A version of this review, was first published on the Sustainability Next blog. https://sustainabilitynext.in/a-life-in-nature/
Where does one begin when a book is so deeply moving?
Let me start with a summary:
Yangdol is a little girl born in a remote mountain village in Ladakh, to parents who bring her up with a deep connection and a respect for the natural world around them.
Their life was simple, filled with little joys…watching foxes, noticing the play of light and shadows, listening to the different tones in the animal calls and honouring the life around them.
“We are all woven in an invisible bond. This land is home. It belongs to all of us”, Yangdol’s father would say.
When some of their livestock are killed by the most elusive of creatures…the snow leopard, Yangdol is terribly upset and shocked when she finds her mother is offering prayers, not just for the dead livestock and to the mountain spirits, but also for the snow leopard
Her mother explains, “...know this child, for thousand of years and more, this land was the kingdom of the beasts and birds that roamed here. We did not always live here. But they let us call it home. We must respect that. ….The mountain spirits may take what is ours, for it is her land and we are only visitors.”
Never forgetting her mothers words, Yangdol grows up respecting the land, the life in it and all the elements of nature.
Life goes on for Yangdol, marriage, widowhood, returning to look after her aged parents, to growing old herself. Through it all she respects the land and all it holds, respect that does not go unnoticed by the inhabitants of the land. She is never alone, always aware that the creatures of the mountain keep her company, even when she does not see them. All the creatures know Yangdol as the gentle soul who deeply feels and honours all the life that exists on the land. Just like her father taught her about respecting their land, the baby animals were told of Yangdol’s beautiful story.
Yet through it all, the snow leopard, ‘quite as a snowflake’, eluded her.
As she grows older, Yangdol barely steps out, other than to turn the prayer wheel. This is noticed by the animals and birds who make a decision.
As Yangdol peers out of her window one snowy, full moon night, she is overcome by happiness. There sitting in her garden was the ‘Grey Ghost of the Mountains’…the snow leopard with two cubs. Not doing anything, rather just being. Yangdol was overcome with a happiness that she had never felt before.
When people gathered at her home the next day, to bid her farewell, the air was buzzing with awe and excitement. The people had found her snow piled garden filled with the tracks of not just the snow leopard, but all kinds of animals…a festival of mountain creatures who had come to offer a befitting farewell for someone who had lived so as one with them.
This story, though seemingly simple, is deeply moving, lyrical and sublimely beautiful. It is the story about how we all must live…deeply aware of our role and place, while learning to share and coexist with the inhabitants who have been here before us.
Inspired by a photograph of an old woman, looking at a snow leopard through the lens of a spotting-scope, Yangdol is written by Pankaj Singh in moving, lyrical prose. Athulya Pillai’s evocative illustrations a in full colour with double page illustrated spreads, complementing the text perfectly.
The placement of the text on the bottom of the full page illustrations, especially on the right of a double spread, were easy to miss, causing the reader to turn the page back and forth in confusion. As the reader takes in the beautiful image, it is easy to miss the text, placed so.
Yangdol is longer than the standard picture book, but you know what is said about a good book…it transcends time touching readers of all ages and across the ages. This is a ‘good book’, a ‘great’ book, even.
Yangdol, touched me deeply when I first read it, however it’s prohibitive price of Rs. 800 made me think twice before picking up a copy for myself. The production value is excellent, with superior paper and print quality.
Yet I wish more publishers take up books like this one, as this is a book that must reach everyone and a more economical price would ensure this.
The striking endpapers to end.
This book is available at indie bookstores like, Champaca Books, Bengaluru and Kahaani Tree, Mumbai.