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Forests for Humans and Beasts: Othering, Mothering and Smothering

Nivedita Sen

By Samarpan
Pan Macmillan, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 168, Rs. 150.00

By Shome Dasgupta
Harper Collins India, 2013, pp. 147, Rs. 350.00


Since the l960s, the growing literary agenda of being consciously politically correct has resulted in the production of children’s books which ‘critically address tendencies to assume that the world is white, male and middle class’ (John Stephens, Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction). Here we have two books, one by an Indian monk and the other by an Indian American; both are fables about power play and ‘othering’. While Samarpan’s Junglezen Sheru withdraws from the human world and is a chronicle about animals in a forest retreat, Shome Dasgupta’s The Seagull and the Urn is located in a fictional setting for humans that is a fuzzy interface between reality and fantasy. Are today’s readers familiar with George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), a dystopian adult story about anthropomorphic animals? The new political regime of these animals, who have tried to initiate democracy and equality among themselves, deteriorates to a ruthless dictatorship, resonant of the Stalinist period in Russia that was an inevitable fallout of the excesses unleashed by the Russian Revolution. The intertextual resonances in Junglezen Sheru do not stop here; much of the allegories of contemporary society and politics in it is reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book (1894), although there is no human Mowgli acting as a peg on which the tales hang or the protagonist around whom the story coheres. Yet there is no obvious mention whatsoever of the titles, characters or dialogues of these two books to render the author’s obvious association and interaction with them vibrant and meaningful. The legacy of adult and children’s novels and stories that he borrows from in making the animal characters play out a recreation of human life and preoccupations goes unacknowledged. This is particularly ironic since Rudyard Kipling himself is known to have admitted that he reconstructed his tales from some Eskimaux stories.  The power politics of the newly named ‘junglezens’ parodies the charades of sloganeering on behalf of democracy and equality that human beings carry out, particularly while canvassing for important positions, in order to exercise their authority and eventually suppress individual voices. Kapi the monkey tries to transplant ideas he has picked up from the city, and believes that leadership is no more than sitting back and enjoying the flattery of sycophants. Muktak the elephant questions Sheru’s propensity to socialize with his inferiors. Subsequently, the entire story revolves around ...

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