The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art

As a boy, Nek Chand "played and planted, laughed and listened... [to] the ancient stories." "Season by season, Nek's head filled... until it overflowed" into a world of his own that he created on the banks of a nearby stream. "Until the men with guns came."

The 1947 Partition that violently cleaved the Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India forced Nek's family to flee their remote village home. He eventually became a government road inspector in "India's first modern city, Chandigarh," but "[n]othing in [that] modern place tugged at Nek's village heart." Feeling lost in the "sharp-edged city of colorless concrete," Nek Chand found a hidden wilderness just north of the city where he could escape.

For seven years, with discarded, recovered items, Nek Chand began to re-create the memories of his faraway childhood, molding curving paths, carving niched walls, forging goddesses and queens from twisted bikes and rusty pipes, to construct an entire "secret kingdom." When the government discovered his illegal hideaway, officials threatened destruction--"Until the people of Chandigarh came." Curiosity turned to appreciation, support and preservation, and "[t]he people saved the secret kingdom."

A lover of true stories, author Barb Rosenstock (The Camping Trip That Changed America) clearly revels in Nek Chand's remarkable journey from village farmer to world-renowned folk artist. To comprehend the phenomenal scale of his achievement requires visuals, provided here with artistic accuracy and charming detail by Claire A. Nivola (Planting the Trees of Kenya). That Nek Chand never stopped building on his dream throughout his long life--he died in 2015 at age 90--remains an exemplary lesson in imaginative perseverance that will galvanize readers of all ages. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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