August 2011

Nigel Hughes
17 August 2011
Dr. Nigel Hughes, of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of California, Riverside, spoke to a reader-group about his forthcoming book for children, Monisha aar Pathorer Bon (Monisha and the Forest of Stone). The genesis of the book, Hughes said, was in an outreach programme conceived by the Geological Society of India, which aimed to make the buried history of the land interesting and accessible to children. The narrative, featuring the bright and inquistive Monisha, has the feel of a detective story with elements of fantasy. Monisha, who lives with her father and brother in a southern Birbhum village, is fascinated by gachh-pathor -- fossiled trees found commonly in the area. The story follows her as she tries to work out what these stones that look just like trees (or parts of trees) are, and how they came to be. She encounters a diversity of views, from a local fakir, a baul, and a school-teacher, and makes observations herself. She even has a fevered dream where she encounters four-tusked elephants and sabre-toothed tigers (which paleontologists believe were common to the area). Finally, she manages to put together her observations and inferences, and solves the puzzle of the gachh-pathor.

Hughes sought the group's opinion on the quality of the translation, the accessability of the narrative to school children, and the scope of using the book to initiate field trips and for greater environmental awareness. Attending educators and public education administrators appreciated both the story, and the educational intent behind writing it.