Rituparna Goswami Pande
My personal love for elephants is not what piqued my interest into foraying head long into this beautiful novel called Elephant Girl. But it was definitely the title Elephant Girl that made me pause and pick up the book. The book cover that has a young girl with her arms around the trunks of a loving pachyderm is an image that lingers long after one has finished the book. The imagery depicts the simplicity and temperament of the gentle giant often misunderstood by humans that have not only intruded into their habitats but are often seen persecuting them for their own selfish gains. The man –elephant conflict is a matter of rising concern in Assam with the rapid decline in forest cover, loss of traditional elephant corridors due to human encroachment. At such a state of affairs when one comes across the possibility of such a beautiful relationship between them one cannot help but dream of a harmonious future coexistence.
And ever since I got my hands on the copy of Elephant Girl it has been with me as my constant travel companion. Be it the grasslands of Kohora in Kaziranga or the mangroves of the mysterious Sunderbans, Elephant Girl has never left my side ever since. It was almost a surreal experience for me to pour into the book while being holed up in some quaint cottage in the middle of a jungle itself and at the same time straddle the forests of Eastern India in pursuit of the mythical maiden riding the mammoth pachyderm.
Elephant girl traces the journey of Prince Raj Narayan as he treks through the forests of Ripu and Kachugaon only to stumble upon the legend of the elephant girl who rides a wild elephant during the 1930s. She not only captured the imagination of the crown Prince but of the villagers of the then undivided Goalpara district as well. The story revolves around the intrigue and strange events that unfold as he undertakes a train journey through deep jungles of Paschim Behar on the Goalpara Tramway. The plot thickens with several attempts on the prince's life and a few mysterious deaths including the king in the royal palace. The author has beautifully portrayed the events, rituals and traditions of society in those days with perfect precision. No doubt that the author has done an in depth research while narrating the content of the story.
Caught between a labyrinth of princely duties, the pregnancy of his wife, the complicated relationship with his step mother and his unexplained fascination with the elephant girl, Raj is swamped into a quagmire of intrigues involving his imminent crowning at the royal palace and his secret aspirations to unlock the dark story behind the elephant girl. Does Raj succeed in
unraveling the mystery behind the myth, can he unmask the murderer that stalks him?
Well, Elephant Girl is the answer to all these questions.
It is hard to believe that this is the maiden work of fiction of the author Chitta Ranjan. A chemical Engineer from, Perth, Australia his chemistry with nature and wildlife had roots in his childhood which was spent in the idyllic and verdant north eastern part of India. His love for the jungles of India as well as his inclination towards the history of the princely states under British India culminated in this arresting debut novel.
The book takes the reader into an adventurous journey into the Himalayan foothills back in the 1930s with the protagonist, the crown Prince of Paschim Behar, a princely state in the border of Assam and Bengal. The author's lucid language coupled with the vivid description brings the novel to life, and it is almost like taking a tour of the palace and the verdant jungle through the eyes of the protagonist. One can almost hear the creaking of the tram along the thickets of the Goalpara Forest Tramway chugging laboriously along the forest path into the Ripu reserve. We too fall in love and marvel at the unseen sights, just as Raj savours the sights and scents of the forest.
The book is a truthful account of the treasure in the Ripu forest that has the potential to unlock a renewed interest in those treasures in the form of its fauna. The Golden Langurs, elephants and numerous other plant and animal species. The Ripu- Chirang reserve that falls under the Bodoland Territorial Council is spread over a total area of 590 square kms, talks are rife that soon it might be declared as a wildlife Sanctuary. The protected area status would not only prevent further encroachment of these historical reserve forests but also ensure environmental stability but also restore the conservation link between Buxa Tiger Reserve- Phipsu Wildlife Sanctuary and Manas National Park.
Chitta Ranjan's book can once again throw light on the need and importance of these ties that are imperative for our forests' conservation issues. The book has also been translated into Assamese by the author himself. The Elephant Girl is a tale of a mysterious girl that would keep the readers on edge and turning the pages in order to unravel the dark secrets that lay buried in the womb of the forest. Published by Mumbai based publisher Leadstart and priced at Rs 349 the book is available in all the leading book stores and online as well.