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BOOK REVIEW: “JUNGLE NAMA … a story of the Sundarban” … Amitav Ghosh



Only recently I stepped into a book stall in Mumbai located inside a mall that had a coffee counter in it. What a novel idea. No? Because coffee and books make a brilliant combination. And while waggling around the bookstore I was able to lay my hands on one of Amitav Ghosh’s recent books “Jungle Nama … a story of the sundarban.” This attractive-looking book caught my attention. It is illuminated by Salman Toor a New York-based artist of Pakistani origin. About Amitav Ghosh, we all know he is the winner of the Jnanpith Award, the highest literary award in India. The subject book was first published in India in 2021 by the Fourth Estate an imprint of Harper-Collins. The title falls under the genre of fiction. It is a hardcover comprising 82 pages. Overall a short book having a slim spine.

    Although, the title ‘Jungle Nama’ is Amitav Ghosh’s verse adaptation (ie. writing arranged with a metrical rhythm, typically having a rhyme) of an episode from the legend of Bon Bibi, which happens to be a popular folk tale in the villages of the Sundarbans located in West Bengal. It also lies at the heart of another novel penned by the same author titled ‘The Hungry Tide.’

    Friends ‘Jungle Nama … a story of the Sundarbans is a very cute book. One of the cutest that I’ve ever read. The best part of the book is that it can be read and enjoyed equally by children, adults and even the old. It is inspiring, informational, sensitive and evocative.

    It is the story of an avaricious rich merchant Dhona, a poor lad Dukhey, and his old frail mother. It is also the story of Dokkhin Rai, a mighty spirit who appears before human beings as a tiger in the jungles of Sundarbans. It is also about Bon Bibi, the benign goddess of the forest, and her warrior brother Shah Jongoli.

    As the legend goes, in one spring season Dhona who is a greedy person is seized by an aching desire. He wants to go on a voyage to collect riches such as—Honey, wax and timber from the mangroves. So he tells his younger brother I have an idea about something that we should try. Let’s go on a daring venture, we will make a great fortune, our biggest ever. It is springtime now and the mangroves are filled with hives. So let’s try to collect the richest hoard of our lives. Instead of taking one ship let us take seven.

    But his younger brother Mona advises him not to do so because he feels that they have enough for a decent and peaceful life. But Dhona insists that he will go. Mona refuses to go with him this time but promises to help him arrange a fleet of seven vessels to carry the fortune. While the vessels are arranged Mona is short of one lascar. Dhona reminds Mona about Dukhey who is the son of their poor cousin who is no more. Dukhey is desperate and will take any job says Dhona.

    As the legend unfolds Dhona who is a greedy person lures Dukhey into a sea voyage. He tells Dukhey he has outfitted a fleet of seven vessels for the tideland jungle to acquire riches and in the process, Dukhey will go around the world. He has six lascars and is shy of one where Dukhey fits in. He promises the old and hapless mother of Dukhey who is his poor cousin’s wife that upon returning from the voyage he will load Dukhey with riches and even get him married. But the old mother of Dukhey knows Dhona only makes tall and false promises and never honours them. She, therefore, tells her son Dukhey that just in case Dhona your chacha puts you in a dangerous spot in the jungle pray to the jungle queen Bon Bibi who will come to your rescue. And the same thing happens when Dhona and Dokkhin Rai connive to kill Dukhey he is rescued by the benign goddess of the forest Bon Bibi and her warrior brother Shah Jongoli. Not only that, Bon Bibi organises to send him back in a living boat … a crocodile with loads of riches.

    I will desist from detailing and exposing this lyrical book any further as it is relatively new and will leave it for the readers to discover it themselves. The original print version of this legend, dating back to the nineteenth century is composed in Bengali verse meter known as dwipodi-poyar. Jungle Nama is a free adaptation of the legend, told entirely in a poyar-like meter of twenty-four syllable couplets that replicate the cadence of the original.

    The first-ever book in verse by Amitav Ghosh, Jungle Nama evokes the wonder of the Sundarban through its poetry. The book is accompanied by the stunning artwork of renowned artist Salman Toor. It is an illuminated edition of a fabulous folk tale that every book lover would want to possess.

    Since the narration is in verses the author has used limited and appropriate words to express the glorious folk tale. Verse to verse is pleasant sounding, rhyming and meaningful. He has tried his best to tone down his vocabulary but in verses and poetries the vocabulary is not always in the author’s hands because of the rhyme factor. One, therefore, comes across uncommon words which are easy to comprehend on practically every page.

   A sentence that describes the mangrove of Sundarban that I like is, ‘the mangroves are home to predators of every kind, some you’ll never see, but they will enter your mind.’

    It is a light book almost like a fairy tale. The best part about the book is its description of the topography of Sundarbans and the telling of the folktale simultaneously which forms a brilliant imagery.

   I would give the book an A grade. A must-read.



By Kamlesh Tripathi




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