India Incredible India is my debut non-fiction. Back in 2019 after Asha and the Spirit Bird was published Walker approached me with an idea to write a fact book which focussed on India. My first thoughts were a little overwhelming. How was I going to fit everything in!
I was born close to the foothills of the Himalaya and moved to Britain with my family when I was 18 months old. As a little girl I have many happy memories of sharing stories of our life in India around the dinner table. My mother would cook up elaborate meals and the whole extended family would gather to feast both on the food but also on the joy of sharing the past.
When I was at the brainstorming stage for the book, I knew I wanted to bring all of the incredible diversity of the country together. I wanted it to be a surprising book filled with places and people that pushed boundaries and broke stereotypes and expectations.
India is the sort of book I would have loved to find at school or in the library as a girl. I can imagine myself spending hours poring over the wonderful illustrations by Nina Chakrabarti and each time I expect I would have noticed something new.
My father’s dream was to travel back to India in a jeep. We would pile in and have the most incredible adventure, he said. Once we arrived, he would show us everything he adored about the country. India is a sort of love-song, a homage to my father, since we never got to do the trip. It’s a journey around all the states and union territories and each destination reveals something incredible and exciting.
As well as being a fact book, India also tells a story. Each time Thara has a sleepover at her Nanijee’s (Grandmother’s) she is allowed to choose a special object from Nanijee’s wooden trunk. Inside the trunk are all sorts of things such as a shiny seed pod, a diya light and my own favourite, an electric-blue peacock feather. Nanijee has collected these objects over time on her travels around India. These moments in the book are opportunities for children to share their own stories about their family and grandparents. It would make a wonderfully inclusive class activity to create maps or family trees and perhaps share where we all come from.
India is a multi-faith country with a long history of diverse religions practising side by side. Although its history has drawn physical lines to create new land-boundaries, there is so much that brings the country together and this book is a celebration of this. The South Asian diaspora is diverse and scattered across the world and what brings us together is food, culture and incredibly skilled craft. Each spread is an exuberant display of the wonder each state has to offer.
It was such an honour to be able to include the stories of women pushing boundaries with the choices they have made. The spreads on the Indian Space Centre showcases the work of Ritu Karidhal and Muthyya Vanitha, space scientists for ISRO. And throughout the book there are numerous examples of sheros acting as excellent role models for all children.
India is a book to be shared with classes. There are so many opportunities for activities linked to the spreads. An art project based around Nek Chand’s rock garden in Chandigarh would give a chance to discuss recycling and re-purposing of objects as well as a lesson in creativity itself.
The spread on Udaipur’s lake palace could inspire creative writing or a puppet workshop or even a history project into the lives of the maharajas who lived in these extravagant palaces.
The journey and the book ends in Punjab in Moranwali. This is my mother’s village and I was so proud to bring it home. I remember when I went back to India as an adult for the first time, watching my mother crouch down and milk the cow. In that moment all the stories she had told came to vivid life, and for the first time I could hear the sharp cry of the peacocks for myself.
India is bursting with ideas just as the country itself is. It was such a joy and privilege to write and I am so excited to share the book with children and families – I hope they enjoy!
India, Incredible India is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.
Jasbinder Bilan, author of Asha & The Spirit Bird and Tamarind & The Star Of Ishta, lives near Bath, in England, with her husband, two sons and an adorable little dog named Enzo. She works as a teacher and in her free time (when she's not out walking Enzo), loves writing stories for children.