They say itís a childrenís storybook. But I say this is a storybook for adults as well.
Wonder in the Woods is the story of nine-year-old Madhvi, who teaches a lesson or two to the woodcutter Laloo. It describes how little Madhvi runs from pillar to post to save her favourite old amba mango tree from Lalooís threatening axe. Now, cynics may think that this is no story, but some sort of a relay or marathon race. Madhvi is indeed running a race but for a noble cause, a race to save the environment, a race against time. There are two sentences repeated throughout the story: "These are hard times" and "Donít worry about that". Who else but man is to blame for these hard times! This true-to-life story is a grim reminder of the havoc mankind has created on earth, how man has abused Nature to suit his selfish needs. But it is only man, again, who can reduce the misery he has brought about. One cannot help but remember Sohrab P. Godrej, former Chairman of the Godrej Group of Companies, who had dedicated his life to save the environment.
In Wonder in the Woods, Madhvi runs and runs, literally, looking for roti, bajra, water, a net, scissors and a dozen lemons to save just one tree. You may wonder how these items are connected to the felling of a tree. Well, Laloo is all set to cut the tree for firewood, to provide meals for his family. Madhvi fervently requests him not to chop the tree, offering instead to get roti for him.
She runs off and approaches Lalooís wife Sitabai for some rotis. Sitabai talks about the hard times she is facing. She has no bajra to make extra rotis for Laloo. She tells Madhvi to fetch grain. Madhvi runs to a field looking for bajra. The drooping bajra sighs: "These are hard times. This year has not brought much rain. I need a little water to revive me."
Madhvi then runs off to look for water. She comes across a pond. Unfortunately, the pond is filled with plastic bags and food wrappers, and requests Madhvi to get a net to clear the rubbish. "Donít worry about that," says Madhvi, as usual, and runs off, but a little slower. Luckily, Madhvi spots a net on a bamboo bark. The net is so filled with knots, that it needs a large pair of scissors to untangle the knots. The already tired Madhvi notices a pair of shears nearby. The shears are in dire need of lemon juice to get rid of the rust on its blades.
An exhausted Madhvi drags herself to a lemon tree: "May I simply squeeze the fruit fallen below you, please?" But the lemon tree requests Madhvi to lighten its load instead of picking fruit from the ground. With hardly any energy left, she shakes the tree as hard as her young arms can. Madhvi collects a dozen lemons. So, ultimately, itís a tree which helps her solve the problem.
"She rubbed the
lemon juice on the scissors.
Thus the story gives the all-important message of interdependence in Nature. It shows how the web of life is interwoven, how important it is for human beings to live in harmony with Mother Nature, to learn to respect her and understand the balance of Nature from a tender age for, if that balance is disturbed, it would take ages for our present and future generations to repair the loss.
Madhvi believes in herself. Thatís why she is able to pursue her goal of saving the amba tree. And, after a lot of effort, she eventually succeeds. All of us can succeed provided we have the will to succeed and the determination to work hard, come what may. Laloo learnt his lesson, too. He realised that one need not be a grown-up to make a difference. That "every small action counts and it all adds up" to changing things for the better. Madhvi not only brought Laloo some rotis, but she also gave him food for thought.
In the story, Laloo needs to cut trees for firewood to cook meals. But Laloo never bothers to replant a single tree. In fact, it doesnít even occur to him! However, in the recent past, countries such as Sweden and Norway have started the practice of "Sustainable Forestry", where as many trees are planted as are cut down. In India, especially in a concrete jungle like Mumbai, if every citizen decides to plant just one tree close to his/her building and nurture it, we would today breathe much cleaner air, be free from allergies and lead better lives.
Meher Marfatiaís Wonder in the Woods makes for lucid and delightful reading. Avanti Mehtaís eye-catching illustrations add to the value of this remarkable book.