Ameya Narvankar’s “Ritu Weds Chandni”, an adorable children’s book, was published by Yali Books and released in 2020. An alumnus of IIT-Bombay, he is a visual artist and bookmaker. One reviewer says the narrative “simultaneously confronts homophobia and celebrates child-powered change in Hindu communities: a delight.”
It is a story about young Ayesha, who is all excited about her favourite cousin, Ritu’s, wedding. The book is told from her perspective, and she is looking forward to dancing at her cousin’s wedding, but she seems to be alone in this excitement. Her family isn’t really happy that Ritu is marrying her girlfriend, Chandni. Furthermore, in the story, the struggle is about this same-sex couple trying to gain acceptance.
On the day of the wedding, some strangers try to stop the festivities. Some neighbours shout unkind words as the baraat passes. Seeing all this, little Ayesha is heartbroken at the way the world treats her favourite cousin.
Ameya Narvankar says the book started as his thesis project when he was doing his Masters at IIT Bombay. He had worked on the visibility and representation of the queer community in the country. He researched various representations in media and literature, and around the same time, started working on these characters, Ritu, Chandni, and Ayesha, back in 2016.
Quite a few publishing houses were hesitant, and he had met some dead ends. Indian publishing houses were unsure about publishing a book on such a sensitive topic. This, the author says, was a pre-reading of 377 days and hopes things are different now. He is hopeful that Ritu Weds Chandni will find an audience in India, as Ameya Narvankar primarily wrote the book with 8-year-old kids in mind, and the two primary ideas that were focused on were homophobia and Bollywood.
Many nuances in “Ritu Weds Chandni” throw light on the stigma and treatment young Ayesha’s favourite cousin faces at the wedding. He says kids are not born homophobic; it is their upbringing and the conditioning they experience while growing up. Kids are usually imparted this conditioning by their parents, educators, caregivers, and others.
The author says parents may have some reservations about getting this book for their kids because it is such a sensitive topic, but hopes there will be a conversation on this topic. Since the LGBTQ community is more visible in society at large, in visual and print media, children will be exposed to these realities at some point or another. It would be better to start with material designed with children in mind than to be exposed to misconceptions from scattered sources.
The book is praised by reviewers for its illustrations, which show a variety of skin colours and body types. These illustrations are a well-thought-out, true reflection of the diversity of South Asia’s cultures. The narrative is well-paced, and the heartfelt narration both celebrates the power of resistance and depicts the harsh homophobic realities that exist in many traditional Hindu communities. Released in December 2020, Ameya Narvankar‘s Ritu Weds Chandni is available on Amazon and many other stores.