This turned out to be another serendipitously delayed read. Why I never read Jamila Gavin’s The Wheel of Surya before, I don’t know. Maybe because each time I looked at it, I was reminded it’s the first of three, and I didn’t have the other two. Now I say, that’s easy to remedy. Just buy them. (It’s my birthday in the not too distant future. Cough.)
It’s a book about independence; both that of the main characters, but also India’s. And it’s a journey book.
First we see how hard life was for the youngest daughter-in-law in a Punjabi village in the 1930s. Married off at 13, Jhoti is the lowest of the low in her husband’s family. She is bullied by her sister-in-law and by her mother-in-law, and her very young husband Govind is away most of the time.
Her two children Marvinder and Jaspal are the same age as the children of the local, English, teacher. Life is relatively good for them, until first Govind leaves for England and a promising career, and war breaks out, followed by a more personal tragedy. Then there is unrest as the country moves closer to freedom, and in 1947 the two children end up alone, fleeing for their lives.
Their goal is to do what Jhoti had planned, which was to travel to England and find Govind. It is not a spoiler to mention that of course they make it to England, eventually. This war damaged country is far from the glorious place they had been expecting, however, and nothing is as they had hoped.
Jamila herself experienced a similar move, so has plenty of material to base her story on. It’s enlightening to see postwar London through the eyes of these beautiful Sikh children, who felt so rich when they were at home in India, despite being so poor.
Because this is a trilogy, there is more to the story than what’s in The Wheel of Surya, and the reader is left with many questions. But because this is Jamila Gavin, at her Coram Boy best, you will want to read on. And I have to admit to peeking at the blurbs for the other books.