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A book that combines loss, climate change and magical realism

‘Savi and the Memory Keeper’ by Bijal Vachharajani touches a chord with its unusual narrative about grief and loss of nature

When Bijal Vachharajani first found out about the Wood Wide Web, she wanted to visit the understories of trees. Photo: Pixabay

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A climate-perfect city! What's that like? Welcome to Shajarpur, where each season is at its best shade. It's never too hot, too cold, too wet… you get the drift. The air is crisp, clean and happy—clearly a matter of envy for this reader in the Delhi NCR, who breathes in soot on a daily basis. But none of it matters to Savi, or Savitri Kumar, who arrives in Shajarpur, carrying a big purple frog of grief in her heart. She hates the name Savitri, this city which was once home to her father, the samosa-shaped school, her new classmates, and the Eco Ents club that she has been forced to join. 

The teen clutches on to the 42 plants nurtured by her father, which now remain his most tangible memory. With a mother, who seems to have retreated into a shell in the face of loss, and a sister with a hectic social life, these plants seem to be memory keepers for Savi, taking her back to happier times spent with her father. Only now, the plants seem to have taken this role literally. As Savi struggles with her brown thumb in a bid to help them thrive, the plants start acting as portals, showing her scenes from her father's childhood and school life. 

Amidst it all, the giant ficus tree in her school grounds starts communicating with her about how Shajarpur is changing, with trees being felled in the name progress. “Meanwhile in the void left by the fallen trees—grew a forest anew. Canopies of glass. Roots of cement. Barks of steel. A not-a-forest forest of concrete," narrates the Tree. And suddenly Shajarpur's happy climate takes a turn for the worse. It's now too hot, too cold, too wet, and it's time for Savi and her Eco Ent warriors to do something about it. 

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‘Savi and the Memory Keeper’ has been published by Hachette India Children’s Books, priced at Rs. 350, 244­ pp
‘Savi and the Memory Keeper’ has been published by Hachette India Children’s Books, priced at Rs. 350, 244­ pp

Savi and the Memory Keeper is not just a book, it is a journey through the landscape of grief—and a must-read for both young adults and their parents. In the past two years of the pandemic, we have all grappled with loss and gotten lost in a quagmire of emotions. Who should one turn to for help? Am I the only one feeling this? Why is life this unfair? Questions such as these have crossed most of our minds at some point in life. But it becomes especially difficult for children and young adults to manage grief along with the angst that growing up brings. And if not given a direction, or a helping hand, those emotions tend to implode within. This book acts as a friend, a confidante, who understands these feelings. Bijal Vachharajani sensitively handles a teenager's personal grief, but at no point does the tone of the narrative turn gloomy or damp. Each page is imbued with humour and vibrance, making it a delightful read. 

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And then in her signature style, as seen in her earlier stories such as A Cloud Called Bhura, PS What's Up with the Climate?, and Kitten Trouble, Vachharajani intertwines pertinent issues such as climate change with deeply personal stories. In this book, the Tree offers a healing touch to Savi with its hug, even as it faces peril.  It's sad to see how nature continues to offer its restoring powers even as humans relentlessly degrade the environment. 

For Vachharajani, scientist Suzann Simard's work has been a huge influence. In her book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Simard writes about how trees in a forest are interdependent, social creatures, who are connected via underground networks. “I discovered—trees communicate with each other, travel, share nutrients, and even send distress signals,” writes Vachharajani about Simard's research in the book. “From that science, mixed with magic and wonder that's nature, came Tree and Savi's story, and their understory of grief.” One can go on for a couple of more paras about this amazing book, but wait, first I have to go hug a tree!

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    09.02.2022 | 11:00 AM IST

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