I am deeply unhappy with this storybook for children. In Search of a River is about the friendship between a tribal boy, Hanumant, and a city boy, Bharat. A significant angle in the story is that Hanumant is portrayed befriending a wild snake, so much so, he even gives the reptile milk to drink! In Hinduism, snakes are venerated. The concept of Nag is age-old. Even Western writers of children’s literature such as Rowling borrowed the idea of a Nag and used it in her Harry Potter series. At so many levels this story is absolutely wrong. First of all, it is a myth that snakes drink milk. Snakes drink water when dehydrated, not milk. In fact, drinking milk may even kill the reptiles. Secondly, I am afraid in the age of the Internet, when selfies and tricks on camera are recorded for nanoseconds of social media fame, a story for little children revolving around snakes is unacceptable. Also, at a time when there are innumerable conversations about inclusivity, diversity, and representation, in literature, the idea of playing fearlessly with wild snakes is a dangerous idea. Inadvertently, it borders on validating the notion that it is fine to touch reptiles in the wild. No, it is not. There are sufficient examples on the Internet of individuals trying insane tricks with snakes and many reptile experts/herpetologists cautioning people from such antics. Primarily, to safeguard the human’s life from a snake bite as many are unable to distinguish between a poisonous and a harmless snake. Lastly, disturbing a snake in the wild is not advisable. Many campaigns across the world warn humans from the danger as well as to let the reptiles alone, in their habitat.
A storybook such as In Search of a River is not recommended. Perhaps, if the author, Saroj Mukherjee, and her daughter, Tilottama Tharoor, who has translated the story from Hindi, had chosen to write a short note distinguishing between fiction and reality, then maybe the book could be circulated. As of now, NO. The only reason that I can think it was even published and had a book launch at a prime children’s literature bookstore in Delhi is because every literary mind involved in the creation of the story, belongs to a prominent writer’s family. If true, it is unfortunate. One would have expected a tad more awareness, particularly from a family with a rich literary lineage, in making a story written for an older generation, acceptable to a contemporary reader.
Next time, I hope there will be a little more sensitivity and accuracy shown in writing fiction for children. It is imperative that children’s literature is written with the seriousness that it demands.
3 May 2022