“Thousands of islands rise from the rivers’ rich silts,
crowned with forests of mangrove, rising on stilts.
This is the Sundarban, where laden waters give birth;
to a vast jungle that joins Ocean and Earth.“
Jungle Nama is Amitav Ghosh’s verse adaptation of an episode from the legend of Bon Bibi, a tale popular in the villages of the Sundarban, which also lies at the heart of the novel The Hungry Tide. It is the story of the avaricious rich merchant Dhona, the poor lad Dukhey, and his mother; it is also the story of Dokkhin Rai, a mighty spirit who appears to humans as a tiger; of Bon Bibi, the benign goddess of the forest, and her warrior brother Shah Jongoli.
I received this book in the HT Brunch Mid-Year hamper and had planned only to skim a couple of pages when I pulled it out of the box. Little did I know I would finish the entire book in a single sitting, reading aloud, chanting to the rhythm.
Jungle Nama tells the story of Dukhey, left behind by the greedy Dhona to be preyed upon by the demonic beast of the Sundarban – Dokkhin Rai. When a panic stricken Dukhey sees no way to escape, he remembers his mother’s words to call upon Bon Bibi, the Lady of the Jungle.
Legend goes that the call must be in dwipodi-poyar – a couplet verse of twenty four syllables. So does Dukhey follow his mother’s instructions in hopes Ma Bon Bibi will save him and set things right.
The book follows the same meter in the telling of this folktale. The poetry is a rhythm to the beauty and magnificence of the Sundarban.
“…every creature had a place, every want was met,
all needs were balanced, like the lines of a couplet.
But in this fleeting world, nothing is forever,
desire is potent, and greed hard to conquer.“
Jungle Nama is illustrated by Salman Toor. Some of the most vivid scenes take up a double spread and the monochrome palette adds a richness to the story telling.
With a lot of wisdom behind its words, this engaging folktale, when sung aloud, is delightfully entertaining, and will be enjoyed by adults as well as children.
Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sundarban by Amitav Ghosh. Illustrated by Salman Toor. Published in February 2021 by Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins India.
Book 41 of 2022.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟.
Available on Amazon*.
Amitav Ghosh’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages. His essays have appeared in the New Yorker, the New Republic and the New York Times. He has been awarded and honoured across the world for his work. In 2019 Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the most important global thinkers of the past decade. The same year, the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honour, was conferred on him: he was the first English-language writer to receive it.
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3 thoughts on “Jungle Nama by Amitav Ghosh | Book Review”
Good to know about this book. The Hungry Tide is a favourite of mine.
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