As a child, I loved having stories read out to me by my father. Often it would be about Tarzan (with jungle calls accompanying the reading!), but just as often, they would be stories from the Panchatantra, or Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, and of course, stories he would make up.
When I read Adrian Pinder’s beautiful book, The Tiger of the River, illustrated by Maya Ramaswamy, memories of the joy my father reading to me would bring to my heart, surfaced.
It starts simply:
“All life on Earth needs water to survive and grow. Without water, there would be no trees, no animals and no people... it is difficult for humans to see beneath the water, but in the river lives a very special fish called the mahseer.”
Pinder had 74-year-old me hooked from the very first page. And Maya’s gentle line and wash paintings put me right there in the jungle, with her elephants, otters, leopards, frogs and crocodiles.
The story unfolds in a rush with a cast of characters that included langurs playing without a care in the monsoon-rich Kaveri river valley and moves quickly to its hero Matisha, a little fish no larger than a grain of rice!
I could almost hear my father’s hushed voice rising to a crescendo: “But there were many dangers in these waters. Bigger fish and hungry birds saw the little fish as the perfect size for a tasty snack… Matisha grew and grew and grew!”
Written for children aged six and above, the readers, or listeners as the case might be, learn that Matisha was a mahseer… the tiger of the river. The text paints images too – of elephants wading into the river; of explosives used by fisherfolk (which a terrified Matisha mercifully survived); tips on how to escape from crocodiles; birds as small as kingfishers and giant birds like eagles; and otters that lived above water but hunted below.
Every parent should seek out books such as this. There is no better way to inform our young about the world around them than through stories that help them to understand and fall in love with the magical world in which they live. I took less than 30 minutes to read the book but found myself lingering here and there as Matisha navigated polluted waters, swam rapids, experienced rainbow-decorated waterfalls, and more.
And the book contains games too, that help Matisha to navigate her river after many adventures so that she can lay her precious eggs when she grows old enough to do so.
Such stories and such books will prepare our children to live in peace and harmony with the wild and wonderful world in which we are so lucky to live!
Reviewed by Bittu Sahgal