Between life and death


By Meghaa Gupta

“When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you.

It is you who belong to this land.”

~ a Native American saying

Joseph Srinivas, a.k.a Jose, is dead. But afterlife is bewildering and he desperately seeks to return home. Before you begin to feel sorry for the child protagonist and wonder what snuffed out his young life, author Anita Roy sends Jose, his friend Mishi and you – the reader – on an incredible journey across the land of the dead, with plenty of poignant life lessons to keep you company.

Seeds of hope, vultures, pollution, wildlife conservation, dams, plastic… the narrative effortlessly paints human existence within the canvas of nature, leaving readers – both young and old – with much to ponder over.

Gravepyres School for the Recently Deceased, published by Red Panda, the children’s imprint of Westland, is a book that effectively uses fiction to open up various conversations on life, death and the place of nature in all of it.

My only problem with this book was that despite a brilliant idea and engaging writing, it sometimes made me lose my bearings. Character names like Dexter J. Tannenbaum and Houri McClury sounded extremely odd in the middle of Yama, Chiplunker, Ranjubaba and shraddha beej. While the essence of the book is universal and perhaps that is what the author was trying to achieve through these names, it ended up sounding like tokenism at times. I wondered, what if, instead of the Dory-like forgetful Mishi, the author had chosen to have a main character rooted in another civilisation and/or culture, and looked at ideas of death and environmentalism through that lens?

I also found myself grappling with several other unanswered questions that made me wonder if the ends could have been tied more tightly. But in a book set between life and death, such questions, I suppose, are inevitable.

However, this should, by no means, deter you from reading this book. It will fill your heart and perhaps, like me, you too might shed a silent tear when young Jose finally ‘passes’.

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