Did Tiger Take the Rain? is my first children’s book. It is being published by Green Writers Press (October 2016). Why is the book Did Tiger Take the Rain? relevant to Green Writers Press? Green Writers Press’ mission is to “incorporate and facilitate the gift of words to help foster a sustainable environment – to spread a message of hope and renewal through the words and images we publish.”
Of the many animals that face extinction, one that stands out most is the tiger. At the height of its heyday, some 100,000 tigers roamed a region extending from the Caspian Sea to Southeast and East Asia. Today (2016), there are some 3,500 left in their natural state – less in number in the wild than there are tigers living in captivity in the USA.
But it is not the fate of the tiger itself that raises concern. Like the ubiquitous canary in the mine, what happens to the tiger is intimately connected with what happens to the habitat in which it lives, and the habitat in which the tiger lives is, in its turn, finely connected with the sustainability of the human biosphere. As the children in the book note: we all breathe the same air.
The problem addressed by the book is that a dry and hot climate could be the result of the cutting of the forests which upsets the naturally occurring precipitation cycles. The solution: to stop cutting the forests or at least be certain that new forests are allowed to thrive. The challenge is to produce a children’s book that shows both determination in the face of obstacles as well as the hope that efforts will bear fruit in a practical way. The strategy in this book is to share a story around raising a question, then actively seeking an answer and finding a way to resolve the problem through action. The book aims to develop a story that will help children from different cultures share a means to become empowered to take action that will hopefully make the world a better place.
Rana Tharu, storyteller
The Tharus and the terai
The book builds on conversations with Tharu people in western Nepal, both young and old. But the story is not a reproduction of Tharu folklore. It is a story put together with the above strategy in mind. The children in the book, Usha and Anjali, are not happy that people may give up in the face of things bigger than they are (the lack of rain, the tiger as an omen of the gods’ wrath). They decide to do what their own culture fears and cross the river, leaving the safety of the village for the dangers of the jungle (this is an image drawn for me by Tharu children). They do this to find out from Tiger why she entered the village.
But the story does not focus on the simple and impossible conversation between a tigress and two children. Instead, they are transformed into a magical world by the activities of a jackal and monkeys, perpetual tricksters and mischief makers. This gives the children a chance to understand that the jungle can be a danger, a place of refuge, and a place of wonder and fun. In this sense, the story does not prettify. But it makes it possible for the children to understand the various sides of the tiger in its natural habitat – not to fear it, but to realize just how tied we are all together in this world; we breathe the same air, we share the same rain. It is up to us humans to see what we have done and to find ways to protect this world.
The goal is to produce a story that all children can share. But some features of the story build on folk imagery shared with me by Tharu story tellers. In this sense, the book allows readers some insight into what the villages, people, forests, and animals look like in the terai. The story hints at what animals are part of Tharu stories around tigers: the jackal and monkeys. Tharu society tends to elevate women more so than other area cultures, so a story of two girls wandering off into the jungle is not totally out of the ordinary. But they do offer a new perspective in making girls the active ones. And, like so many other cultures, action is not reduced to the strong individual. Almost everything revolves around more than one person – thus two girls, and two girls and the village – and the message that it takes more than one to find a way.