CHENNAI: Rewind to the 12th century. The book Kautilya’s Arthashastra elaborates on how the forest land has to be demarcated in a way that is just for all — a part of it for the kings to hunt, a part for the public, a part for the animals and another for the priests. Fast forward to the Moghul days, and the pattern was followed, due respect given to the tribals and their land. It was in the middle of the 19th century, with the invasion of the British, that the organised partition of forests was disturbed. And after Independence, though we did pass the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Forest Act, it is hardly being implemented.
“The belief that grown up or old people will now do something for the tribals is lost. So I thought why not write a book for children. At least the next generation will wake up to the fact that terrible things are being done to the tribals,” says author Vithal Rajan, whose book Jungu — The Baiga Princess was launched in the city recently.
While most consider tribal people to be primitive in today’s caste-bound society, Vithal grew up among the Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh since his father was appointed a Collector there. He recounts the wealth of knowledge the tribe possessed. “They have a rich herbal culture. A few English officers in the area used to come to the tribal people for cure of cholera, malaria and kala hazaar, when no doctors could help them,” recalls Vithal, who wrote the book inspired by memories from his childhood.
Apart from medical knowledge, they had a sophisticated culture. There were no incidences of rape and women enjoyed a high position. When it came to cultivation, none could beat their indigenous knowledge — like jhumming or in other words, the art of mixed cultivation followed by the tribes in Mizoram.
“But now, tribals — the guardians of forests themselves — are being chased away in the name of construction. They say they want to clean up the mohalla (ambience). How will you clean up the mohalla with the tribals out? Will our house be clean if we don’t stay there? Won’t it be infested with cockroaches and what not?” he asks.
The book aims to get children to think on these lines. A simple story — how a boy (Sunil) from an affluent family spends his school holidays with a young girl (Jungu) from the Baiga tribe and how they set out on adventures in the forest — accompanied with illustrations by Srivi Kalyan, it makes for a breezy read.
Jungu — The Baiga Princess is published by Young Zubaana and is priced `250. The author is also set to publish Legend of Ramul Amma, a brand new title set to release this month.
Meet the lady behind the illustrations
Illustrator Srivi Kalyan says that the offer to work on the book came when she was involved with conservation and teaching for children in the age group of 10 to 12 years. ‘How can I depict the wealth of forests along with the main characters Jungu and Sunil in the book? How can I interconnect nature and people?’ These were the questions that Srivi kept in mind as she chalked out the illustrations which are found at the beginning and ending of each chapter.
The main characters were discussed with Vithal and worked upon so as to bring the contrast between Sunil in cool shorts and a chic shirt and Jungu in a traditional tribal sari, carrying a bundle of wood on her head. And research was done to find out the endangered species in the forests. “The book contains illustrations of animals ranging from wild boars to mice,” she says