Rovi Chasie, The Quaint little Village, Pen Thrill, 2016, 67 pages.
The introduction to Rovi Chasie’s book says it is an attempt “to give the reader glimpses of life in Khonoma Village through the protagonist, a child called Tono, and her family.
Every village has its uniqueness as well as its idiosyncrasies and other characteristics that make it interesting. Here, the author shares with the reader some of these unfamiliar facts, myths, legends and folk stories as well as the values that the people live by and which are dear to her.”
The drawing of the little protagonist, Tono, charms the reader into the book. She has a shy but irrepressible smile, and her well-rounded face must have been an artist’s delight.
Through Tono’s eyes the reader sees the village of Khonoma, and the author aptly begins the book by having Tono’s family take a trip to the village so that an outsider may see it for the first time in the highly descriptive narrative of the child. The reader is first startled at the fear in the protagonist’s voice as she screams out, “Monster trees! Monster trees!” This is the introduction to the landscape around the village which is unique for its pollarded Alder trees used as part of the Alder-based jhum cultivation of the area.
By way of educating Tono and in turn, the readers of course, the authorial voice tells us that the Alder tree is used for a number of purposes: regenerating the environment and wildlife, furniture-making, building houses, preventing soil erosion, and fertilizing the soil with its nitrogen content. It is also medicinal and used to stop bleeding. The book could simplistically be classified as a children’s book, because of the child protagonist.
But that precludes many adult readers from enjoying the book, because we unfortunately have the mentality that grown-ups should not waste their time reading children’s books. This theory needs to be dispelled with the enlightening thought that many children’s books offer much more than just entertainment. In fact, they educate by entertaining, which is the best way of educating.What better way to introduce a village to a stranger? The Quaint little Village has a wealth of information to offer its readers. The author has adopted the approach of a child who covers everything it sees in a magical light, and imagines tree-monsters and the mysterious look Shukhieu gives in her direction. But every chapter works to reveal the realities that lie beneath the mysteries.
Chasie keeps the story rooted by introducing the historical early on. The two graves that were cleaned at Sünyi, are the graves of Tono’s relatives Tsa Leno and Pfutsa Setu. Tsa Leno lived and died as a Nanyümia, a practiser of the old religion. Tono’s Pfutsa Setu was one of the first medical doctors from Khonoma who went on to become a Medical Minister. Both lives represent the village, and though seemingly separate from each other, the thread that connects them is a thread tracing the life of the community through the different periods of its history.
The author always makes sure the historical backdrop is not far behind even as each narrative unfolds more of the mystical. The villagers can point to the physical settings of folk legends such as Kedieu tsükerü, the mountain said to contain the tree of life. This belief stems from a warrior-tale about the head of a slain enemy Kedieu, coming back to life in this particular mountain. No storyteller can neglect to tell the warrior tales that are an integral part of the feted warrior village.
The book is interspersed with the family’s activities which cleverly take the reader through the surrounding landscape of wildlife sanctuary, fields and forest areas (with their own resident spirits). The family picnics and drives into the forests help acquaint the reader with the wildlife found in the area, educating the reader further. The author gently reminds the reader that Khonoma acts as guardian of the endangered Blythe’s Tragopan, found mostly in the woods surrounding Khonoma. The same woods are home to the majestic mithun (bos frontalis), and a variety of birds and leeches.
Reading The Quaint Little Village is rather like going on an engaging nature romp combined with a lesson on local history, flavored by spirit stories that have been accumulated through the years. Every school library should definitely stock it.