MTYT: The Secret Kingdom

Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, and Deanna Day-Wiff, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

This week Seemi and Deanna look at The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock and discuss the stress of immigration and holding onto pieces of home.

This story takes place in the year 1947 and thereafter in India at the point where Pakistan was carved out of India. Nek Chand, a resident of the region that became part of Pakistan has to move to India because of his religious identity, while leaving behind all that was familiar. He takes all the stories of his past life and self-claims a piece of land in India and creates a world which is tangible for him.

SEEMI: The wonder of this true story is the reality of Nek Chand’s life and the way he dealt with the stress of forced immigration. This is a historical narrative that encapsulates the events of the great immigration between Pakistan and India where multitudes died/were killed and those living, left behind their loved ones and their possessions, to start anew. Nek gets in trouble with the government as he self-claims a piece of land to give visual voice to his memories. Nek Chand Saini (15 December 1924 – 12 June 2015) was a self-taught Indian artist, known for building the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, an eighteen-acre sculpture garden in the city of Chandigarh. More can be found about this with a quick search on the internet through the following links:

The visual and the written text do justice to the life of Nek Chand who left a living landmark to celebrate his past and present, taking it into the future. That was the way Nek dealt with the anxiety and stress of leaving behind all that was familiar. This story has the sway to speak to an audience far removed from the time/space world where this narrative takes place by the sheer experiences of the manner in which a human being releases stress in a positive powerful manner.

DEANNA: Even though Nek was forced to leave Pakistan in the 1940s his story is applicable today since refugees are still forced to leave their homes and countries in 2021. I found it shocking to read that Nek spent over 15 years imagining and creating his secret kingdom out of recycled materials on the government land. The middle photograph that opens up to a large page shows the mammoth garden he created, spread over many acres, which was very intriguing.

I also enjoyed the book’s language, “Nek played and planted, laughed and listened, as the ancient stories circled with seasons, beginning to end and back again”. How wonderful that Nek’s hobby gave him so much joy. I think that this may be something for everyone to think about in a pandemic year where technology seems to have taken over. Are we playing, laughing, and listening enough? Are we creating, building, painting, imagining and dreaming?

Seemi what did you think about Nek trespassing on the land to live and create his secret kingdom? Was this right or wrong? In the backmatter readers learn that the Indian government threatened to move his creations or tear down the garden a couple of times, but never has.

This truly is an interesting story and wonderful biography to read.

SEEMI: I think it’s debatable as to what Nek did being right or wrong. While what he did was a sensible expression of his feelings and he needed to get it done to deal with the stress of losing all that was familiar to him. However, we need to keep in mind that India is a country that is severely overpopulated with land being sought-after. What he claimed was a large chunk of land and by taking it without permission does create an issue.

Title: The Secret Kingdom
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Claire A. Nivola
ISBN: 9780763674755
Publisher: Candlewick
PubDate: February 13, 2018

Throughout June 2021, Seemi Aziz and Deanna Day-Wiff discuss picturebooks that depict anxiety and stress in and around our world. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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