‘Kisaan’: Monrovia children’s author publishes book to honor grandfather and spotlight Indian farmers | Books

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A little girl with long dark braids and a little boy wearing a green turban are looking at the pages of a picture book, smiling happily under three bubbles.

“My name is Simran,” said the little girl.

“My name is Sehaj,” adds his brother.

Then, together: “Join us on a journey to learn about the Kisaans of India and our great-grandfather, who was a Kisaan. “

So begins “Kisaan,” the latest children’s book by Simarjeet Kaur Sandhu, a resident of Monrovia and recent Hood College graduate.

In “Kisaan,” which means farmer in Punjabi, readers learn about the crops and livestock raised by farmers in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. They also meet Maluk Singh Sandhu, a very special kisaan who owned a 25 acre farm in the Haryana town of Pehowa and taught his great-grandchildren, Simran and Sehaj, to be grateful for the work of the farmers. After all, as Simran tells readers, “If there were no farmers, there would be no food.

Maluk Singh Sandhu is special for another reason too. He was the grandfather of Simarjeet Kaur Sandhu. She wrote “Kisaan” as a tribute to him and to raise awareness of the importance of farmers, a cause she sees as particularly urgent in light of the ongoing protests by farmers in India.

For just over a year, farmers have rallied at the state borders surrounding Delhi to oppose three new farm laws passed last September that they fear will harm their livelihoods and harm their livelihoods. Make it harder for them to compete with large private retailers and food processors. Sandhu’s relatives who still live in the Punjab made the trip to New Delhi to provide food for the homeless and protesters in the city. In doing so, Sandhu explained, they make “langar” (Punjabi for “free cooking”) an important part of Sikhism.

Sandhu’s grandfather died last September at the age of 104, before his family knew about the protests. Nonetheless, Sandhu says she is sure he would be upset by the laws and want people to know about them.

“He was a great defender,” she said. “He taught us to fight social injustice and truly honor people’s lives and their differences.

The story of “Kisaan” does not mention the protests. Although Sandhu sees the passing of laws as a humanitarian rather than a political issue, she did not want to distract from the reason she wrote the book, to introduce readers to the basic concepts of agriculture and the importance of farmers.

The final pages of Sandhu’s picture book highlight two organizations that support protesting farmers. During the first three months after the publication of her book by Sandhu, she donated all profits to these two organizations – half to the 5 Rivers Heart Association, which provides free medical care to underserved areas of the world, and the other half to Khalsa Aid, which provides support to people. victims of natural and man-made disasters.

As of September 1, Sandhu said that all income collected by “Kisaan” will be used to fund a scholarship that she created on behalf of her grandfather, open to undergraduate and graduate students in all majors.

The children’s book also features a brief explanation of the farmers’ protest, adapted from an essay that Sandhu’s niece, 14-year-old Mia Kaur Sandhu, wrote for the class. Mia also helped design the characters Simran and Sehaj, who also feature in her aunt’s first two books.

In an email, Mia spoke passionately about the challenges farmers face and the impact helping her aunt with “Kisaan” has had on her. Although she is only half Punjabi and does not speak the language, she is proud of where she came from and who her ancestors are.

“My favorite thing that I learned while working on the book was the bravery and humility that Bhaiji transmitted,” she wrote. “I learned from him that we have to remember who we are and where we come from. We have to support the people who support us. Farmers give us the food we need to survive; why can’t we repay them for the life they have planted in us? “

Sandhu says she is inspired by Mia and her sister. They remind her why it is so important to have books that teach readers about Sikhism and Indian culture. She wants them and other second and third generation immigrants to understand their origins.

Growing up in Silver Spring, Sandhu never saw her cultural or religious identity reflected in the books that filled her classroom. She and her brother have also been harassed by children and adults. Once a friend of hers told her that her parents told her that Sikhs cover their hair because they have lice. Another time, a gym teacher called Sikhism a “stupid religion” in front of his whole class.

Sandhu believes that a kind of ignorance can be avoided if children learn about other cultures and religions when they are young. Now, as an ESOL teacher at the Montgomery County Public School Virtual Academy, Sandhu sees it as her responsibility to share books like “Kisaan” with her students.

Her friend recently told her to look at “Kisaan” as both a mirror and a window. It’s a mirror for little boys, like Sehaj, who cover their hair in turbans and still learn about their cultural backgrounds, and it’s a window for people who are completely new to the Sikh religion and know little about the Sikh religion. India.

“This story has both purposes,” Sandhu said. “And that’s for both audiences.”

“Kisaan” is also intended for adult readers, Sandhu said. She has just completed a 350-page thesis that she knows few people are likely to read. But the reason she loves children’s books is that they present ideas in a simplistic way that anyone can understand.

Sandhu illustrator Anastasiia Sokolova knew nothing about the protests in India until she started working on “Kisaan,” she said in an email. While working with Sandhu, however, she became interested not only in learning more about the protests, but also Indian culture in general.

“I am certainly very proud of [have met] Dr. Sandhu and illustrated three of his books, ”Sokolova wrote. “I believe that each of Dr Sandhu’s books will be an excellent guide to the world of India and its multi-faceted culture.”

Sandhu hadn’t always planned to write a children’s book about her grandfather and her farmers, she said, but as a Sikh, she believes God is leading her. One day, she woke up, and it was as if God was the one writing the words that eventually became “Kisaan”.

Her grandfather moved to the United States in 1984. Although he eventually became a US citizen, she said he had firmly maintained his cultural and religious identity. When he arrived in the country, people told him he would need to cut his hair if he wanted a good job, Sandhu said. But he said he would be okay with any job he found. He ended up getting hired into a 7-Eleven and worked there for over a decade.

Education was also extremely important to his grandfather, Sandhu said. To honor her, she waited until she got her doctorate in organizational leadership before publishing “Kisaan”, so that she could be identified as a “Dr.” on its cover. And when she defended her thesis, she did so with her head covered.

“It was a huge tribute to me for him,” she said. “It just seemed like all of these pieces fit together, and that’s what he really wanted. This is really what he wanted.

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @ 24_angier

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @ 24_angier

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