It was an ordinary day for Gulab, the gardener, who works at a big house in the hill town of Shimla. Except that today, his wife Kusum has asked him to get her the flower ‘that looks like the moon.’

After having worked all day in the shade of the massive magnolia tree, Gulab starts on the way home, with a bunch of magnolia flowers.  Do they reach Kusum?

Malati Shah tells us a simple, homespun tale, which can also be read at many more levels.

It is a story of a man getting a promised gift for his wife. It is a story of a man’s generosity for his fellow folk. It is a story of a man’s gratitude to those who have been good to him. It is a story of a man’s regard for all living beings, human or not. It is a story of a man’s familiar, everyday journey. It is a story in pictures of a historical city, the erstwhile summer capital of colonial India; one that still has the old world charm and markers of a time past. Most of all, it is a story of the full circle of life – from an ancient tree under which a man works, to new life, that grows and blossoms with his child.

The magnolia flower that dominates this visually stunning book is the Magnolia grandiflora, which is found in the Himalayan region. It is locally called hima (snow in Hindi) champa, and is a fragrant snow white blossom, that could grow to 8-12 inches across. One can imagine the beauty of a tree in full blossom, against a darkening blue sky, as seen on the cover page of the book.

The blossoms dominate Amrita Kanther’s illustrations. Seen on every page, they string together the narrative. Some details that stand out: the snowy white, slightly leathery feel of the thick petals that is almost palpable, the little black dog that is Gulab’s constant companion, mirrored in the grave-stone of another faithful canine, the rough stone and mortar rural walls, the Himachal caps of the characters, the two pigtails tied up with red ribbons on the schoolgirl, the people from Tibet and Kashmir who have come in to settle from those lands, the buntings at the Tibetan monastery, the Kalka-Shimla Heritage Toy Train passing over one of the many bridges, the undulating streets – all bring the hill town of Shimla alive.

By Sandhya L

Author: Malati Shah
Illustrator: Amrita Kanther
Pages: 24
Price: Rs. 135.00
ISBN: 978-93-5046-077-1
Publisher: Tulika books, 2011
Subject category: Environment/Places
Age group: 5+

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