Last year when Cyclone Amphan struck the eastern coast of India, West Bengal witnessed destruction unforeseen in the last two centuries. Experts said, had it not been for the mangroves of Sundarbans, the devastation would have been manifold. Even before Amphan, these mangroves have been acting as a natural shield from widespread destruction time and again.
While there is science behind the ‘protective shield’ of mangroves, locals in Sundarbans believe it is the mercy of Bon Bibi that keeps them alive. Bon Bibi (or the Lady of the Forests) is a mythical figure who is considered as the protector of the realms of the Sundarbans. Bon Bibi is worshipped and revered by Hindus and Muslims alike, which makes her cult even more fascinating.
Amitav Ghosh’s latest work ‘Jungle Nama’ is a retelling of the lore of Bon Bibi. Based loosely on the Bonbibi’r Johurnama (composed by Munshi Mohammad Kathir and Abdur Rahim Sahib) the Jnanpith award winning author tells us the story of Dukhe, and how he was blessed by Bon Bibi in the face of adversity – Dokkhin Rai.
Bon Bibi is the great adversary of Dokkhin Rai (the Lord of the South). Rai is a shape-shifter spirit who takes the form of a tiger to prey on the inhabitants of the Sundarbans. Allah sends Bonbibi to end Dokkhin Rai’s. However, instead of killing Dokkhin Rai, Bon Bibi demarcates the area beyond which he cannot harm any life form. To this day, the people of Sundarbans worship Bon Bibi from the jungle’s many dangers.
To recreate an epical tale, written in the Bengali dwipodi-poyar (two-footed line) meter, in English, is no mean feat. Amitav Ghosh does it with brilliance as he retains the lyrical flavor of the centuries-old poem in a completely new language. In ‘Jungle Nama’ every line has, on average, twelve syllables, each couplet has twenty four. And every line has a natural break. The retention of Arabic/Persian and Bengali words at places adds to the charm of reading.
Another reason why ‘Jungle Nama’ easily wins your heart is the illustration by Salman Toor. From Dhona’s greed to the fearsome ambience of the jungle of Dokkhin Rai, or the triumph of Dukhe – it all comes alive in Toor’s paintings. Even the cover design is mysterious and fearsome – succinctly encapsulating what Sundarbans stands for.
While pre-ordering the book, I was torn between the Kindle edition and the print edition. I am glad I chose the print edition, because ‘Jungle Nama’ is indeed a collector’s item.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars