A potent and timely adventure
In writing Iora and the Quest of the Five, Indian author Arefa Tehsin drew on both her love for the wild and her gift for imaginative story telling. A fan of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Arefa chose to set her first novel in a hidden rainforest civilisation – Twitterland – and to create a spunky female protagonist who would brave the dangers of the unknown to save her father’s life.
Along the way, Iora discovers that it is not just her father’s life that hangs in the balance but the fate of the Wacky Wilderness itself. In weaving the destruction of the jungles into her story, Arefa makes Iora and the Quest of the Five a story with a potent, timely message.
“Though Young Adult fiction has become very popular, there is a dearth of good Young Adult literature in India by Indian authors,” Arefa told the Sunday Times. Pleased to be part of the movement, Arefa says Iora will be a series and that she is in the process of wrapping up the third in the set.
“When I wrote this book I didn’t have an audience in mind. I’m glad that it turned out to be for young adults because I think we still depend on the West for books for this segment particularly.”
However, she believes that like the Harry Potter series, Iora could potentially appeal to readers of all ages. One of her most ardent fans is over 70.
Having spent four years based in Sri Lanka, Arefa remains a frequent visitor to the island, as business interests demand the attention of her and her husband. “What really brings me back though is the love of the country,” she says, confessing with a laugh, “Sometimes I feel homesick when I’m in India.”
In fact, Arefa wrote Iora and the Quest of the Five in Sri Lanka – scribbling it down on loose pages of office stationery. “I had not taken writing very seriously until then,” she says, explaining her previous experience had been limited to her work in penning the odd column or opinion piece for local papers. “It was my husband Aditya who pestered me to take my writing more seriously.” Arefa found she enjoyed the process tremendously. “I realised that writing was something that I really loved to do.”
The daughter of the big game hunter turned conservationist Dr. Raza H. Tehsin, Arefa was introduced to the jungles in the Mewar region of North India as a young girl.
Living in Udaipur, Rajasthan, she says she has never been quite at home in the city. Recently, she like her father before her, was named an Honorary Wildlife Warden.
The post is seen as a way for the authorities to involve concerned citizens, and Arefa has worked closely with her father who held the post of Honorary Warden of the Udaipur district for 30 years.
“Udaipur has a very unique environment because it is surrounded by the oldest mountain ranges in India – the Aravalli range,” she says, explaining that her father knows every inch of those jungles. In fact, he was nicknamed the Vasco de Gama of Udaipur, she says, adding that he has traversed almost all that area on foot. “My grandfather was one of the earliest big game hunters turned conservationists in India and my father was the same,” says Arefa, explaining that these men were in fact the first to see the toll that development took on the jungle.
“When the jungles were destroyed, these were the people who felt the most pain,” says Arefa, who inherited her passion for conservation from her father. “I’ve been going to the jungles since I was very young,” she explains, adding “I feel at peace in the jungles.”
Arefa hopes to convey her love for the wild to her young readers. “Nowadays children are quite away from nature,” she says, adding that she feels they can be taught to love the jungles not through textbooks or dry facts but through stories that capture their imaginations and their hearts. “I think that’s the best way you can communicate with a child,” says Arefa.