It is difficult not to cry, or to fight back tears after reading Jamlo Walks. More than a year has passed since the lockdown of March 2019 when migrant workers across the country were forced to walk back home. As we shut down doors and businesses in order to grapple with the threat of the pandemic, we closed the doors of our hearts to the plight of daily wage earners. Written by Samina Mishra and beautifully illustrated by Tarique Aziz, Jamlo Walks (Puffin books) will leave you a changed person.
This is the true story of 12-year-old Jamlo, a migrant worker who started the perilous journey back from the chilli fields of Telangana to her home in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Sadly, she never made it home. The picture book shows the little girl’s journey in a beautiful and sensitive manner. With hope in her heart and the chilli’s in her bag which were her wages, she walks home. As you travel with Jamlo on different legs of the journey, the pictures and the words work together to poignantly tug at your heartstrings.
The crassness and sadness of child labour, the unfairness of society towards the labourers and day wagers, and the increasingly widening gap between the haves and the have-nots all make their presence felt. Everyone felt the impact of the lockdown, but we know who was hardest hit. When we contrast Jamlo’s story with another instance in the book, of a child unable to access online schooling due to a problem in his speaker, we realize how trivial these sorts of inconveniences are compared to the torture that millions went through. And yet, Jamlo walks with wonder in her eyes, and hope in her heart.
I do not think one can put an age limit to a book of this kind. Jamlo Walks is a picture book but packs in so much that is eternal. It is a book that has few but touching words and pictures that sensitively weave together many themes and emotions. It serves as a reminder of the gross inequality that we take in our stride and often choose to ignore. I do believe that all parents must read this to their children no matter what their age. And that all schools must have a copy.
Jamlo Walks is a reminder to all those people who are able to access the, buy it, read it and afford it to look out for Jamlos’ around them. And, to ensure that history does not repeat itself!