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Nilima Sinha

By Vithal Rajan . Illustrated by Srivi Kalyan
Young Zubaan, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 115, Rs. 250.00


Who are the Baigas? The author explains that the Baigas are Gonds, a tribal community that inhabits the forest areas of central India. Like the author, I have spent some years in the area around Raipur, now part of Chattisgarh, as well as in the forested areas of Jharkhand. I remember tribal women as slim, lithe figures, bare bodies wrapped only in saris, loads of firewood on heads, walking gracefully along roads we drove through. Their huts, always clean and neat, were pretty and picturesque with their painted walls.  But this was in the past, years ago. When I travel now, in Jharkhand where I live, village women are seen dressed in colorful blouses and bright, synthetic saris. The neat mud huts with their painted walls are not visible any more. The forests are still there, but where are the people who once inhabited them? Many have been absorbed in the urban jungles that have replaced our forests, some have migrated to cities in search of work, and others may still be living there, but are giving up their old way of life to cope with a changing world.  As the author, Vithal Rajan points out in his book Jungu: The Baiga Princess, tribal people, or adivasis, are struggling to survive in today’s modern age. He focuses attention on the Baiga community and points out that ‘the loss suffered by the fast disappearing tribal communities is also a loss for all India and all humanity’. Sunil, a school boy, travels to Raipur with his Uncle Vishwanath, Secretary in the Environment Ministry, and Matthew Lambert, professor of anthropology, to a ‘magic’ land, the forests inhabited by the Baigas. Only their mission is not so welcome—Uncle Vish is going there to remove the remaining Baigas from their ancestral forest land so that it can be turned into a tiger reserve, as Matt, the professor, informs Sunil. While the elders are busy, Sunil explores the forest and meets a stranger—a girl from the Baiga tribe. Jungu is descended from ancient royal kings who once ruled the tribe. She is termed a witch as she is familiar with medicinal herbs and knows how to use them to heal wounds and cure sickness. The two become friends. Jungu guides Sunil in the ways of the forest people and the two have exciting adventures together. Finally they succeed in catching poachers, the real ...

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