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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Manasi Subramaniam
Age Range: 6-8
Altaf comes from a family who were ‘Qalanders’ an ancient gypsy tribe who have always worked with dancing bears. On Altaf’s twelfth birthday his father gives him a bear called Somu. Now he must take on the family tradition and earn money with his dancing bear. Somu is a beautiful sloth bear with brown eyes and a silver V-shaped mark on his chest – this was the best birthday present Altaf could have hoped for.
As Altaf gets Somu to dance he can’t help noticing his sad eyes and how exhausted he is afterwards. Somu seems unhappy and Altaf is shocked to discover that the rope that has been inserted through his muzzle is chafing his jaw causing it to bleed.
Another bear trainer, Bavik Chacha tells Altaf he must be firmer with is bear by pulling harder on the rope and whipping him when he refuses to perform, and then his bear would certainly dance. Altaf is upset by Chacha’s cruelty to his own bear Toufan but he still takes Somu to the market square and forces him to dance despite a nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach. Somu’s unhappiness distresses Altaf but will he have the courage to do anything about it?
Indian author Manasi Subramaniam has written a poignant story about the terrible plight of bears that are being held in captivity and forced to dance despite the fact that it is illegal in India. The tale highlights the work of the rescue centres as well as the unusual friendship that develops between a young boy and an animal he comes to understand that is not happy and needs to be set free. The illustrations by Korean illustrators Gwangjo and Jung-a Park gently convey Sumo’s despair through their haunting images.