Published : Saturday, 23 September, 2023 at 12:00 AM Count : 507
Nazneen Ahmed Pathak
While in India, several books tell the stories of freedom fighters, there aren't many stories published that tell children in Britain anything about colonisation�
For British-Bangladeshi historian and visual artist Nazneen Ahmed Pathak, it is important for children in South Asia to understand the history of colonialism and this is why she wrote her debut book for kids "City of Stolen Magic". While in India, several books tell the stories of freedom fighters, there aren't many stories published that tell children in Britain anything about colonisation, she says.
"And that's despite the fact that the legacies of colonialism and enslavement are all around us - in our museums, in the bricks of our grand country houses, in the statues in our towns and the names of our streets," Southampton-based Pathak told PTI.
"For children in South Asia, understanding the history of colonialism helps them also understand why the world around them looks the way it does now - in terms of why various communities migrated across South Asia in 1947, and to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, in terms of the borders we inherited, and the conflicts that were created by them that are taking place even now. "So, it's a conversation we need to find ways to have with our children, everywhere, in ways that are appropriate for them," she says.
The book, published by Puffin, is set in colonial India of mid-19th century. British rule, and all across the country, Indian magic is being stamped out. More terrifying still, people born with magic are being snatched from their homes.
When young Chompa's home is attacked and her mother viciously kidnapped, Chompa - born with powerful and dangerous magic that she has always been forbidden from using - must travel to the smoky, bustling streets of East London in search of her. But Chompa will discover far more treachery in London than she had bargained for - and will learn that every act of her rare magic comes with a price.
"When my son was born in 2013, I was reading a children's book and he was lying on my lap, and I looked down at him and realised there were no stories out there about his heritage as a British-Indian-Bangladeshi child," says Pathak. She was working on a project on history of migrant communities in East London.
"When I discovered this history, just months before having my first child, for the first time - my place in Britain, the place of my family - made sense," she says.
"So, I wanted to explore that, and tell that story for Roshan, and children like him. Chompa and Tipu arrived in my sleep-deprived imagination quite soon after that�," she adds.
Pathak describes Chompa as a bold and an impulsive girl who thinks she always knows best, which has some mixed results for her in "City of Stolen Magic".
The author considers South Asia as a treasure trove of stories that she has always been privileged to know, particularly through learning to read Bengali as a child.
"I was fascinated by the slightly different versions of stories I knew from fairytales I read in English - stories such as Aladdin, and Ali Baba and Forty Thieves. I also used to watch the Hindi films and the television serials 'Mahabharata' and 'The Sword of Tipu Sultan' with my parents, which were both shown on British television in the UK in the 1980s for a South Asian migrant audience, on weekend mornings.
"But it's also a place where magic used to be seen as real - not just something made up in stories. Growing up, that was really exciting for me - hearing about 'bhoot' and 'djinn', and trees I needed to stay away from in my grandfather's village because they were haunted by them. Everywhere in our landscape, and also in our songs, myths, legends, even our embroidery traditions and tapestries - there are stories everywhere," she says.
On how the book shaped up with her being a historian, poet, visual artist and a teacher of creative writing, Pathak says, "I plan the earliest stages of creating a story idea a bit like the way I cook: I throw in various ingredients I love, mix them up and see what happens. So, history, visual arts and poetry have all been woven into 'City of Stolen Magic' in different ways.
"History is the backbone of the recipe, of course, and magic is the seasoning - but poetry and embroidery are also key ingredients." Courtesy: THE INDIAN EXPRESS