Book: Junglezen Sheru
Publishing House: Pan Macmillan India
Cost: Rs150, 176 pages
I usually like my advice served straight up. In fact, any counsel that comes wrapped, embroiled in legends and fables usually puts me off. Still, I picked up the latest book by Samarpan (Swami Samarpananda) Junglezen Sheru, because I had given his first two (Tiya: A Parrots Journey Home and Param) a skip, and I really wanted to test for myself what the loud noise (appreciation all around) about his writing was all about. Lucky I did, as I found a lot packed in its slim 150 pages, most of it extremely topical.
Junglezen is a simple fable, albeit one with a lot of layers and connotations. Set in a jungle, it is a fascinating tale full of talking animals grappling with the changes that come about when their king, the lion, is killed by poachers, leading to a leadership crisis. His son
Sheru, the cub, is young, just too naive (and impressionable), and unwilling to listen to his well-wisher, the wise elephant Muktak (a metaphor of how sane voices are drowned or simply outnumbered by mindless din). Soon enough, opportunists take over and a city returned show-off monkey Kapi appoints himself the leader and begins ruling, abetted by a cunning jackal.
Together, they blind the jungle junta with their dazzle, clever tactics, sheer slogangiri and promises of change (everyone gets sold to the idea of change; good or bad does not matter) and go about demolishing all that is good systematically, thus creating a culture of non-achievement and super-mediocrity where individual personalities are forcibly nullified to ensure the rule of top-down-a-la dictatorship. There is pure evil too, present in the form of a magar, a crocodile, and a wise 300-year-old turtle, whose biggest strength is his detachment and grace. The turtle too tries to coach Sheru into the ways of correct jungle lore but is unsuccessful.
While the story seems simple and the writing sits easy with everyone — people of all age groups and intellect levels — it actually touches upon deep themes subtly and smartly and is liberally sprinkled with messages from the Upanishads and Swami Vivekananda's teachings, all told Panchatantra style.
The book reads like a political satire, if you want it to, a life's lesson saga if that's the mindset, or like a child's bed time tale, if you decide not to dig deeper and stick just to the upper layer. The climax is very unlike Panchatantra though and is left open ended — letting the readers decide how they want the story to finish.
Plus every time you read it (yes, it deserves more than one reading), a different nuance comes alive. Suddenly a subtext, hidden till now, makes you pause and think about the social order you are a part of, your liaison and equation with it, and just how true the words are when you simply look around and gauge the state of affairs. You can't help but draw parallels with the politics and politicians in the country today.
Besides this, the book is a must read, as it might just help you unearth the leader within you. The biggest lesson the book peddles is this: not recognising one's own potential is the biggest folly you can commit, and that it is a disservice not just to self, but also to society.
And as Muktak says in the book — if you are a lion, you must behave like a lion.