The Birth of a Book: The Honey Hunter

A serendipitous collaboration is how Anita Roy of Zubaan Publications described “The Honey Hunters,” written by Karthika Nair and illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet. Developed initially for DESH, a dance show, The Honey Hunters was born out of a discussion about the age-old diasporic problem of the loss of a language. “None of my friends speak Bengali, nobody in my class speaks Bengali and so it can’t be a real language.”

The first thing that struck me about the book was not its title, but the cover with the tiger and his bright fluorescent pink tongue. I have to admit that I attended the meeting with the author, not so much to learn about the book, but more for its vivid illustrations. I have never before seen a book with such bright, intense and rich illustrations.


Fortunately for me, the event was organised primarily for design students, so the focus was on the process of illustration, the choice of colours and motifs. It was truly fascinating to see how much research and work goes into the illustration of a book. Since Joëlle is French and has no contact with the culture in the Indian sub-continent, she spent months studying and doing research on traditional motifs, architecture and colours of Bangladesh, where the story is based. The end result is the most amazing set of illustrations depicting the richness of the topography, the flora and fauna, the people and the myths of the region.

Karthika Nair and Anita Roy hold up the book and the first drafts of the illustrations during the presentation.
Karthika Nair and Anita Roy hold up the book and the first drafts of the illustrations during the presentation.
Comparing the book and the illustrations that Joëlle  created.
Comparing the book and the illustrations that Joëlle created.

My favourite is the double page featuring the six seasons: Seet (winter), Bashonto (spring), Grishma (summer), Borsa (monsoon), Sarat (autumn) and Hemanto (another autumn).

The story itself is beautiful narrative about a boy who loves honey and ventures into the forbidden Sunderbans to get it, rekindling an ancient conflict between Bonbibi, the Guardian Deity of the Sundarban and Dakkhin Rai, the demonic tiger. I moved from page to page, devouring the images and narrative hungrily, captivated by the story spun by Karthika. An open ended narrative in the beginning, Karthika created the denouement specially for the book. Though the ending is rather sudden and abrupt, I don’t think there could be a better lesson for children, for whom the book has been published in any case.

I would really love to get my hands on the French version and see how Dominique Vitalyos has translated this magical tale. But for now, I shall content myself with this equally captivating trailer released by Hélium Editions.

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