Sunday, October 25, 2009

Calabash Cat and his amazing journey

Calabash Cat
and his Amazing Journey

by James Rumford

Ages : 4 - 7

"Good children's literature appeals, not only to the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child!"

So goes a quote by an anonymous but obviously wise person, who has summed up the universal appeal that good kid literature has. And I can't help but second that. A book is completely about the shared enjoyment, and the little bits that everyone takes away from it. And Calabash Cat from the West African country of Chad, falls exactly into this genre!

Let's start with the word Calabash. What exactly does it mean?

The calabash is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe. For this reason, one of the calabash subspecies is known as the bottle gourd. And this is pretty much used in every culture. In China, it is used either as a stir-fry or in a soup. In Japan, it is used as the vegetarian equivalent of sushi. In Central America, its seeds are roasted and made into a drink called horchata. And in India, it is known as lauki or doodhi or soraikkaya and used in gravies and side dishes! But this story of ours has to do with how it was used in West Africa. Or rather, it is the true point at which the story begins. For in West Africa, the calabashes were hollowed out and dried, and used to make utensils for household use.

The author, James Rumford, was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad, when he bought a beautiful calabash gourd, cut in the shape of a cat. The artist who had made the cat, had burned designs into the calabash using a hot iron tool. And one day, as he looked at his calabash cat, a story came into his head about a cat who sets off on a journey to find the impossible...he wants to find out where the world ends!!!

On this road less travelled, he reaches the edge of a desert and concludes that this is where the world ends. But the illusion is swiftly dispelled when a camel comes by, surprised at the cat's silly assumption. He offers him a ride to show him e.x.a.c.t.l.y where the world ends. And so the cat continues the journey and they walk across the desert. When they reach the far sides of the desert where the grasslands begin, the camel stops and says...H.e.r.e, my friend, is where the world ends.

Calabash Cat would have believed the camel, but just then a horse comes by and the same process is repeated again. Each time Calabash Cat is lead to the fringes of the territory most familiar and frequented by the animals he meets along the way. And each time, they declare ....T.h.i.s is where the world ends.

As you read on, there are several things happening. As an adult, you pierce to the inner voice of the book which talks about narrow assumptions made from a confined spectrum of possibility, and a certain fear of pushing beyond the boundaries to discover the possibility that could exist, a truth that could be made known. If the mood is particularly opportune, you might even make a connection to your own life and recognise the ways in which you have held yourself back, because of judgement and a narrow outlook. And as a child, your keen sense of curiosity is awakened, and you hunger to know who the cat meets next? What horizon now awaits his discovery? Does the world have an end? Where does it end? All of this and more is felt through the pulse of this book and its amazingly simple illustrations.

I particularly love how the author who is also the illustrator has comingled complex patterns and simple strokes. The designs on the calabash cat and the other animals are pretty intense and detail oriented. They are filled with the strokes of the culture that he was immersed in when he lived in Chad. Contrast that with the simple solid colour strokes he employs for the landscapes, and you have in yourself a very delighted and satisfied reader. My delight and satisfaction found expression in this little canvas where you can get an idea of what I'm talking about. Simple curves in suggestive colours burns the landscapes brightly into our senses and the full and complete magic of this can only be experienced through the book.


I am a big fan of simplicity. Where less is more. And I might just be guilty of flouting this very thing, if I do not end this review here and leave you with just these few parting words....

That Calabash Cat and his amazing journey is a wonderful potpourri of things. A dash of history, a pinch of general knowledge, a dollop of Art 101, a few ounces of wisdom (for the discerning adult) and plenty of fun all around! So come on now....slice through the layers of inertia, push beyond your own boundaries and strike a bold path to that corner of the world called the local library! Its not the end of the world, but you can be certain that time will stand still. :)

9 comments:

Praba said...

Hooray for Africa, Chad & you, T!!

"narrow assumptions made from a confined spectrum of possibility, and a certain fear of pushing beyond the boundaries to discover the possibility that could exist, a truth that could be made known" -

T - that was indeed profound...the depth that you go digging into a topic - wow!! intellectually and emotionally very stimulating!

Tharini, hmm...what more can I say? A well-rounded, positively uplifting, perfect pick!

Looking forward to your next! :-)

ChoxBox said...

You know T, that review has the trademark Tharini style all over it!
And Praba said it all :)

meera sriram said...

Very interesting T and you have very nicely peeled out the layers for us. Thanks!

Tharini said...

Thanks Teamies! Do get hold of the book! :)

Kodi's Mom said...

a very written review, T.
I am so impressed with how the author takes what seems like a simple storyline, and presents it in so many beautiful wrappings, leaving it to the reader to open and enjoy over many sessions.
thanks for sharing!

Sheela said...

The picture you painted with your words about the details on the cat and other animals, complemented by simple strokes for landscape has whetted my appetite, not to mention what the book offers for adults in addition to the intrigue and mystery for the kids. Awesome find, Tharini!

utbtkids said...

I just put the book on hold from our local library.

What a wonderful concept!

sathish said...

I like my "lauki"!! and also seem to have fallen in for this book!

btw, there was a nice online indie music company called Calabash music! (no longer in that name though as they merged with some one!)

Calabash really seem to be famous!

Poppins said...

This is a stunning review and an awesome pick Tara! I wish we could find this book here !

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