Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Andaman's Boy

Andaman's Boy 
Author: Zai Whitaker
Publisher: Tulika
Illustrators: Ashok Rajagopalan, Indraneil Das
Ages: 10+

The other day while skimming through the newspaper this headline caught my eye. The last surviving speaker of an Andamanese language called Bo died recently and with the death of the language a key to knowledge of the local environment, collected perhaps over centuries, is gone forever. Following this there has been much deliberation in the media about the wisdom of trying to 'civilize' the indigenous people of the islands. One hopes they will be allowed to do what they want - be left alone, that is perhaps the only chance they have to survive and thrive once again.

Coincidentally we had come across a wonderful book called Andaman's Boy by Zai Whitaker just a few weeks back. It is about the adventures of Arif, a 10-year old boy who lives in Mumbai with his uncle and aunt who are waiting for him to turn 18 so that he will inherit his dead parents' money. Arif manages to escape from their clutches and lands up in Chennai only to be pursued by cops, so he smuggles himself on to a ship headed to the Andamans and eventually ends up in a Jarawa reserve. What happens next is the rest of this story, one that you will not want to put down till the end.

Whitaker weaves in glimpses of life in the Andamans, the efforts of various parties to 'develop' the tribals living there for centuries, and how and why they are resisting these efforts. At no point is the tone preachy, in fact it led to a discussion in my daughter's class about what being civilized means and what is the 'correct' way of life. Precisely the sort that is urgently required in a world that is in the danger of losing out on ancient knowledge and wisdom thanks to a misplaced sense of superiority in self-defined progress.

The beautiful soft pencil sketches by Ashok Rajagopalan and the detailed nature drawings by Indraneil Das  further bring the story to life. Though the recommended age group is 10+, this is a book that will be much appreciated by both younger and older readers.


Unknown said...

Illustrated this years ago. My son was little then, and we had it at bedtime. :)

Tharini said...

WOw Chox. Sounds very fascinating...

Vibha said...

Yeah, a really nice book. We read it last year and that is how we talked about Andamans and showed it on the globe.

sathish said...

chox, thanks for writing about this book. sounds very interesting.

ranjani.sathish said...

Chox that was a very good review !

Playing by the book said...

My background is in theoretical linguistics and I was always interested in the Andoman Islands because of the language situation so the recent news about the Bo speaker was of special interest. And then to find this book - how great. I wonder if I can get it here in the UK.

Unknown said...

You can order it here:

Poppy said...

It's out of stock :( Sounds really interesting and what timing Chox!

Choxbox said...

Ashok: Thanks for commenting! It is lovely to hear from the creators of the book in question and get a behind-the-scenes perspective, even if just a tiny glimpse :)

T: It is. You'll love it I bet.

Vibha: My daughter's class was doing Indian geography and there was just a tiny bit about the Andamans in the textbook but she could relate to it so much thanks to having read this book :)

Sathish & Ranjani: Thanks! You know where to get it!

PBTB: You know I have a linguist friend (in London in fact!) who often talks about the nuances of languages across the world. Always come away with a sense of how much a language can reveal about the people who speak it.
In the UK - well, I would probably be visiting in the summer so perhaps I can get it and you can arrange to have it picked up. Many friends also go back and forth so can post it you as well via them. Do let me know.

Ashok: Out of stock it says? Would it be available after some time?

Poppy: Have seen some copies in Landmark. You have to know the secret place where they hide all Tulika books though ;)

Unknown said...

I'll ask Tulika. How can one of my favorite stories vanish?

Here's another glimpse, Chocbox:
Those pre-internet days, I couldn't get references for the landscape and people of the Andamans. I remember drawing coconut trees for the first picture I did for the book and Zai telling me that there are no coconut trees in the Andamans. She also got me to do dark and dense foliage for the jungle scenes. I went over all the illustrations with a thick brush and Indian Ink. :)

Choxbox said...

Ashok: There are no coconut trees there? Wow! Let me google and see why!
And how different it was all pre-internet!

Unknown said...

Yes, now my work is almost paperless and there is Google! ")

Unknown said...

I googled, and this is the first line I got: There are also lots of coconut trees in Andaman & Nicobar.
Please, everybody, disregard my earlier statement. Some mistake somewhere. Maybe oldage and memory loss. :(

Choxbox said...

Ashok: It was not totally clear but here's what I gleaned: coconuts are probably not indigenous and have been cultivated for commercial reasons.

Unknown said...

Thanx, Choxbox! Nice link! I am slightly redeemed. :)

Praba Ram said...

Adolescent/juvenile fiction rooted in India's landscape and culture - we sure need lot more of such, don't we?

Thanks for bringing this to the spotlight, Chox! An adventure set in an island and sprinkled with ecological/cultural sensibilities...can't get any better than that! :)

And thanks to Mr. Ashok Rajagopalan for the comments. Delightful read!

Read about the book launch happening tomorrow in Chennai -
Best wishes from the team at Saffron tree!

Unknown said...

Thank you very much Praba and the rest of the gang! :)

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