Ritu Weds Chandni
Author & Illustrator: Ameya Narvankar
Ages: 5 to 8
You might read the title of this book, see the cover and think that this is a book about two women named Ritu and Chandni getting married. According to my daughter, however, this book is clearly about her. The book, you see, centers around an Ayesha just about her age, who loves getting dressed up, twirling in the mirror, making rhym-y songs, and all things wedding related. Just like my Ayesha.
Ayesha, a precocious child, is all dolled up and rearing to get to her Ritu didi’s (sister/cousin) wedding. She can’t wait to participate in her didi’s Baarat (wedding procession) just like she did at her Deepak bhaiya’s (brother/cousin) wedding the year before.
Ayesha senses that all is not the same as other weddings, but her parents worry does not dampen her spirits. Ayesha is still surprised when they get to the house and her other family members are not there. She asks Ritu’s mom, her chachi (aunt), about it. She learns more about how folks both within the family and around the neighborhood are not only upset at the idea of the two brides and their baarat, but actually plan to try and stop it.
Ayesha’s father persuades them to continue, and Ritu mounts the decorated mare to lead the festive procession. The procession is jeered by the neighbors, and protestors on horses arrive and unleash a torrent of water on the baaratis. Ayesha, scared for herself and her didi, bravely steps forward and saves the day.
Here, I’ll stop to tell you that in deeply patriarchal Hinduism, baarats are led by grooms. This procession then would only have been experienced by 99.99% of Hindus as one being led by a man. As the author’s note reveals, India is still battling deep homophobia. Although, and this is my note, homosexuality was never illegal in ancient Indian and traditional codes (and was criminalized by the British during their rule in India). It was only in 2018 that the colonial era laws criminalizing consensual homosexual intercourse were struck down. As of the publishing of the book, Narvankar notes that same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in India. Neither are same-sex couples offered limited rights such as a civil union or a domestic partnership. For the older kids I think this would be a fantastic jumping off point to talk about the long lasting impacts colonialism has had on the world.
This book is visually stunning. Kids will be enchanted with all the traditional wear and festive ongoings. Narvankar makes a conscious choice to showcase the variety of skin tones and shapes of the Indian experience. Without glossing over the hard bits, he manages to create a glorious book celebrating not only Ritu and Chandni, but Ayesha’s devotion to her didi and the courage of her convictions that pyaar is pyaar (love is love).
Narvankar notes at the end that while he struggled with societal expectations, that the expectations weighed far heavier on women, so he chose to write about two women getting married. Intersectional feminism at its best!
The reason I mentioned my kid earlier, is that I am both ecstatic and devastated every time their eyes light up and sparkle (for days) when they find brown characters in books and media. Devastated because it does not happen often enough. Ayesha can not stop talking about this book. Her brother is MIFFED he is not in it. There is certainly more content out there for them these days, and many authors are making an effort to include, at the very least, side characters that are diverse, but they need to ramp it up. My kids, and yours, deserve to see themselves reflected in the media they consume.
Ritu Weds Chandni is the one acceptable big fat Indian wedding you get to gate crash in 2020. Get on your dancing shoes and join the baarat!
Ritu Weds Chandni (Support an Independent Bookstore)
Ritu Weds Chandni (Hardcover at Amazon)*
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.
My thanks to Yali Books for providing a complimentary copy of this book. The views expressed herein are my own.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.