The Book of the Hunter
This riveting and expansive novel set in sixteenth-century medieval Bengal draws on the life of the great medieval poet Kabikankan Mukundaram Chakrabarti, whose epic poem Abhayamanga better known as Chandimangal, records the socio-political history of the times. In the section of that epic called Byadhkhanda—the Book of the Hunter—he describes the lives of the hunter tribes, the Shabars, who lived in the forest and its environs.
Mahasweta Devi explores the cultural values of the Shabars and how they cope with the slow erosion of their way of life, as more and more forest land gets cleared to make way for settlements. She uses the lives of two couples—the brahman Mukundaram and his wife, and the young Shabars, Phuli and Kalya—to capture the contrasting cultural norms of rural society of medieval Bengal. Devi acknowledges her debt to Mukundaram, who wrote about men and women, not gods and goddesses. The hunter tribes’ refusal to cultivate and settle down, as described by him, is true of surviving forest tribes today. The villages and rivers mentioned by him still exist, and Devi’s prose brings them to vivid life in these pages.