The ‘Portraits of Exile’ Series by Katha
Author: Aaniya Asrani
Katha India is out with a brand-new series,’ Portraits of Exile’. Leaving home is not a concept that’s commonly on the radar of children’s topics, especially when laced with politics, war and identity crisis.
Katha’s approach to this topic is beautiful – the series has three books with the stories of three separate Tibetan refugees settled in the Bylakuppe region of Karnataka. The stories are in the first person, gently reminiscent of their lives before the People’s Republic of China displaced them from their homeland, Tibet, forcing them to make a faraway land in India their home. These stories are the collective voice of about 150000 Tibetans who have called Bylakuppe, a small settlement in Karnataka their home.
The author Aaniya Asrani has done an amazing job bringing their lives into perspective for children in a simplistic, clear manner. Her bright illustrations through the stories are a treat to a child, but they connect with the adult too. The depictions of everyday things used in the kitchen, the cattle, the mountains, the farms, the architecture could make up hours of interesting conversation. I especially loved the rough floor plan sketches of Tibetan homes that the refugees left behind.
Each book begins with a lovely quote on ‘home’: as defined by the narrators of the stories.
Here’s a brief review of all 3 books from Katha’s ‘Portraits of Exile’ series:
Homecoming is a story narrated in the voice of Kizom, a 76-year-old native Tibetan who begins by describing her life as cattle-herders, of their games, of their life in the mountains, before fleeing to India. Kizom leaves for India without even informing her parents and with practically no money at all. She finds her feet by helping with clearing the forest area allotted to Tibetan refugees by the Indian Government.
Homeland is in the voice of Lobdorjee, a 24-year-old monk who narrates his life back home with his single mother in his home at the foothill of a lush green mountain. He narrates how he left his land only with a handful of soil his mother gave him just as he was leaving. The book ends with him saying that if he ever goes back to his home, he will carry a handful of Indian soil with him, indicating that he now considers India his home.
Homebound is a story narrated by Jampa, a 16-year-old girl who had to leave home at the age of 8, just like her older brothers had done to become Buddhist monks in a place called India. The book describes their family’s journey from Tibet, and how she enjoyed piggybacking on the elders’ back throughout the journey. Jampa keeps a diary of her life in the Tibetan Children’s village, and wonders if her diary will one serve as a reminder of these days like Anne Frank’s diary did.