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 in the movement to the extent that he attends a rally in the village leaving his wife alone to deliver her child.
The Communist Government is now in power in West Bengal. His son is born and Hari loses his wife. A new generation of Adivasis has arrived to continue its battle, this time perhaps with guns. The novel ends at this point, but the conclusion is obvious. The question of land needs to be handled with care, the interests of our original inhabitants protected and our forests saved, for violence is lurking behind every tree. The poignant story of three generations of a family, entwined with the politics of the region, provides a lesson for us all. The author has very successfully made this clear.
Nilima Sinha is a writer of Children’s books.