Thursday, March 14, 2013

Homecoming: A Visit To The Land of My Birth

I'm still marveling over our 11 days in India—my first visit in 18 years. Some things had changed: mobile phones are ubiquitous and signs of economic growth everywhere, but the heart and hospitality of the place is the same.

My trip included an International Women's Day writing workshop with students in Kolkata at the U.S. Consulate's American Center Library, reunions with a myriad of extended family members and friends, a trip to the Sunderbans, site of my novel TIGER BOY (Charlesbridge 2014), and visits to two homes where young girls rescued from trafficking are given hope for a renewed future. For children's book aficionados, it also featured an unexpected encounter with Almanzo Wilder's uncle. If I had to sum it up, I'd say that two themes of the trip were conversations with girls and research for my novel.

Conversations with Girls
A favorite pasttime was strolling and chatting through several villages.
"Who was that strange auntie?"
I offered a writing workshop at the U.S. Consulate's American Center Library in Kolkata. Each student author was appropriately applauded.
Also in Kolkata, I talked with girls rescued from trafficking. Their stories are beyond heartbreaking. Mahima Care Home provides hope and restoration -- you can help or find out more.
It was a joy to connect with the kids of my cousins. Those in classes 6, 8, 10, and 12 were in the throes of intensely competitive exams, but still took time to meet and honor their faraway relatives.


TIGER BOY Research

The U.S. Consulate allowed me to join the Consul General on a wonderful boat trip into the Sunderbans, an archipelago in a muddy, salty delta. This is the setting for TIGER BOY, a novel coming from Charlesbridge in 2014. The book is written, but I needed to verify details and add the grace notes for a sense of place. The Consulate's trip provided access to an array of experts, like the director and rangers who work for the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, a visit to a small village hit hard by the cyclone, and a Q and A session with environmentalists from N.E.W.S., who are striving to replant and protect the mangrove forests. I was so grateful for these opportunities!

Dozens of different kinds of boats traverse the waterways. As it was before the rains, the hues were green, brown, and grey.

We discovered true beauty and resiliency in a Sunderbans village.
Women shared about replanting the mangrove forests to protect their villages, and remembered the effects of Cyclone Alia, which devastated the Sunderbans in 2009.



Hospitality abounded, even in homes hastily constructed after the cyclone.
Next, we headed to the Tiger Reserve, which is made up of over 40 small islands. The Sunderbans are home to the only man-eating tigers in the world, and they can swim.
The only tiger we saw was a malnourished, injured creature caught by the rangers for treatment. The biggest danger faced by this beautiful creature is not the poacher, but the loss of the mangrove forest.
We did see fresh pug marks on the creek banks.
Mangrove roots seeking oxygen poke up through the mud, providing a vivid metaphor of how important our roots are to survival.

View from the tiger watchtower in the Reserve.
Jayant Basu, head ranger, was so helpful in discussing the details of my book. By the end of our time, he was proposing intricate plot twists.
Serving as a ranger is a prestigious, dangerous position.

An Unexpected Encounter with Laura Ingalls Wilder

We visited a church in Maharashtra, and to my amazement, it was founded by Royal Wilder, uncle of Almanzo Wilder.
They proudly took us to visit the graves of Eliza Wilder, Royal Wilder's wife, and Grace Wilder, their daughter.

An amazing journey indeed. And what a difference to know the language! Mostly due to my parents, I was able to speak in Bangla during many of the conversations and understand more of the nuances and non-verbals than I had anticipated. Thanks to one and all who made this homecoming such a wondrous memory.


5 comments:

beckylevine said...

Mitali, what an amazing trip this must have been. Thanks so much for sharing.

Debbie Rigaud said...

How awesome! These are fantastic photos, Mitali. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

tanita davis said...

Wow, wow, wow. So far from your usual fire escape. How fabulous to be able to go to these lengths for your book! And to walk hand-in-hand with strangers, chatting. There's a simple loveliness to that as well.

Gerri Lanier said...

* Beautiful images and words! What lovely experiences for you.

LaurieA-B said...

Thank you for sharing your trip. This post makes me look forward to reading Tiger Boy. And how amazing to find a Wilder connection.

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