Here’s a whole new spin on the man-animal balance – all ye folks that are thoughtlessly and greedily absorbing the forests into “civilization” there is a lesson to be learnt in the symbiotic relationship of Salim (of the book’s title) and the lion who changes his life. But that’s just my aside – the book you are about to read about is not all about that. But, I like, you see, to have the first word and not the last. And now (drum roll), on to the main review of Salim the Knife-Sharpener…
Everyday in our country, numerous manual jobs that were at one time indispensible are becoming obsolete. Salim’s job is one of those. Salim is a knife-sharpener of the old-fashioned sort. He commutes from village to village with this knife-grinding wheel sharpening a variety of objects from knives to coconut scrapers to gardening shears.
But Salim just cannot find as much work as needed to keep body and soul together. Added to that is the need to find that extra money to make his family’s Eid celebrations joyous. So Salim decides to venture beyond his normal beat to the villages on the other side of the jungle in search of work.
Salim’s journey through the jungle is not just a scary one, but a strange one as well. Instead of villagers with knives to sharpen, Salim finds a lion whose teeth and claws are now worn down and need sharpening! Trembling with fear, Salim is forced by the lion to sharpen his claws and teeth – leading to the most unexpected consequences.
The story has it all – Salim’s poverty and cultural background is sketched lightly and authentically; the idea of a knife-sharpener is bound to intrigue kids who may not have seen one; the story is quirky enough to appeal to kids and has a nice twist. And the illustrations capture the many moods and settings quite well.
What I found a bit jarring was this Panchatantra/Jataka Tales-esqe talking animals aspect. What I accept easily enough in folktales, I was somehow unable to suspend enough disbelief to accept in this story. And the awkward lines in the book, “Since when did animals learn to talk?
Since the time we had to make humans listen” didn’t particularly make this more believable.
That said, most kids will like this book. As for me, this Eid, when I was asked to read an Eid story for a class in my daughter’s school, apart from Ismat’s Eid and a few international books, I just couldn’t lay my hands on one. In that context, this book is a welcome addition. Now if only I could believe in talking lions like I do in Santa Claus!
By Lubaina Bandukwala
Author: R. Amarendran
Illustrator: Ashok Rajagopalan
Tulika Publishers, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Book