Book Review : Narmada
In Narmada: A pictorial journey down the river, Vidya Shah uses a naming game played by two children and their grandmother as a segue to a wealth of ecological information. Nine-year-old Avni knows many more words than Aadi, age 5, and enjoys feeling superior. However, when the children realize how much Daadi knows about the Narmada river, their river-naming game turns into a story.
The Narmada is the third largest river in India and one of only three that flow east to west. Along its 300-kilometer route through a rift valley, many tribal cultures still endure deep poverty. The route is a popular pilgrimage path as well, with some ascetics taking two years to complete the round trip, up one side and down the other. Parthiv Shah’s appealing photographs–of temple steps down into the water, of brightly painted sails on narrow flat-bottomed boats, of long-boned, skinny boys leaping joyfully from a riverside cliff–bring the river culture beautifully alive.
Daadi tells Avni and Aadi about the damage sand mining does to the ground water table but also explains how mining sustains impoverished tribal villagers. Text boxes provide additional details, including regional trees and foods, a folk song about the river, and water-saving tips. One photograph depicting a farm is captioned “Domkhedi, now submerged under water following the construction of the Sardar Sarovan dam.” The book doesn’t explain that Domkhedi villagers became famous in 2000 for protesting the controversial dam construction, but mention of the village may stimulate young readers’ further investigation.
A map of the river and a fact sheet review are also provided. Non-Indian readers will find many challenging terms (samadhis, dargahs, ghats) in the story as well as a daunting number of Indian geographical names, but the photographs provide a bridge between the simple narrative structure and the sophisticated factual information. As an introduction to riparian culture in India and as an environmental research source for older children, text and images present an important ecological story.