Sunday, June 06, 2010

That Summer At Kalagarh

5th June 2010, Saturday, was World Environment Day. Here's a book by a naturalist, Ranjit Lal. His books remind me of books by Gerard Durrell, which is a writer I would like to feature in some future post.  

Written by Ranjit Lal.
Cover illustration by Ashok Rajagopalan.
Published by Tulika Books.
Ages 10-14yrs.

Cover picture: Courtesy Tulika Books.

It was a fast read. Gitanjali is an overweight 12 yr old, with all the placidity that we normally associate with a plump child. The book, though starts on a note where she is extremely angry and almost throwing a tantrum. Reason: her three boy cousins have come to stay, and they have hit upon the nickname 'Hathini' for her. She is affronted as she not only thinks they are making fun of her, but also thinks they have somehow guessed her deepest secret, something she is not willing to share with people she is not even sure she likes.

She has a secret love of elephants, a deep love that even she does not know much about.

Her mother is upset by the nickname, but wisely does not interfere. She knows her daughter, and knows that she will be able to handle the situation herself. And Gitanjali does. That too, in a way that earns her the friendship of the two older boys, and the devotion of the youngest, 5yr old Aneek.

The family travels to Kalagarh, in the Kumaon hills--Corbett area, for the summer vacation. Her mother again notices that Gitanjali seems strangely at home here. When the four children go for a hike in the jungle, Gitanjali uncannily senses the presence of the rogue elephant, Paagal, when not even the more experienced guides realise he is there. She halts the party, calls them back, and protects little Aneek when the rogue charges. She realises, however, that he is just bluffing, and faces him to call his bluff. The rogue retreats at this. Here, we are just as baffled as the characters in the story by this strange power Gitanjali possesses. How does she do it? Also, there is her strange behaviour in the middle of the night, when she insists she can hear the screaming of elephants and a baby elephant in distress, when no-one else can hear anything. She also displays a strange uneasiness and distress at a certain place where some elephants had drowned when the dam had been built and the place had been flooded many years ago.

Then the children go for an elephant ride and the wizened old mahout tells them the legend of Gitanjali, an elephant who died trying to save a baby elephant in that flooding incident in which her mahout also died. After her death, there had been sightings of what was believed to be Gitanjali's ghost who was still searching for the baby elephant. These sightings went on for many years, terrorising locals and tourists, and then suddenly stopped 12 yrs ago.

The children come back from their elephant ride overwhelmed by the tale told to them by the mahout. Soon, it is time for them to return home. When Gitanjali's parents get a bill for the services rendered to them at the resort there is no charge levied against the elephant ride. No-one knows about any elephant ride. The regular elephants and their mahouts had been elsewhere at the time the children claim to have taken the ride.

Who is the mahout who took them for a ride? What had really happened all those years ago? What is Gitanjali's secret? How does she have these inexplicable powers? You will have to read the book to find out.

Tulika books has come out with a well written suspense book for 10-14 yr olds, who, I am sure, will enjoy it. Ranjit Lal has given us a story with a wildlife background, and gives us a veiled message about conservation of forests and protection of the wildlife that inhabits it.

There are some threads in the book which have been left loose, like the musings of Gitanjali's parents and the story of Paagal, the rogue elephant. What do her parents know? Do they, in fact, know anything at all? Why is Paagal the way he is? Does he have any connection to the tragedy of the baby elephant? It would have been interesting to know, and would have made for a tighter plot. In all, an excellent book from Tulika.

Here is a review of the book by Srividya Natarajan at SAWNET. Read for a completely different take on the book.

Crossposted here.


Choxbox said...

Was borrowed and read post your review in your blog. Much liked, thanks mucho on behalf of the child.

Choxbox said...

And we have four of Ranjit Lal's books, been meaning to review them forever :)

sandhya said...

Any of the Ranjit Lal books not in our house also to be added to the growing list, Chox! Will look forward to your review of them. A is enjoying 'The Caterpillar who went on a diet' that you have gifted her. Thanks!

sathish said...

Sandhya, Interesting pov from Srividya natarajan.

sandhya said...

@Satish: Yes, I thought so too.

Hema said...

Nice story and a very nice review!

utbtkids said...

I picked up this book on my last trip to Chennai, but it is resting in the bookshelf. Now you have given me the motivation to read it.

sandhya said...

@Hema: Thanks.

@utbtkids: That's good to hear.:)

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