Two of a kind

15 September,2021 07:50 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Sukanya Datta

An NGO’s debut for kids salutes two sisters who overcame mental illness, grief and exclusion, taking it upon themselves to build a kinder world

Jacklin and Amali are winners of the prestigious Changemaker Award

With their big black eyes, long plaited hair and welcoming smiles, sisters Jacklin Janaki and Amali Margaret from Kovandakurichi  who run Home Again — a set of facilities for women who’ve experienced mental illness, grief, homelessness and exclusion — hold the promise of care, community and compassion. It’s their awe-inspiring story — heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure — that Chennai-based NGO The Banyan’s new title for children, Jacklin & Amali, unravels. The sisters’ journey, from their native village to Chennai and back to Kovandakurichi, and through depression, bipolar disorder, loss, marginalisation, socio-economic distress, care and hope, is sensitively brought to life by Anushka Madhavan’s illustrations and Rega Jha’s storytelling. 

Rega Jha and Anushka Madhavan

The book is a part of The Banyan co-founder Vandana Gopikumar’s vision to celebrate Chennai’s care heroes. At a time when the discourse around mental health, especially access and awareness in rural areas, is largely kept out of the young reader’s reach, this title does a nuanced job of decoding the complexities of marginalisation and mental distress. “The Banyan wasn’t keen on shying away from depicting topics like death, depression and sexual intimacy; they wanted to normalise these concepts so that a parent can pick up the book and read it to their kid. And if the child is curious, they can have a conversation around this,” points out Madhavan. Jha, who wrote for young readers for the first time, adds that the team pushed itself to “whittle down complex concepts to their simplest structures and the gentlest possible wording”.  “[It’s] a helpful and clarifying thing for any of us to do no matter how old we are, especially with subjects like grief, trauma, othering, belonging and wellness — that don’t really get too much easier to understand with age,” she notes. 

The illustrated journey also portrays how Jacklin and Amali complement each other — a sisterhood they extend to other women later. “Each of these two women is inspiring in countless ways, but to me, the lesson from their lives [so far] is simple: care is transformative. Real care—personalised, compassionate care, a promise of safety, a sense of belonging and acceptance—is what stands between each of us and our truest potentials,” Jha signs off.

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