Review: Anjana Basu
Jwala Kumar and the Gift of Fire
Adventures in Champakbagh
Hansda Sowendra Shekhar
This the story of a wet village in Jharkhand where Mohan Chander discovers a small unidentified creature shivering under a bush at night. He feels sorry for it and brings it indoors. The result opens up an amazing adventure for Mohan Chander, his wife Rupa and their three children Biren, Naren and Namita.
Neither lizard nor bird nor bat the creature has the ability to breathe fire and light up chulas on the wettest days and is an inquisitive ET like creature. The children christen him Jwala Kumar, since Jwala means ‘fire’. There follows a game of hide and seek because Mohan Chander is worried that there might be repercussions if too many people get to know. The creature – whose identity the Tolkien reader will have guessed- flies from rafter to rafter inside the hut and from tree to tree outside.
Against this Hansda paints the background of a deprived village like so many in the region, abandoned by the social workers once they have finished their work who leave faulty solar lanterns behind them – and even the sun’s power might not last against never ending rain. The magic of the story blossoms despite bad roads, beaten down crops and worn thin woollens and it is very practical magic, the kind that is more useful to a place where life centres on chulas for every day necessities and the warmth needed to survive.
Perhaps one child would have worked because the other two have no real role except to fill in the fairy tale number of three – though given the fact that the book is subtitled Adventures in Champakbagh, there may be stories to come.
At the heart of it is great affection for natural life and the classic combination of underprivileged living and fantasy – though there are no gifts of gold and wealth at the end of it as standard fairy tales might provide. Instead, a legend begins of flocks of firebeasts flying through the thunderclouds waiting to be glimpsed by the fortunate few.
Anjana Basu, Kolkata