Sandhya Renukamba reviews our books 'Muchkund and His Sweet Tooth' on GoodBooks.
Deep in the Edjar forest, of Mendha Lekha in Gadchiroli, in Maharashtra, lives the sloth bear Jambvan with his sleuth of bears. The dense subtropical forest is thick with the stately trees of arjun, silk cotton, peepal and kosimb. On the majestic trunks of these trees are colossal hives of the rock bees, full of honey. The bears, of course, love to feast on this honey. Every time they devour it, bees die in thousands, stinging to protect their homes and young. The stings are, however, ineffectual, as they get buried in the thick fur of the bears – unless, of course, they sting on the snout – a rare occurrence as the wily bear would promptly roll up!
Enter Muchkund, a munjya, who visits Jambvan and his nephews Neel, Angad and Sushen for a Diwali vacation. A munjya (as explained in an information box), is a shape shifting ghost who can speak any language – animal or human. Now Muchkund is a good-hearted munjya, who notices the decimation of the bees, and wonders if something could be done about it. Maybe have an agreement between the bears and the bees for mutual benefit? He speaks to the bears about this. Maybe they could take only the honey, and leave the eggs and larvae unharmed? In turn, the bees would not attack them – further decreasing bee deaths due to loss of the sting. Every bear agrees, except for Vali, the trouble maker. Being a shape-shifter, Muchkund takes the form of a male bee, and presents the bears’ proposal to the Queen bee – Madhurani – who accepts it for the sake of her swarms.
What happens next? Does the agreement work out? What about the trouble-maker, Vali? Read the book to find out.
The author, Madhav Gadgil, who is an illustrious ecologist, weaves into the story a message about the ecosystem. There is some interesting information about honeybees worldwide, and about non-violent (Nisarg) honey, harvested by the Sewagram Natural Technique developed at the Center of Bee Development, Wardha. Illustrations by Maya Ramaswamy, known for nature drawings, are the perfect foil – the cover page makes one want to pick up the book and find out more.
The narrative is much like a grandparent telling it to a grandchild all wide-eyed with curiosity, eager to find out what happens next. The flavor of the tale is quintessentially of a Marathi folk-tale, especially with the various ghosts in the gang of Vetal Baba – the pisach, munjya, zoting, khavis, samandha – that populated the ‘giant peepal tree on the campus of Pune University’. There is an interesting mix-up of mythologies, too: the sloth bears bear names of well-known vanaras (monkeys) from the Ramayana – behaving much in the same way that their namesakes would, giving readers an a-ha! moment.