*Award Winning Book – South Asia Book Award
Title: Ritu Weds Chandni
Author & Illustrator: Ameya Narvankar
Publisher: Puffin Books (Penguin Random House India)
Type: Paperback Picture Book
Age group: This book is perfect for 6 to 106 years!
A couple of years ago, one of our kbc facebook group members asked about books around the theme of LGBTQ+ that could be introduced to kids. While researching, I came across Ritu Weds Chandni – then a book published in the US by Yali Books. Being an import, it was steeply priced, so I wishlisted it on Amazon, like I do for many imported books…
In Jan 2022, when I found out that this same book has been published by Puffin Books (Penguin Random House India) I was stoked! I couldn’t wait for my copy to arrive!!
The book arrived. I tore the packaging off (very unasha-like) – I was a bit too eager to check out the book. I didn’t set it aside to bask in the Goa sunshine like I normally do. I stood in my service balcony and read it right there and then, leaning against my washing machine. And smiled.
I didn’t soak it all up at that moment. I was just so curious to know what happened at the wedding. After all, it’s about two girls getting married to each other!
I read it. The happy ending made me very happy. (No, that’s not a spoiler alert – the author, Ameya Narvankar has openly said that he wanted this book to be “a happy love story that gave his characters a happy ending”.)
I then set it aside and decided to savour it later on.
When I went through the book again, I carefully admired the illustrations and could appreciate the finer points I had missed out in my first impatient read.
The story, as the title suggests, is about Ritu getting married to Chandni. It is narrated and seen through the eyes of a child, Ayesha, who is super excited about her favourite cousin sister – Ritu didi, getting married.
“Ritu didi was going to be the first bride in the Kapoor family to lead her own baraat…”
The excitement in the tone of the child can be sensed and almost heard. As a reader, as soon as you read this line you smile at the thought of how easily children accept the fact that two people who love each other can get married! No questions. No doubts. No prejudice. It’s that simple when you are brought up in an inclusive family, right?
When Ayesha and her parents reach Ritu’s parents’ house they find out that not all of the family members are present as they didn’t support this marriage. Ayesha is confused.
“Why shouldn’t Ritu didi marry Chandni didi?
The author has beautifully used a simple explanation to sum up India’s reality through Ayesha’s aunt’s reply:
“There is nothing wrong with them getting married, little one. It’s just that some people do not understand their love.”
As planned, Ritu in her bridal saree and mehndi adorned hands climbs on her decorated mare. The baraat sets off with a band and the dancing baraatis, including little Ayesha in her pretty lehnga of course!
The page that depicts the neighbourhood’s reaction to a bride leading her baraat on a mare is my favourite page. The speech blurbs gave me goosebumps. How eloquently the illustrations convey the harshness of the situation! I find myself going back to this page over and over again because it takes you right into the story where you can feel the tense atmosphere and anticipate some trouble brewing…
As expected, there are people who oppose the wedding who try to stop the celebrations. Their horses appear bigger and scarier as they tower over the baraatis.
But the image of the two brides in their bridal sarees, riding two different mares, leading their own baraats to the wedding mandap with many other people on horses trying to stop them, is another epic scene from the book that gets you further involved in the plot!
(I am a student of cinema, and therefore picture books come alive for me in filmy style… in this case, Bollywood style!)
What happens next, the twist in the wedding tale, is something I won’t reveal. All I’ll say is that every time I read the part that changes everything for the better, my nose becomes fuzzy. So full marks to Ameya for ensuring the reader feels like one of the baraatis.
There is a scene where the brides’ elaborate bridal hairdos get ruined. That one line caught me off guard. It haunted me and took me back 21 years ago, when I was a bride and how painstaking an exercise it was to get the perfect hairdo! I can’t even fathom how I would react had my hairdo got ruined! If the reader goes through a personal flashback, then the author as well as the illustrator (in this case Ameya) have done their job well. Very well.
Talking to your child…
This book serves as an amazing conversation starter. My 14 year old, who is pretty woke when it comes to topics around sexuality and gender identities (she refers to non-binary people with their preferred pronouns, flawlessly), asked me just one question as soon as she saw the book: “Are same-sex marriages legal in India?”
I explained that India does not recognise same-sex marriages. We googled it together to provide her factually correct information. We also talked about the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in India. She was really happy to see a book that directly talks about a girl getting married to her girlfriend and that celebrates it. “Respect to the author and publisher” was her parting remark.
This book has simplified everything parents need, not just to sensitise their children on being inclusive or introducing the concept of different kinds of families, but also to enable everyone in the family to be on the same page. It will initiate conversations that many families don’t have. It will make you want to attend a wedding with two brides riding two mares and leading their own baraats! Which is exactly why you need to attend Ritu and Chandni’s wedding.
There are quite a few other interesting nuances worth mentioning in the illustrations as well as the text. Once you have carefully gone through the book, please tell me what you noticed and how it touched your heart :).
Related must reads by Indian authors that I already have and highly recommend:
Guthli Has Wings by Kanak Shashi
About the book cover picture we clicked: My 14 yo loves photography so I usually ask her to click the book covers for our reviews. For this one, I had a clear picture of what I wanted to do: use two sets of bangles and two tikkas. This baffled the teen, for I have taught her the importance of ‘less is more’. So she didn’t get why I was moving away from ‘less is more’. I explained to her that an Indian bride’s most precious part of the wedding is her bridal attire and accessories; the dressing up part, the way she looks! Having a beautician dress the bride up is a unique and memorable experience! So it becomes important to highlight that both Ritu and Chandni were equally excited about dressing up for the most important day of their life.
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