April 6th is the anniversary of the end of the Salt March or the Dandi March, one of the most peaceful protest movements in the history of the world as we know it. Mahatma Gandhi walked nearly 300 kilometres over a period of 24 days from Sabarmati Ashram to (then) Navsari. Ever thought about who kept the growing crowd safe from ambushes?
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It was none other than the small, dusty army of Red Millet, Thunderfluff, Muttsbane, Lychee, Amli, and the reluctant Blatherquill, a writer with the potential to win the Nibble Prize of Literature! Confused? Don’t be. I am talking about Amit Majmudar’s Heroes the Colour of Dust, published by Puffin Books, which gives us an entirely different, non-human-centric way of looking at one of the biggest historical events in India, the Dandi March.
The Gist of It
The story is simple; a group of sparrows led by Thunderfluff has been assigned the mission of protecting Mahatma Gandhi himself on his mission – to protest against the Salt Tax imposed by the British government. Who are these special sparrows, the Mahatma’s Guards, and how will they accomplish their mission? Enter Thunderfluff, the performer, Muttsbane, the warrior, Lychee and Amli, the warrior twins who are out to prove that women sparrows should not be left behind, Red Millet, the general, and Blatherquill, the “poet” who is here to write about the glorious adventures of 1930. The guards recruit a regiment, try and fail to train them, and then, with the few who do come through, battle their old nemesis (a dog who is a British loyalist). They fight a Brahminy Kite and seek help from a murder of crows. They refer to fights in Sparrow history to find solutions to the problems, colluding with a Sikh servant of the British, forming a Great Canine Alliance like during the Seven Trees War. They stop a reporter from spreading lies about the Dandi march, and much much more, to ensure that the march would be as smooth and interruption-free as possible, and then fight a typewriter to get this very important story written.
The Dandi March was peaceful but the book is a riot
Amit Majmudar is a clever writer – his reimagination creates a fun, animal adventure that is reminiscent of Roald Dahl or even the Home Alone series in imagination and Salman Rushdie in wordplay, and builds a cutesy universe for the sparrows, with their Sparrowese language, their many wars and histories, and their struggles with other creatures of the natural world. Whether it is Thunderfluff showing off the strength of his wings, or Muttsbane blushing around Amli – it’s witty, and even for adult readers, it shines at several moments.
Take this little scene for instance:
Red Millet saw redder than usual/ ‘If you came up with such a great epic, why didn’t you write it down and publish it?”
Blatherquill stretched his wings, which were black at the edges as if dipped in inkwell. His eyes closed as he spoke – he loved the sound of his own voice. “Because I forgot to. I am a sparrow after all – my attention went to other things.”
Little illustrations, just pencil drawings, break the text conveniently, which is what the young readers might like, and it aids their imagination too. The writing style is more tell than show, but given the age group of the readers, that seems the more appropriate choice. Perhaps the only problem I have is that they make Blatherquill a poet, and then give us a piece entirely in prose!
There are two things with history – one, it can get boring. Two, it focuses almost entirely on the human world. Heroes the Colour of Dust is a wonderful attempt by Majmudar and Puffin to bring the story of the Dandi March to the younger readers in a fun narrative, and as is common (but still very special) with children’s literature, makes the animals and birds the centre of the story.
At 120 pages, it is perhaps the perfect start for your child to explore reading slightly longer texts than short stories or fables, yet falls in the same genre.
But don’t let your age restrict you from such a joyful, quick read, that is so much more than a tale of history – it’s a tale of friendship and love, of sweet revenge and sly ambushes, of partnerships and alliances, and ultimately, triumph.