Reviews /

Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain

Authored by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhatt
Illustrated by Salini Perera
Published by Nosy Crow Ltd

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Lands of Belonging is a comprehensive, engaging and visually enticing children’s information book which offers a strong anti-racist message and makes a compelling argument for seeing South Asian history and culture as an integral part of British history and society.

As the title suggests, identity and belonging are at the heart of this book. The authors, Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhatt, begin by inviting us to reflect on the ways that different aspects of South Asian culture have become part of all our lives. They also observe that ‘often the story of how South Asian and British history is tightly linked together isn’t explained in schools or in books‘, an omission this book seeks to redress by explaining how ‘Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi history is British history.’ 

Over the course of the following sixty pages, all colourfully illustrated by Salini Perera, we are introduced to a wide variety of topics, starting with the achievements of ancient India such as chess, Ayurvedic medicine and the Hindu-Arabic numerical system which we all use today. The book goes on to explain the involvement of Britain, starting with British traders in the Elizabethan era, before moving through the East India Company, the British Empire, the two World Wars, Independence and Partition. One of the things that can make these topics confusing for readers (of all ages) is the shifting borders between different countries, but the writers of this book consistently offer helpful explanations and clarifications, making it clear that past references to India encompass modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The descriptions of some of these past events make for difficult and upsetting reading, but historical injustices are explained in a clear and age-appropriate manner. For instance, we are told that ‘like most businesses, the aim of the East India Company was to make as much money as possible, not to look after a huge country full of people.‘ At other points, the writers use direct address and ask questions to encourage empathy with the past experiences of South Asians, such as when we are asked to ‘imagine being told that because your religion is different to the religion of your next-door-neighbour, one of you has to leave’. 

The second half of the book focuses more on the experiences of South Asians in Britain and the many contributions they have made to British society, for example through food, yoga and music. There is an excellent map of ‘South Asian Hotspots’ around the UK, and a double-page-spread entitled ‘A Day in Your Life’ which notes the many ways we may already be integrating Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi culture into our daily routines, from washing our hair with shampoo to fastening our clothes with buttons. The book celebrates a range of ‘Amazing South Asians’ from Freddie Mercury to Nadiya Hussain. At the same time, the book acknowledges the racism faced by South Asians and challenges the way this has often been depicted by asking ‘Is it right to call people ‘rioters’ and ‘rebels’ for speaking out against suffering?’

Lands of Belonging is an important book to share with children in all schools. Those from a South Asian background will enjoy seeing many of their traditions represented and celebrated, as well as understanding how their heritage plays a central role in British history – but this is a vital message for all children to appreciate. This book is particularly well-suited to older primary readers but would also be a valuable addition to secondary school libraries.