Book: Making a Mango Whistle
Genre: Young Adult
Author: Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
Publisher: Penguin – Puffin Classics
Which is a better phase of life than childhood? Don’t we all wish we could go back to being carefree children, knowing nothing but play and exploring the world around us?
“Making a Mango Whistle” by Bibhutibhushan Bandhyopadhyay is for the young adult reader so that they can explore the delights of childhood anew and muse on the minor disappointments that seem like great tragedies to the children themselves.
Apu and Durga are brother and sister, children of Harihar and Sarbhojoya, living on the fringes of the village and prosperity, immersed in joys that only children can summon even in adverse circumstances.
When Bibhutibhushan published his first book ‘Pather Panchali’, it was hailed as a masterpiece in Bengali literature. Soon, ‘Making a Mango Whistle’ was published, which dealt only with the children and their wonder filled lives.
Durga is a six year old girl at the beginning of the book. The book talks of Durga and her as yet unborn brother Apu for the next five years. Durga is very attached to her Pishima-her father’s sister. Pishima is a widow, dependent, old and frail. The first few chapters explore the relationship of the old woman and the young girl beautifully. The pathos of old age and its juxtaposition with the childhood innocence of Durga touches hearts.
The birth of Durga’s little brother Apu changes the girl’s life. The tragic and the apathetic end of Indir Thakuran or Pishima is the end of a phase in the little girl’s world and she now turns to her little brother.
We see Durga as a carefree child, bold and always exploring the village and the mangrove forest around. She is never to be found home. As Apu grows older, he becomes her companion and friend in all their misdeeds.
Reading about their escapades and their innocent play and the sibling love made me long for my own childhood. I experienced a range of emotions, from tender love to incredulity at the world’s ways, to deep regret of why things could not be otherwise.
There are endearing descriptions of mango picking, pickling and eating the sour fruit behind their mother’s back. There is make-believe play where the children set up shop and gather sand, pebbles and other things to act as wares. The cookout by Durga in the woods introduces us to Bini, who is ostracized because of her caste.
Durga is very loving and protective towards her brother. She shelters him from the cold wind and a heavy downpour when they run off in the storm to gather mangoes that have fallen from trees. She often gives him money to buy what he wants.
The most evocative incident in the book is when the children walk for miles to see the railroad in the hope of seeing a train. They walk amid thorns, lose their way and stumble back hone only by evening, having failed to find the rail tracks.
Apu, eventually goes on to see the railroad, then a train and after that, even travel in one as the family leaves their ancestral home in the village of Nischindipur for greener pastures and better prospects in Benaras.
Durga watches them or seems to Apu to watch them go, standing by the Jamun tree at the edge of the village. Apu thinks of his elder sister repeatedly over the years, even into his adulthood. Even in the unguarded moments, he always remembers his didi, once weak and fever ridden, asking him to show him a train.
The village life, the community events and the excitement that fairs and jatras evoke in the are beautifully rendered.
The narrative is richly interwoven with the description of the flora and fauna found around the village. The book tells a touching tale of rural Bengal, of innocent joys, of sibling love and of the turns and events in the life of a simple, impoverished family.