Of Longing and Belonging

By Richa Chadda

Life in coastal suburbs runs in a different rhythm to the one inland. Instead of being dictated by a clock or calendar, time follows the routine set by the moods of the sea. What happens when this coastal almanac gets threatened by the clamour for development? When cities grow to swallow every inch of land, getting under the feet of coastal villagers? While proximity to the city gives coastal villages access to urban facilities, it also leaves them vulnerable to changes in their environment that do not bode well for their livelihood.

Nandita da Cunha’s Where I Belong – Meera’s Village by the Sea, illustrated by Kripa and published by Katha takes readers to a seaside village facing this predicament. Carefree and playful Meera enjoys her childhood surrounded by fisherfolk in her village and her school in the city. But the high-rise building coming up near her village casts a shadow – taking away her happiness. The fish in the sea are ‘scared away by the monster building’ and Meera’s family is struggling to make ends meet. But intrepid Meera comes up with a plan, musters support from her friends and family, and very soon the landscape is transformed, quite literally, bringing back joy in her and her community’s lives. How she does this is a story beautifully captured by Nandita’s words and Kripa’s illustrations. The way Meera inspires young readers to go after what they really want is commendable.

The author has made a sincere effort to make young readers understand lives that are entirely dependent on catch from the sea. She has tried to capture the nuances of the challenges faced by the fisherfolk because of development, such as construction sites leaking black gravel and goo into the sea. The poignant narration leaves ample scope for an artist, and Kripa lives up to the challenge with her vivid illustrations that bring alive the events unfolding in the story with warmth and colour.

Where the story leaves you wanting is in its exploration of viable alternatives to the issued raised by access roads and development. Beautification and tourism have often been touted as a conservation solution, but are they enough to stall development projects? What impact does tourist influx have on the delicate balance of the coastal ecosystem, which is already threatened by all the urban activities around it? It would have been great if the story pondered a bit more on this and the impact of climate change, possibly in the end notes.

Nevertheless, the thought-provoking prompts at the end of the book for children to carry forward their understanding and learn more about their surroundings is a great value addition and make this book a good pick for your picture book collection.

After working in the software industry for over a decade, Richa Chadda decided to chase her dream of working with children and books. From setting up successful libraries to organising literary events, she is, since then, loving it all.

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