Beyond the Blue River

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FROM THE BOOK REVIEW ARCHIVES

Beyond the Blue River

By : Mariam Karim-Ahlawat
Beyond the Blue River

Beyond the Blue River

Author:
B. Vinayan
Tulika Publishers, 
2011

'There was every reason to linger on her swift passage from tree to bush to rock through the forest. A universe of dark green light and darker shade shimmered all around her. The world seemed to constantly explode and re-form in ever-changing colours and liquid forms. Everything demanded redefining, renaming – and when that had been done, to be redefined and renamed again and again. Trees exploded upwards and outwards like smoky green and brown geysers, a gigantic curtain of flower-decked creepers streamed from a great height like a misty, yellow waterfall. A small leaf could be an entire green and churning ocean and a flower near it a red and forever expanding and contracting cloud of fire.

Once, Grace found herself perched within a large bunch of leaves sprinkled with flowers and sunlight. What her extremely tiny vision saw was a palace of jewelled splendour. Its ceiling was enormous, depthless, a white iridescent diamond of sunlight that shot green, blue and white rays down upon her. Around and below her stretched, rose and opened large jade green halls, chambers, cool passages and balconies whose curving , leafy walls formed such shapes and angles as to defy human design, their walls veined, it seemed, with the most precious filigree of silver, gold and red. And all of it undulated like water touched by a breeze. Where the sun didn’t strike there were shadows like deep, bluish-black smoke, forming secret pools and mist-like fountains where, it seemed, an even more secret life lingered. And Grace was part of it all, merging easily with the flow, weave and delicate balance of this magnificent universe.'

As you may judge from the above passage, the book, Beyond the Blue River by B. Vinayan, is a visual treat (without any illustrations). Remarkable for its imaginative qualities this is a Quest Tale in the tradition of so many other books for children and adults. It is the story of an autoricksha called Grace who plies the streets of Sadram with her owner Guru.

Yes, there is a tradition of talking vehicles, from Ships I Have Met published nearly a hundred years ago to Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, the self-driven Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…  but this is a first for a particularly Indian light vehicle! The difference, however, is that Grace is no ordinary talking vehicle or magical auto, she is a vehicle with a quest as only humans appear to have! She possesses an inner urge to search for the Blue River whose song comes to her unbidden once she has heard her driver sing it, although she does not know exactly what it might be. But the winds and breezes—Husha, Sushi and Zrooh—bring her news and indicate directions she might take.

The long and adventure-filled journey begins for the little city auto —fraught with danger and excitement. There are various adjuvants that guide and help her along the path, the main being Sai the magical white bird. And those who create obstacles in the path of seekers of the Blue River are the Dark Flame Karuth Aarg (probably from ‘aag’, fire) and his Irunds (‘iru’ signifies darkness and enmity in Malayalam) and the dark Predars (from ‘predam’ in Malayalam). All the names aren’t based in native languages, however, for there are the Itsians of village Itsy, This and That, the Mountain of the Phantas Sea (fantasy) and many others. The magical people of the Mandra Rukh (mandram, or mantra + forest) or the enchanted forest, the Yamins and Yagars, are under the spell of the Shadow awaiting the arrival of Grace to set them free.

It is an unusually imaginative tale filed with colour and light and song that children will be fascinated by but at the same time it puts forward a host of philosophies that adults too must taste of. It becomes more and more complex as it nears the end, when Grace become an e-t-c or extremely tiny creature, is split into two, Gr and Ace, and meets the smAlmighties in the Worlds within Worlds. It suggests that life and the world is but a game that we must play yet learn the rules only along the way.

Written with humour and tenderness it keeps a smile on your face as you read along:

‘A life saved is a life gained,’ said the tractor, ‘didn’t you know that? When you save someone’s life, you also save your own!’

‘Oh,’ said Grace, ‘ – er, I didn’t know that.’

‘There are a lot of things you don’t know about,’ muttered the tractor, frowning, ‘or you wouldn’t go around jumping into ponds…’

***

‘As I was saying,’ continued the mountain with a sniff, ‘you are different. You have your head on your shoulders or, if I may say so, your rock on your boulders. Because you remember where you come from…’

It is a tale of metamorphosis and transformation that indicates to the intrepid reader that all Matter, all Time, all Space are inter-changeable and transformable and the Past, the Present and the Future exist simultaneously. The concept of the OneMindBody and the NowHere extends a deep spiritual philosophy which at the same time can be understood scientifically. The narrative presents Transformation and Metamorphosis as evolution itself on the earth and the universe over billions of years. The ultimate metamorphosis of a ‘thing’, a metallic autoricksha, into a little girl of flesh and blood, evokes the interchangeable nature of the living and the non-living. 

Each time  you read the book, something new catches your attention—it is possible the author intended all of this, but if not, as a reader certainly there is a great deal of interpretation to be undertaken! A thoroughly intriguing and charming book which not only children but adults too must read.

Mariam Karim-Ahlawat is a writer of fiction for children and adults, a French language and literature pedagogue, a columnist on education and social issues.