A WHALE OF A TIME
REVIEW: ANJANA BASU
Arefa Tehsin tells the story of two bullies, Hudhud and Kilkila who learn the true meaning of the universe and lose their insufferableness. Perhaps at one level it is a commentary on parents who don’t know what their children get up to at school. At another it is a lesson on the world of wildlife and how today’s children are unaware and unappreciative of what nature has to teach them.
Tehsin has her two shape shift into the worlds of other animals and through the dangers and the help that they encounter, discover what life really is. There is a book by TH White called The Once and Future King in which the young Arthur is made to shape shift to the animal world by his tutor Merlin. Through shape shifting he learns the lessons of kingship. White’s animal worlds are geared to kingship lessons, Arthur becomes, among other things, an ant and a hawk and learns what courage and endurance really mean. Tehsin may be familiar with the story – and given the fact that she has characters with names borrowed from Tolkien, she probably is.
Children these days do not become kings so easily so the TH White use animals to learn formula is adapted to modern needs like understanding that women are not an inferior species. There are leadership lessons to be learnt when the two roam together with the herds of caribou or as naïve caterpillars escape a conniving spider called Pink Floyd. Certainly Hudhud and Kilkila are more tolerable as blue whales and leather backed turtles and there are confrontations with sea dragons and sea serpents to add a thrilling edge to the story and strengthen the life lessons that they have to learn.
Tehsin also uses Hudhud and Kilkila’s experiences to deliver information of the natural world that needs to be taught at a time when contact with nature is becoming increasingly rare. Her descriptions are geared to teach children what they need to know with geographical information thrown in, a way of sweetening the dreaded natural history and geography grade tests that crop up periodically.
Tehsin is generous with her ‘bros’ and uses a school environment as her backdrop to ensure that children will find the type of language and teachers they are familiar with and keep on reading.
Anjana Basu, Kolkata