In Sanu and the Big Storm, the young protagonist has to row over the roiling waters of Phewa lake to rescue her mother. But does the rescue really happen or is it only in her imagination?
In Sanu and the Big Storm, the young protagonist has to row over the roiling waters of phewa lake to rescue her mother. but does the rescue really happen or is it only in her imagination?
In Bandana Tulachan’s Sanu and the Big Storm, the young protagonist, Sanu, has been brought up on her grandfather’s stories, which revolve around the Jalari fishing community that she belongs to, and it is primarily through these stories that Sanu has learned to map the society she lives in. A large part of Sanu’s life revolves around Phewa Lake, in which her family fish for a living. Her outlook is coloured by the fishermen’s knowledge of their vocation and the folktales and mores of the local fishing village she has grown up in. It’s a world where storms and bad weather are very much things to keep an eye out for. Sanu is thus keenly attuned to the weather: She has learned to watch for dark clouds and chilly weather because she knows these things signal a storm. When the story starts, Sanu’s mother is out fishing in stormy weather, and Sanu is a bundle of nerves—the source of her anxiety is her mother, who is out fishing during a storm. Sanu’s fears get even stronger as she feeds it snatches of bits of stories she has heard in the past from her Ba. Ba had often told her about storms, of how the lake can be treacherous during inclement weather: “Ba says that strange creatures mill about under the water, hiding and waiting. People can get lost during a storm. And some-times they never return.” But no matter how intense her fears, Sanu knows she has to rescue Ama. The story is an adventure tale: about how Sanu has to find Ama and bring her back home safe. She will have to row over the roiling waters of Phewa lake, with only Bhunte, her pet dog, for company. Sanu can feel her mother’s plight to such an extent that she can imagine in close detail what her mother must be battling in the midst of the storm. In the story, we travel through these worlds thus created in Sanu’s mind. The story has been crafted so well that we see everything that unfolds from Sanu’s point of view, as we remain immersed in her world, until the end of the ordeal. In Sanu’s eyes, the storm is a living, breathing, terrifying entity. Tulachan’s watercolour renditions perfectly capture the child’s understanding of this entity. The stormy lake is filled with giant waves that threaten to swallow anything that lies in their path and with strange creatures that lie in wait for prey on the lake bed; the all-enveloping fog is a swarm of eerily fluffy ghosts, the gusts of winds are serpentine creatures, the ceaseless raindrops are tadpoles and the stinging hailstones are diamond-shaped pellets. On the canvas of Sanu’s imagination, Tulachan’s illustrations give spirit to the otherwise inanimate elements of the storm: They have all been imbued with lifelike qualities—all of the elements of the storm have eyes, for example. And through the animism provided to these elements, Tulachan immerses the readers in the world created by Sanu’s imagination, huge parts of which come from her grandfather’s tales.
The fears that manifest in Sanu’s mind come largely from the fishermen tales of the locality. Perhaps these tales were created not so much to invoke fear but to instill a respect for the elements
The fears that manifest in Sanu’s mind come largely from the fishermen tales of the locality. Perhaps these tales were created not so much to invoke fear but to instill a respect for the elements. In a child’s mind though, they can be magnified beyond what they were intended to invoke. But perhaps there is something in the tales that teach children to take on their fears and do what has to be done when it’s time to help a family member. That is why Sanu sets out on the mission. In the story, Sanu boards her frail toy paper boat to rescue her mother. And she does end up rescuing her. But the readers can’t quite make out whether the events that transpire are actual events that unfold in the real world or whether the whole adventure is just a tale spun off Sanu’s imagination. We never know for sure even as the story reaches its denouement. We are left immersed in a child’s world of suspense and wonder—which is what children’s stories set out to do.