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Ghosh’s Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sundarban, which is in the verse format, has now been converted in to an audio book available on Audible, read by Pakistani writer and musician Ali Sethi.

Writing in the verse format comes with its own set of challenges but is extremely rewarding, believes 2018 Jnanpith awardee and noted author Amitav Ghosh. Ghosh’s Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sundarban, which is in the verse format, has now been converted in to an audio book available on Audible, read by Pakistani writer and musician Ali Sethi.

The verse adaptation which evokes a “sense of Sundarban through its poetry” features an episode from the legend of Bon Bibi, a tale popular in the villages of the Sundarban, which also lies at the heart of his novel, The Hungry Tide. It is the story of the avaricious rich merchant Dhona, the poor lad Dukhey, and his mother; it is also the story of Dokkhin Rai, a mighty spirit who appears to humans as a tiger, of Bon Bibi, the benign goddess of the forest, and her warrior brother, Shah Jongoli.

The original print version of this legend, dating back to the 19th century, is composed in a Bengali verse meter known as dwipodi poyar. The book Jungle Nama is a free adaptation of the legend, told entirely in a poyar-like meter of 24 syllable couplets that replicate the cadence of the original. In an email interaction with, the author talks about the verse format, rise of self-publishing, while reflecting back on 2021.


Why verse?

This story requires a certain suspension of your everyday sense of reality. But this could be said of many of the most important moments in our lives – for example when you look over your shoulder and see a tornado (or a tsunami) coming straight towards you. Or when you look across a room and think to yourself, ‘Ah, that’s the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.’ If this suspension of reality comes more easily to children than adults it is because life hasn’t beaten a sense of the world’s infinite possibilities out of them. With adults, verse narratives can sometimes help in transcending the quotidian dreariness of grown-up life, which is why Jungle Nama is in verse.

This is your first book in verse format. What it challenging?

Writing in verse, especially in a very tight metrical form, was at once extremely demanding and very rewarding. It was a wonderful experience.

What is your opinion of audio adaptations?

I enjoyed working with Audible. While I didn’t get into the technicalities (that was handled by my publishers, Harper Collins) I definitely think audio as a medium is here to stay. For authors and creators, it opens up a new form of storytelling and allows them to not only work with their written words but also express themselves through their voice and through sounds. People say audio is a new medium but actually, I think it brings a sense of nostalgia – Storytelling is so ingrained in the very fabric of India’s culture and dates back generations. Audible provides access to a variety of untold stories in the original way stories were told, by listening.

Would you agree that reading habits have changed over the years?

Habits of reading are changing irreversibly. Young people today do much of their reading digitally, which means that they interact with the written word in a manner that is very different from the way in which people of my generation do. They are more accustomed to seeing images in the same space as the text, for instance. In the same way, they are also more accustomed to having the text accompanied by sound. I think this actually enriches the text in many ways. And certainly, Ali Sethi has created something that is much richer than the usual kind of audiobook; he has composed music, and we collaborated on writing some songs, and so on. We wanted to create an immersive experience, and I think Ali has succeeded wonderfully in doing that.

There is a proliferation of literature from self-publishing to publishing houses releasing books each day. What’s your take?

I think it’s great. When I was starting out as a writer it was almost impossible to find publishers for English books in India. It couldn’t be more different now, and I think that’s a good thing.

How would you describe 2021?

The main lesson of this period, in my view, is that we should learn to value the simple things in life, like family, friends, shared meals, and so on.

How did you spend your lockdowns?

Mostly I was working on my new book The Nutmeg’s Curse; Parables for a Planet in Crisis.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

Of course, we are all hoping for a return to what we used to think of as ‘normal’, but the indications are that there will never be any return to that state. We are now well and truly in the grip of a multi-dimensional planetary crisis, and we should be prepared for many years of mounting uncertainty.

What are you reading these days?

I am reading The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow, an absolutely amazing book. I pick up books when they look interesting.

Written by: Jayashree Narayanan 

Courtesy: Indian Express 





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