Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review : Bijoy and the Big River

Title : Bijoy and the Big River
Author : Praba Ram and Meera Sriram
Publisher : Tulika
ISBN : 93-5046-326-1

Since primeval ages rivers have given birth to many civilizations near their banks and ever since rivers have hidden innumerable stories in their dancing waves. Almost every crest and trough of these life wires of a nation witness and chronicle myriad incidents, episodes, happenings and life stories. One such story is that of Bijoy presented beautifully by Praba and Meera.

As the big river Brahmaputra (Burha Luit in Assamese) rocks, bends, winds, coils, curls, rolls, twirls, swings and sways from Himalayas on China side, to enter the Indian borders in Arunachal Pradesh, it cascades down the plains and forests of Assam and there it enters the lives of Bijoy and his people. The story takes us through Bijoy's first ferry ride on the river as he accompanies his father to the silk village of Sualkuchi. Bijoy's father raises eri silkworms in their backyard. Eri culture is the most eco-friendly and non-violent method of obtaining silk and hence the silk is also known as 'Peace Silk'.

As Bijoy's day's routine unfolds, a slice of Assam gets revealed page after page through various photographs, relevant art by Koel Basu along with nuggets of factual information on various aspects of lifestyle, culture, flora and fauna of that part of our country. Tall bamboos and coconuts, one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park, endangered Gangetic river dolphin Xihu, people celebrating Bihu and the fine golden silk Muga - the book offers a peak into myriad of things. The young readers are sure to get enriched with information about eri, the biodiversity and the ecosystem sustaining in the natural environs of Assam and much more. It is amazing to notice that people living so close to nature know exactly how to acknowledge and bow down in front of the various moods and forms of nature. Bijoy and the Big River is a tribute to the river as well as to the people and other creatures who have their lives entwined with the endless flow of water.

Tulika books under the 'Where I Live' section are committed to bring traditions and lifestyles from various parts of India for the young readers. 'Bijoy and the Big River' makes this category proud by its presence there.

I feel really proud to mention that I am part of Saffron Tree, the seeds of which were sown by Praba and which has now matured into a blooming tree guiding many parents to pick age appropriate gems for their little ones.

I conducted a brief e-interview with Praba and Meera and I am pleased to share it with the readers of Literary Sojourn here.

1. How do you pick a topic?

Broadly speaking, environmental and cultural themes appeal to our combined curiosities. Even simple things that we see or use everyday can set us thinking about a certain idea. Sometimes, questions or reactions from our own children spark off a train of thought. In general, we find ourselves often inclining toward stories that have not been explored before, in both fiction and non-fiction.  

2.  What all research goes in creating a fine book?

The narratives in both the books we have written so far for Tulika are a mix of fiction-non-fiction. For those, we do first decide on a certain topic and try to create a story around it. In Dinaben and the  Lions of Gir, we wanted to tell the story of ghee. Reading about different dairy-farming communities in India gave us a clearer idea about what exactly we wanted in our narrative. And after weeks of research, the story of Asiatic lions in that region and the Maldhari community seemed even more compelling than a simple ghee story. We chose the forests as the backdrop and decided to showcase their harmonious co-existence in Gir.

In Bijoy and the Big River, we thought it would be exciting for kids to read about silk and silk weaving. It was clear to us it had to be about the silk varieties of Assam. Our research led us straight to the Brahmaputra. The big river and its background had so many beautiful tales to tell. Plugging in them together had its own set of challenges. But they did eventually blend well. And yet again, we were amazed how seamlessly they came together for what started as a simple silk story. 

3.     What all led you to the life of Bijoy?

With Bijoy, we knew we wanted to keep the focus on Assam.  So we were trying to bring out several cultural and regional details through our Assamese boy growing up near the river.  And through Bijoy, we decided to weave a quiet narrative capturing the non-violent eri silkworms, the Gangetic dolphins and in general, the lives of people and the bio-diversity around the big river. It was a fascinating journey writing Bijoy!

4. From the forests of Gir (Dinaben and Lions of Gir) to bustling waves of Brahmaputra (Bijoy and the Big River), where do you see your creative flight taking you next?

We have some more ideas in the pipe for Tulika. Another book from Mango Books, D.C. is out for print. It’s a piece of non-fiction about animals that are endangered in India

5. What ambition do you nurture in terms of writing books for children?

We feel the need and desire to continue sharing stories that involve nature, wildlife, people and communities.   And we often feel the desire to tell stories that capture the diverse world we live in, in a way that children can enjoy.  But now and then, we find ourselves toying with totally off-beat, goofy, crazy stories!  It’s probably safe to say we don’t quite know where our next story will take us to

6.  How has the journey of being authors been so far? What is the biggest joy of being one? 

It is always a joy to reach out to children and see their responses first-hand to our books. Their interactive questions during read-alouds are heart-warming and are also tremendous fun to answer.  Both our families are definitely the first audience for our stories, and we look forward to their first feedback. Our children have been incredible in their enthusiasm around every new book and we are grateful for the multiple readings they have sat through. Also, our research connects us to people who are also deeply passionate about some of the things we write about – like nature conservationists, wildlife photographers and people who love to travel. Overall, we are very pleased with what we’ve chosen to do and the experience has been very gratifying for us.

This will be a five-day-long blog tour - with five different perspectives. Here are the dates and places where our readers can find Bijoy and the Big River.

March 18th - Saffron Tree. Sandhya Renukamba.
March 19th - Literary Sojourn. Vibha Sharma.
March 20th - The not-so artful dodger. Artnavy.
March 21st - Mamma of Twins. Itchingtowrite.
March 22nd - The Mad Momma. Lavanya D / Prateek.

Do visit!

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