THE CARING FOR NATURE SERIES

THE CARING FOR NATURE SERIES

TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) has brought out these four books in the series ‘Caring for Nature’.  Subhadra Sen Gupta’s talent and experience as a history-fiction writer and Tapas Guha’s lively and explicit illustrations make it a collection that is sure to become popular as school/home readers and read-alouds. Sen Gupta has chosen four historical figures – King Ashoka, Gandhiji, Rao Jodha and Tagore – whose lives are symbols, in some way, of wise resource use, minimal waste, and a connection with nature. She has zoomed in on Ashoka and his medicinal herbs, Bapu alias Gandhiji and his dogged use of pencils until they were impossible to hold, Rao Jodha and his water harvesting, and Tagore’s celebration of the natural world. Although the stories themselves are imagined, their context is real;  something Sen Gupta is good at. The end-piece to ‘Bapu’ explains it well: “Though this is a work of fiction and Rana and Gokul are imaginary characters, Gandhiji did make a fuss about a lost pencil once.”

Of the four stories, the best-told ones are perhaps Ashoka and the Garden of Herbs and Bapu and the Missing Blue Pencil. In the first, Keshav and Parvati find themselves in the royal Sanchi Monastery where their father, a skilled  gardener, has been brought by King Ashoka to grow medicinal plants for his hospital. It is a very different world from Vidisha, the crowded and busy town they used to live in. As we know, there is a smart queen behind every successful king and it was Queen Mahadevi who introduced King Ashoka to Buddhism and changed his life and the lives of many others. When King Ashoka comes to visit his new garden, he enthusiastically picks up and wields a spade… only to be told a thing or two by Keshav who of course doesn’t know the true identity of this stranger. “Oye! What do you think you are doing, sir?” he asks, and explains that no proper gardener would dig up saplings planted the day before.  And so on… a pleasing lack of solemn veneration towards our national heroes!

In Bapu and the Missing Blue Pencil, the kids in the Sabarmati ashram grumble about the lessons they have to do with Bapu. He would teach, talk to the ashram people, and read and write letters all at the same time. Letters were opened with care and skill, so the envelopes could be  used as letter paper. “Why do you write letters on the back of these envelopes, Bapu? Don’t you have money to buy paper?” After which of course the paper-making-destroys-forests message emerges. Later, Bapu’s pencil is lost and the place is turned inside out and upside down before it turns up. It is a tiny thing, difficult to hold and write with, but Bapu thinks he can “still write a few pages with it…”

Apart from the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle message, there are other bonuses which are great take-off points for teachers and parents. The Ashoka story has a strong undertow of openness and secularism, as when the monks tell Keshav’s family that they must now become Budhists, and his mother responds that she had no problem adding on one more god; the more the better. Humility, kindness, civic-mindedness and other broad human themes are additional story contexts for readers to think about and discuss.

The editor’s eye missed some uncomfortable language, such as several awkward plurals (jasmines, barks, fruits, chalks) and indiosyncrasies (“what all stuff…”). Using “have” as a contraction can be problematic as in “We’ve to worship the Buddha.” There is some will/would confusion – for instance, after understanding the connection between the freedom struggle and khadi, Rano says, “Then, I would spin more thread now.” In the Rao Jodha story, the gajdhar (water expert) is sometimes capitalized, sometimes not, and sometimes preceded by “the” and sometimes not. Hyphens are also used carelessly: why dark-blue robe and not dark blue robe?

But these are small glitches in a well done and well presented series. Apart from the resources/nature thread, the books bring our national heroes closer to the reader because of their informal and open relationship with children around them. And these are times when our youngsters need to re-engage, more than ever, with the essence of Bapu and Ashoka and Tagore and all the other role models whom we have, sadly, ceased to model.

By Zai Whitaker

TAGORE AND THE SONG OF THE CRAZY WIND
Author: Subadhra Sen Gupta
Illustrator: Tapas Guha
English
24 pages
Rs 125.00
ISBN:  ISBN 978-81-7993-465-4
The Energy and Resources Institute,  2014

KING ASHOKA AND THE GARDEN OF HERBS
Author: Subadhra Sen Gupta
Illustrator: Tapas Guha
English
24 pages
Rs 125.00
ISBN:  978-81-7993-447-0
The Energy and Resources Institute,  2014

BAPU AND THE MISSING BLUE PENCIL
Author: Subadhra Sen Gupta
Illustrator: Tapas Guha
English
24 pages
Rs 125.00
ISBN:  978-81-7993-448-7
The Energy and Resources Institute,  2014

RAO JODHA AND THE CURSE OF THE HERMIT
Author: Subadhra Sen Gupta
Illustrator: Tapas Guha
English
24 pages
Rs 125.00
ISBN:  978-81-7993-464-7
The Energy and Resources Institute,  2014
Subject category: Contemporary/Historical Fiction
Age-group: 12+

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