Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Pulak Biswas,
Tradewind Books, 2011.
“Long ago and far away” begins this beautifully written story from the pen of award-winning writer Rachna Gilmore, transporting her young readers to the realms and codes of magic that may be familiar to them in fairy-tales. The hope that, in the vein of fairy-tale, whatever bad things happen along the way, all will come well in the end, will help them to empathise all the more with the young Chandra’s trials and tribulations.
A terrible flood carries away little Chandra’s parents, after they have put her in a tree to keep her safe and given her the flute her mother loved to play. When the waters recede, her aunt and uncle reluctantly take her in but treat her cruelly and even throw the flute into the river (the aunt’s malignant smile in the illustration here will chill the heart of any reader). Without it, Chandra feels more alone than ever but stoically carries out her gruelling daily chores through the harsh winter and scorching summer. Then one day, she hears a flute filling the air with music of hope, comfort and love – and food magically appears before her. When her aunt and uncle find out, their only thoughts are for themselves; and when the monsoon arrives, they force her to stay in the river rather than joining them on the safe high ground. This potentially cataclysmic act of cruelty is actually the catalyst for change that Chandra needs for her happily-ever-after. Her hopes, as well as the hope of young readers who have been willing for a happy ending, are fulfilled.
Accompanying Gilmore’s narrative are Pulak Biswas’ stunning illustrations. Using only blocks of primary color, texture and detail are created through the overlying black. The varying moods of the familiar river and the clouds bringing the monsoon, or the gentle wave of musical notes creeping in at the top of the page all convey the atmosphere of the story. The illustrations root the story solidly in the Indian setting alluded to in the text, such as the monsoon and Chandra herself, named after the moon.
In a world where young people have great awareness of natural disasters and difficulties around the world, The Flute is a very special book that combines a timeless quality with a particular relevance to today’s children.