Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

‘My Ritu didi is getting married today
And I’m going to dance in her baraat all the way!’

Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar is a Queer own-voices Indian picture book about a young girl named Ayesha who is positively ecstatic to attend her cousin’s wedding to another woman and to celebrate the joy of their love.

My introduction to this book occurred when I came upon Charvi’s (It’s Not Just Fiction) list of five books she wishes she had read as a kid, and after having the pleasure of reading through Ritu Weds Chandni myself, I wholehearted feel the same way.

As a Queer member of the South Asian community, dreaming of my perfect wedding day to a woman whom I love dearly is as exhilarating as it is terrifying. This thirty-five-page picture book captures the root of these fears’ existence perfectly. Yet, it also does something else. It shows us that there is hope and a beautiful light on the other side. That not everyone is hateful and close-minded, trapped in their conservative bubbles of prejudiced ideals of love and companionship, and some of those kind open-minded and compassionate individuals are people whom we would least expect to understand: children.

The story of a young girl who is brimming  with excitement to watch her cousin marry a person whom she loves dearly, and how this child helps to make sure that nothing stands in these ladies’ path was marvellously motivating. The sense of adoration and enthusiasm that Ayesha feels pours off the pages via the vibrant and lively papier-mâché style artwork and the cute way she speaks in rhymes, maintaining a melodious, sing-song aura typical of South Asian wedding celebrations. I hope that this is the first of many more LGBTQIA+ South Asian picture books about love and acceptance of Queer individuals as the recognition of Queer identities and relationships needs to be normalised within such a derisive community now more than ever before.

Ritu Weds Chandni is a fantastically inclusive and heart-warming tale that is a must-read for all parents and children alike. The introduction to same-sex love and marriages is done in a sweet and accessible manner that shall help children to see all the shades of romance and companionship of the world. It also portrays the power behind that a single individual can garner with their voices and fortitude towards marriage equality, which is far too rare in children’s literature. For anyone wanting to raise more awareness and support for the LGBTQIA+ community, this is an excellent place to begin.


Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Yali Books.

Publication Date: 01-December-2020
Publisher:
Yali Publishing LLC
Genre:
LGBTQIA+ Literature, Indian Literature, Picture Book
Page Count:
35
Content Warnings:
Homophobia.
GoodReads:
Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev Marchis an own-voices Indian (Parsee) historical crime mystery novel that revolves around a biracial man named Jim Agnihotri who is recuperating in a hospital after his time in the Afghan War where he learns about the unfortunate demise of two women in Bombay. Upon reading the newspapers, which have touted the deaths as suicide, Agnihotri feels that there is something strange going on and that there is much more to the case than appears to the naked eye. Freshly motivated by the deductive prowess of one Sherlock Holmes, Agnihotri decides to investigate the case on his own.

Murder in Old Bombay is an excellently written piece of historical fiction that is both transportive and insightful about an era that is rarely seen within the genre, the British occupation of India during the late 1800s. Coupled with the portrayal of a biracial identity and a curious crime mystery, readers shall have a pleasantly engaging reading experience, more so if they fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dynamic detective duo, Sherlock Holmes and James Watson, from which the story derives heavy inspiration.

My favourite aspect of the novel is the main character, Jim Agnihotri himself. Because he has two racial backgrounds—British and Indian—he feels quite a bit of a disconnect from both identities, like a wanderer just on the cusp of a border, able to see and hear the culture without ever feeling like he belongs to either one. This is something that we see mirrored in the interactions that Jim has with others, and an element that also works as a subtle form of allegory for the delicate political strife in India at the time (1892). Lastly, it makes it easier to empathise and connect with Jim on a personal level, humanising him in a manner that makes the reader want to keep reading.

When Jim meets Adi, the man who is related to the two women that died, their bond is almost instant. Adi can see the sincerity in Jim’s desire of wanting to uncover the truth for the sake of it rather than taking the periodical’s story at face value and it makes Adi confide in the soldier. Their bond eventually starts to feel like the beginnings of a found family dynamic, which I positively adored.

The investigation itself ends up  being far more complex than I expected it to be and it was fun trying to connect the clues before they were revealed on page. It also takes us into the heart of Bombay where we see how people born of multi-ethnicities are treated, spurned and subjugated to ostracism that illustrates the rift between the British colonists and their Indian commonwealth. Since the book takes place only a decade prior to the Partition of Bengal in 1907, which was preceded by an intense political struggle of socialist reforms, the socio-political ambiance of Bombay is quite anxious and stiff. Jim’s use of disguises also work to depict the many faces and circumstances of the people of India, which was a neat way of sharing the atmosphere of the time period.   

The writing was very impressive! One of the things the author accomplished fairly well is the mannerisms, etiquette, and social exchanges of the 1890s. Most of the time, I felt as if I were standing beside the characters as they conversed, or watching a marvellous film where everything was portrayed with careful authenticity. The ability to write so instinctively for a period that is over 130 years in the past can be challenging, but Ms March makes it feel beautifully effortless.

If there is anything that may be a narrative repellent to some readers it is that the context of British India’s conflicts can feel somewhat detached from the mystery plotline as a whole. While I appreciate its inclusion as it creates a fully enthralling sense of environment that is transportive,  it does cause the story to feel a bit drawn out. Another element that could be somewhat frustrating are the constant references to Holmes and Watson, highlighting their influences with a strong on-the-nose aura. Folx who are unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes may appreciate the allusions more than those who are already quite well-versed in the Holmes’ tales. My hope is that these references shall dimmish in the forthcoming sequel and as the series goes on.

Overall, I really enjoyed Murder in Old Bombay. It was a superbly written debut that shows the author’s natural talent at writing for the historical fiction genre. The suspense and air of mystery held fast, and the characters did not fall flat or fall to one-dimensional blunders. I highly recommend this to readers of the historical fiction genre, as well as to individuals who find pleasure in mysteries akin to the works of Agatha Christie and Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, but far more diverse!


Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Minotaur Books.

Publication Date: 10-November-2020
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Indian Literature, Historical Fiction, Crime Mystery
Page Count: 400
Content Warnings: Mention of suicide. Mention of wartime violence. Racism. Colonialism. Murder.
GoodReads: Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

Seven by Farzana Doctor

Seven by Farzana Doctor is an #OwnVoices Indian fiction literature novel about a woman named Sharifa who travels to India with her husband with the hopes of learning more about her great-great-grandfather who was an immensely successful businessman and a philanthropist. During her research, however, instead of discovering a tale of rags-to-riches, Sharifa learns that her grandfather had four wives, all of whom had been omitted from the family’s lore. As she becomes more and more engrossed in the enigma surrounding these women, Sharifa also becomes entangled in a powerful familial debate regarding khatna—an age-old ritual of female genital cutting, one that shall force her to face her own reality and choose a side.

One of the most intriguing characteristics about Seven is the subject matter of female genital cutting (FGC) as it is one that I have never seen discussed in literature before. My own personal knowledge of this ritual is extremely limited and for all intents and purposes, it has always been a topic that has existed within my own cultural circles, but one that is never openly discussed. While I was curious to learn more about FGC, I was wary of the sensitivity with which it would be broached in the book. Ms Doctor not only discusses this vital issue with accessibility and evocativeness, she also does so with great care and consideration, which is what truly makes Seven such an incredible title.

The writing style is simple and rather straight-forward, making it easy to get utterly consumed within the pages, more so when the emotions surrounding the subject matter are portrayed with authenticity and thoughtfulness. Each side of the debate is given attention and respect, and provides an insightful, educative, and captivating reading experience. The tone while discussing the roots of these rituals and why some family members still believe in the practise is never spiteful or accusatory, which is an incredibly challenging feat given the nature of this matter. Her exposition is careful and considerate from beginning to end, even when it leans a bit more towards one side versus the other.

The superb use of emotions to illustrate the tensions within Sharifa’s family as they discuss this practise draws the reader further into the complexities of olden traditional Indian culture that most would consider to be highly outdated. There are layers of complexities that go beyond simple right and wrong that create a plethora of reactions and responses as the story unfolds, making the book practically impossible to put down.

The focus on FGC plays parallel to some of the other issues that Sharifa is battling in Seven and that helps to formulate an even more elaborate narrative filled with multi-dimensional themes on gender roles (particularly where sex is concerned), self-acceptance, the intricacies of cultural identity, marriage, female relationships, and much more. Sharifa’s husband, Murtuza, was a pleasant surprise whilst reading. He was a compassionate and understanding man who always valued his wife’s thoughts and feelings, highlighting an equity in their marriage that is rarely depicted in books showcasing more culturally inflexible gender-centric functions in South Asian communities, especially with respect to her inner turmoil regarding her sexuality and mental fortitude.

While Seven is not an easy book to read, it is vastly important, and I highly recommend it to readers that are searching for a unique story with fallibly relatable characters. With writing that is supported via excellent research, a respectful approach to an intensely delicate subject matter, a sensitive exhibition of sex and romance amid rigid Indian traditions and gender roles, and beautifully sincere use of emotions, there is very little within these pages that shall disappoint.


Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Dundurn Press.