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Book Review: refugees In Their Own Country

Sunayna Pal joined our creative nonfiction workshops around two years ago from her home in Maryland.  Her stories of growing up in India and the early years of her marriage there were wonderful insights to that far away country and, more significantly, to a young woman who had tales to tell and knew how to tell them. After sharing several of these prose pieces with us, Sunny, as she suggested we call her, submitted several poems, remarkable in particular because they described insights to a community and a time well beyond Sunny’s own life. Not long after, however, Sunny told us the birth of her second child was imminent.  Her subsequent absences from our group — so I assumed — made sense as she was undoubtedly preoccupied now with two youngsters and had to put her writing aside.

How wrong I was. In reality, Sunny was working on a book of illustrated verses, refugees IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY, {ISBN 978-93-83465-33-0, also available on Amazon}. The refugees Sunny refers to were Hindu members of her family’s Sindh community.  Sindh is now a large province of Pakistan, but before the infamous partition of 1947 which created the modern countries of India and Pakistan (perhaps familiar to US readers as the backdrop of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children), a significant minority of its population were Hindus who had lived for centuries in accord with their Moslem neighbors. This was shattered catastrophically by the sectarian bloodbath that followed partition, with survivors eventually resettling as refugees, Hindus to India and Muslims to Pakistan. To this day, as Sunny’s poems bring home so forcefully, the bitter legacy of these divisions remains a reality for millions of people.

Many of us live separated or at most very loosely connected emotionally with our forebears.  In my instance, my mother’s side was of German extraction and my father’s English; but these roots mean little to me. We shouldn’t forget that this is not the experience of many people.  Sunny or even her parents are too young to have directly experienced partition, having to leave their ancestral homes with their lives at stake.  But through her interactions with her grandparents’ generation which nurtured the feelings of her heart, she has written 75 short verses that can help us understand how visceral these feelings can be. The impact of Sunny’s words is magnified by the clever use of pattern layouts and numerous simple hand drawings.

As an example (used with the author’s permission)…


To get to know Sunny better, check out her website