recall a sad time when he had to leave his wife alone with the children, to return after many years.
Then follows the first of Lavanya Naidu’s beautiful wordless double spreads of framed illustrations showing that time of the family’s life.
This and the five other four panel strips are in the style of Pattachitra – Bengali folk art cloth paintings, with simple colours, bold lines and intricate details, each one conveying a story within the main narrative. So it is that through these heirloom quilts, family history – the story of each aunt, mother and grandmother that wore the fabric – is passed on from generation to generation.
Each of the quilts holds a special memory and they’re also taken out when Asiya’s mother and aunts come together for sessions of tea drinking, story telling and reminiscing.
Both author and illustrator’s presentations of family history are imbued with so much tenderness and love that this a book for everyone regardless of their ethnic background.