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A Tragic Tale

Nilima Sinha

By Amar Mudi
LiFi Publications, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 210, Rs. 220.00


Land and its acquisition being a hot topic in the media today, this book comes as another reminder of the rights of those who originally owned the lands. As the author says, ‘For thousands of years the black people thrived in the jungles, walking barefoot, wearing a loincloth and eating fruits and leaves. Civilization brought in roads and railways, buildings and bridges … trees turned into logs, mountains were blasted into stone chips and limestone, … soon the jungle vanished into thin air along with the monkeys, squirrels and birds, leaving only stumps of trees, young saplings and thorny bushes to barely hide the naked body of mother earth from the piercing sun and rain under the open sky.’ This is only the beginning of the tragic story, for it is not just the damage to the ecology that is of concern. The author gives a moving account of the struggles of the tribal people who originally occupied the territory. A fascinating mix of fact and fiction, history and politics, it relates the story of three generations of a tribal family and its interaction with the ‘civilized’ world. The dramatic events in their lives, leading to death and tragedy, tugs at the heart; while the descriptions of the politics of the period excite curiosity and interest. The book describes the journey of a group of people who migrate from the Lulung jungles and settle in a village in Bengal. It sweeps through British times to reach the fifties and sixties, ending with the victory of the Left parties in West Bengal. The tribal people are exploited by the British and later by the ‘jothedars’ who use them as cheap labour. The stories of Matu, his son Hadam and grandson Hari, along with their families, is told by Hari’s son. The author succeeds in presenting a vivid picture of the lives and feelings of the several characters, a wide range of men and women. Their fields and forests, their homes and cultures come alive in all their colours. As the adivasis struggle through their difficulties the coming of the educated Leftists from the big city of Kolkata intrudes into their lives. Hari, the grandson, who earns his living as a rikshaw puller, is drawn into the Leftist movement. He leads rallies, sits on ‘dharnas’ and gets thrown into jail—all in the hope of a better life for his people. He believes ...

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