Simran Sadh
KAL HI SE HO JAAYEIN SHURU by Written and illustrated by Eric Battut. Translated from the French into English by Ira Saraswat Jugnoo/Ektara, 2023, 34 pp., INR 230.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Originally published in French, written and illustrated by Eric Battut, the story is about the homesickness and nostalgia felt by the residents of a cityside Zoo. When the animals confide in the Doctor who is visiting them for their annual health check-up, he realizes the uselessness of his medicines and prescriptions in the face of the deep despair all his patients feel. The obvious fictional solution for us and him is that the animals be led to freedom in their natural habitats by the Doctor. The unexpected turn of events, however, is what sets this story apart.
A Story from Afar is how Ektara and Jugnoo publications introduce its translated stories from non-Indian origins, and it can be agreed that there is a charm in reading children’s literature from other parts of the world, for the feeling of transcension, albeit briefly. The role of translation then becomes important; as crucial as it is to capture the essence of the original meaning, it also must allow space for the local contexts to prevent alienation. While the book has been able to maintain a balance between the two, disorientation sets in at brief moments in the story due to the choice of words which the intended reader of 4+ age might find difficult to comprehend.
The illustrations in the story, like most of Battut’s work, are vivid in colours. The use of primary colours to depict the animals’ surroundings and at times simple line figures are able to communicate a lot about the range of the emotions of the characters. As the story unfolds, one finds oneself engulfed in the hopelessness of the animals but at the same time, being held accountable for the harsh consequences of the anthropocentric activities on other creatures. However, it doesn’t leave the reader stranded there but gives optimistic hope and the need to build a better tomorrow which has space for everyone and everyone’s interests. A world which is a little less like the one they are in now and more like the one they all dreamed of in their despair. The story opens opportunities for conversations about the mental state of animals living in zoos and their shrinking natural habitats due to climate change and the role (some) humans and their notions of development have had to play in this. The story is also an exploration as well as reimagination of human-animal relationships. It allows a starting point for discussions on environmental impact with young readers and is an important theme to explore through children’s literature.