Growing up, we have all known that grown-up relative who we looked up to, whose company we cherished, who would tell us amazing stories about enchanting places that we dreamt of visiting someday.

Either the writer and illustrator of Travels with Khala, Rumana Husain, has herself had the good fortune to have such an endearing character in her life or she has been one herself to some very fortunate children.

In her book, Travels with Khala, brother and sister Adil and Asma have a khala (maternal aunt) who loves to travel and she doesn’t do it alone but with her favourite nephew and niece. Whoever said that “Aunts are like a second set of mothers, sprinkling love, warmth and wisdom into our lives” was right.

They commute by rickshaw, bus, boat or the family car. Nothing comes in the way of their travels. And so if sometime they are traveling by land, they are also travelling by water, visiting islands, hills, parks, deserts, historic landmarks, be they graveyards, forts or palaces. There are people to meet, cultures to experience.

They travel through all provinces, all the big and small cities and only stop with the promise of doing it all over again next time, until they reach the borders such as China, Iran and Afghanistan.

Apart from being a travelogue, this is a story book, a poetry book (as the entire text is in verse), a geography book and a history book. The 27 pages are followed by three single-lined pages for taking notes in case a reader may feel like doing so to pen thoughts.

Therefore the book can also serve as prescribed reading for schools. The rich information contained within, although mentioned in passing, can help both students and teachers, too. Rumana, with over 80 books to her name, has done much research for the book. Perhaps a separate edition can be brought out for teachers with extra teachers’ notes and suggestions for class activities.

Earlier as the co-founder of The Book

Group, she wrote several books, which she had also illustrated. Back then she had penned a similar book, which was titled Pakistan ki Sair, which she also translated into English as Pakistan. But Travels with Khala emphasises more on heritage.

Published in Dawn, Young World, May 25th, 2024

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