It took multiple trips to libraries in Hong Kong and not finding a book on the Partition of India for children to read, that inspired the writing of “Gope and Meera: A Migration Story. Author and TEDx speaker Ritu Hemnani has written a simple and beautiful story as a tribute to the more than 12 million people who lost their homes and over 1 million that died in 1947. Gope and Meera is a children’s book with a profound message. It gently explains heartache, loss, hope and courage to young readers.
Most Indian families have memories attached to the events of 1947, though many have not spoken about it due to the pain and heart-break caused by the Partition of India. Ritu tells us, “When their grandparents did start to share stories, my children were fascinated. Nani, Nana, Amah and Dada went from being grandparents to heroes for having survived the darkest period in India’s history. It was through the book, however, that the excitement of independence and the sorrow and loss of Partition truly became theirs. A door opened to connect them to their past and gave them a reason to feel proud of the lessons learned and the rich heritage they have.” When asked why these stories are still important for children today, Ritu says “There is much we can learn from the horrifying circumstances our elders faced. To lose their homes, their wealth overnight, to not know when their next meal was coming…it is something few of us can truly comprehend, yet we see terrifying instances of it repeatedly, most recently through COVID-19. Events such as these will continue, but we can feel inspired by how our elders dealt with it, through sheer hard work, sacrifice and grit, they have not only survived, but thrive all over the world today. This is a hope we can all cling to. Through knowing the stories of courage and resilience in their bloodlines, I believe the youth of today can be empowered to live and give their best, have a new appreciation for all that was sacrificed and not take life for granted. Wealth and abundance can come and go, so it is important to be wise about where we place our true security.”
She hopes by reading this simple yet powerful story, children develop “A new appreciation for their culture and heritage, a renewed respect for their elders and deep empathy for the plight of migrants worldwide. On a simpler level, I hope they will understand that when the wind blows hard on a tree, the roots stretch and grow stronger and that this can apply to them as well. I also hope they realise that our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising again every time we fall and that we rise highest when we’re lifting others.”
We sat with the author and asked her some fun questions to know her better and talk about things that challenge her and bring her happiness.
1. What is your current state of mind?
Motivated. I love to learn, try new things, consider different viewpoints and grow.
2. When and where are you happiest?
With my family at the poolside or beach where the kids are splashing and squealing as my husband and I soak in some quality time in the sun.
3. What is your greatest fear?
Not being able to show the people I love just how much before I have to say goodbye.
4. Which word or phrase do you most overuse?
NADIA! (My daughter’s name.)
5. What is your most treasured possession?
I was going to say my wedding ring for all that it represents, and while I do treasure it, my most treasured is my computer which holds my stories, poems, letters and irreplaceable photographs.
6. What is your greatest regret?
Not learning Cantonese. I envy my husband’s ability to connect and bless local Hong Kongers in a way I just can’t.
7. On what occasion do you lie?
To protect someone’s heart.
8. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Without a doubt, my three children.
9. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To worry less and trust more. This is still a work-in-progress.
10. What talent would you most like to have?
To play guitar well so I could sing and play.
11. What do you most value in your partner?
His ability to make everyone laugh.
12. Who are the women who inspire you?
Women who break glass ceilings and aren’t afraid to be themselves, like Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Audrey Hepburn, Brené Brown, Kate Middleton, Jennifer Garner and my sister, Jaya Lalwani.
13. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Being busy. It doesn’t make you important. What is important is slowing down, being mindful and caring for your body, mind and soul. Investing in meaningful relationships also helps break the vicious cycle of stress and anxiety.
14. Where would you like to live?
I LOVE living in Hong Kong. It’s my only ‘home sweet home’.
15. Which songs always pick you up?
There are so many: Cheerleader – OMI Felix Jaehn, Barcelona – Ed Sheeran, Price Tag – Jessie J, Locked Away – Adam Levine, Waka Waka and Try Everything by Shakira, Happy – Pharrell Williams and most things by One Direction, Maroon 5 and ABBA
16. Which two books do you wish you had written?
‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini for his writing and ‘Wonder’ by R. J. Palacio for her heart.
17. Which dish reminds you of your childhood?
Dal Pakwan – nothing beats those flavours and that crunch!
18. How would you like to be remembered?
As an encourager. There are enough critics in the world already.
19. If you could have a conversation with anyone in the world, who would it be?
My grandfather, Dada Boolchand N. Melwani – the only grandparent I never got to meet, though the love and respect held for him was always deeply ingrained in me.
20. What is one principle you always try to live by?
To never doubt in the darkness what I learned in the light.
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