Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Why-Why Girl

Picture Source: Tulika

The Why - Why Girl

story by Mahasweta Devi

illustrated by Kanyika Kini

The Why - Why Girl is another wonderful book from Tulika publications. The author is none other than the renowned Mahasweta Devi. She has worked with tribal groups and this book is a narration of her experiences with a tribal girl Moyna.

Moyna is a ten year old bubbly girl who always questions the happenings around her. Her questions are very interesting, logical and thought provoking much to the exasperation of her mother ! But the author likes the child for her inquisitive nature.

Moyna belongs to a tribal group called Shabars who are very poor and earn their living doing odd jobs in and around the hills. When none of the other people complain, Moyna's questions go on like these :

Why do I have to walk so far to the river to get water ?

Why can't we eat rice twice a day ?

Why do I have to eat the landlords' left over foods ?

Why do I have to graze the Babus' goats when their sons are there ?

These questions definitely touch a chord in us readers as it presents the stark reality of the poor in our country. It also goes to show that everyone has a sense of self respect and sadly it is never given a thought by the rich and the urban classes. Just because someone is poor does not mean they are any less human than us.

One day Moyna comes with her bag of clothes and pet mongoose to the author's house. She says that she is moving in with the old lady as it is a big hut and an old woman does not need so much space for herself ! You can't help but smile and admire this feisty girl :-).

The turning point in Moyna's life comes when she learns from the author that Books have the answers to all her "whys" ! She goes and fights with the Samiti school teacher that she is unable to study because the school timings clash with the time when she has to tend the goats. "If you don't teach me, how will I learn ? I will tell the old lady that none of us, goatherds and cowherds can study if the hours are not changed" .

When the village primary school opens, no guesses on who is the first person to be admitted there !! As a teacher now in the same primary school, Moyna goads the children to ask that one question which opens up a vast and unknown world to them - WHY ?

This beautiful story brings out a lot of messages for the kids and parents - encouraging curioisty in the children, the courage to speaK up one's thoughts, treating every person that we meet with respect, female empowerment and so on. My five year old son likes this book though I won't say it is his favourite. It is rather one of my favourites as I loved the character of Moyna and wished I was more like her as a kid !!

The illustrations are by Kanyika Kini. As in most of the Tulika books, the illustrations are splendind and eye catching, giving us a peek into the tribal way of life. This book is also available in other regional languages. Some of the translations have been done by well known writers - Malayalam by Paul Zacharia, Tamil by Ambai and Kannada by Girish Karnad.

A great book to add to your bookshelf !

1 comment:

Tharini said...

Wow. A whole book centered around 'Why'...the primeval question out there. Akhil's going thru a phase right now where a why begins and leads to something else to something else to something else. And he gets a kick out of making me think on how to answer the next why! Think he might dig Moyna. :) WIll remember this when I come to Chennai in a few months.

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