Apicture book that evokes mixed feelings, Aamu’s Kawandi is a ‘patchwork quilt’ that introduces the reader to some of the people in little Aamu’s life. A kawandi, as most people know, is a patchwork quilt of fabric scraps made by the Siddis, a tribe of African settlers who were originally brought into the country by traders many hundreds of years ago. Presently their descendants live in north Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa, and other small pockets in the subcontinent. Information about the Siddis, and some pictures and photographs, can be found in the last couple of pages of this book. However, this part of the writing is directed at adults. The grown-up reader can, of course, simplify and pass this information on to a child reader.

Through her collage-kawandi, Aamu tries to show us a picture of her life, which, it would appear is ideal and even utopian. We learn that her mother makes quilts, though she also works in paddy fields. In fact, Aamu’s mother and grandmother used to work in other people’s fields but now have their own land to grow their own rice. How did that come about? The little girl has friends in her village, one from each of the religious groups it would appear, though her friends look different from her (with no details offered). There is a Kannada-medium and Urdu-medium school, a balwadi, etc. To extend the sunny theme, a cousin, educated in the city, is now back to teach in the village.

Other than a mention of Aamu loving trees, which most children do naturally, there is nothing about any sort of connection to forests, something that the note at the back of the book assures us is an essential Siddi quality: “Right from the time when we are babies, we are taught that trees are a gift from god.” In the text that accompanies the pictures, however, everything is so hunky-dory and non-specific, you’d think the Siddis have never had it this good. Nothing sums it up better than the cheery “hi!” you’re greeted with and the “ta-da!” when Aamu unfurls her kawandi—so jarring, yet completely in sync with the blindingly happy world of the book.

The note at the back, while also largely upbeat, is where one get a better sense of the community. For example, it does mention that Siddis also work on construction sites and in the army. But the somewhat vague writing continues to dog this part of the book. We are told that “Siddis are very good at sports and other extra-curricular activities, too.” Italics mine.

Now to the illustrations. The colours are gorgeous and vivid and pictures of the beautifully brown Aamu are a nice contrast to the eye-popping colours of the patchwork kawandi. A child will certainly delight in the satisfyingly lively presentation of Aamu’s life. There is also the switch that is made in the type of illustration when Aamu shows you her patchwork life. These pictures are presented in the form of mixed-media collage and look like what they are supposed to be—a child’s artwork. Why, though, is Aamu standing around with a gaping mouth in all the pictures?

I also wondered about Aamu’s bright red sweater. Is it cold where she lives? It is nice to see photos of the real Aamu (I presume?) at the back of the book. It makes her so much more real to the reader.

The book fails to capture the picture of a tribe and a specific group of people and comes across instead as an outsider’s romanticised vision of a community. The blurb promises “interesting stories from around (Aamu’s) village.” It’s a pity we never get to hear them. For an effective and sensitive portrayal of tribes and communities for children in the same age-group, this reviewer recommends The Trickster Bird by Rinchin (published by Tulika).

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