Mar 312024
The Butterfly Effect: How Kindness Blooms Under The Bakul Tree [Review]
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Title: Under the Bakul Tree
Author: Dr. Mrinal Kalita, translated by Partha Pratim Goswami 
Publisher: Penguin
Type: Paperback
Pages: 328
Age group: 13 years+ (YA)

I was quite reluctant to read Under the Bakul Tree. My preferred reads are quite shallow — humour, crime, adventure, thriller. Even if it is a coming-of-age, I prefer to read something that has a preposterous or an ambitious plot. Most of what I read will not qualify as “literary”. And yet, I could say that Premchand has perhaps been the biggest reading influence. What I liked about his stories was how character driven they were. A master of show don’t tell, the story was its own social commentary. 

Under the Bakul Tree, is a lot like that. Winner of Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar 2021, BAKUL PHULAR DARE, the original Assamese version is already on its fifth edition. And understandably so. It is one of the finest young adult books I have read. 

Set in rural Assam, the story is about three people Ashim, Nirmal and Anubhav who navigate rural India and everything that is right and wrong about it. Ashim comes from a poor family and while he has limitless (Ashim) capacity to do what he’d like, he is severely constrained (Seemabaddha) by his circumstances. Nirmal – what a pure, unblemished (Nirmal) soul — filled with empathy he is willing to do all he can so Ashim can study. 

But the world is not as hospitable for Ashim. It rarely is — esp for people who struggle to meet their basic needs every day. Anubhav, the new teacher in the school, however is willing to be that change he would like to see in the world. He would like to change how not only Ashim’s experience of the world changes, but how small things can possibly bring mammoth changes in a person’s life. This book is also about the butterfly effect that Nirmal and Anubhav bring to this seemingly dismal world.

Through numerous conversations, Dr. Mrinal Kalita brings out much that is wrong with this world and we just accept it and live with it. In fact, when people are willing to do something, we comment, like Jilmil, Anumbhav’s friend did. ‘There are thousands of such Ashims in our country.’

I loved the response. And it’s true of so many things. Whether it is Sandeshkhali or Manipur or Palestine. “… in an abstract idea about the poor, the downtrodden, or the exploited. When these things become abstract, the responses too, become mechanical. Everything becomes a statistic. People can put forward lots of theories to explain the cause of misery. But the human cost gets brushed under the carpet. Political parties and other stakeholders get detached and hence their efforts are less meaningful and effective. People like Ashim get dehumanized, and that’s the greatest tragedy.”

There are so many small things I like about the book — if I start typing it, I am sure I would have ⅓ of it here.

This coming of age book shows how small changes and contributions can have far-reaching chain reactions. This book shows how friendship and hope is sometimes all that is needed. This book is deeply moving, thought provoking and puts a mirror to our faces. A hallmark of any good literary work.

While it talks about many things, I liked its commentary on education today. Schools have become a breeding ground for corporate greed. All we do as parents and educators is look at a child’s education as a tool to get a job in the future. Being a Maths professor himself, Mrinal Kalita criticises our education system through Anubhav putting more stress on all around growth and critical thinking. Anubhav asks the students of grade 10, 3 questions in Mathematics, which forces them to apply what they learnt in their classes. I was quite thrilled that I could solve 2 out of the 3 — even if it was high school Maths.

Recommend it for parents, educators, and young adults alike. 

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Disclaimer: Mandira is part of the #kbcReviewerSquad and received this book as a review copy from the publisher via kbc. She is the author of the award winning book Children of the Hidden Land.

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