Bangladesh is still grappling with one of its biggest environmental catastrophes. An oil spill in the Sela River in the Sundarbans has left much of the sensitive ecosystem covered in black tar. Local fisher families have taken to scraping the oil off trees, roots, rocks and anything else in the hope of selling it back to the government. To do this, they are using little apart from cooking utensils and their bare hands.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh authorities are struggling to find a way to mop up the mess. Officials incurred the wrath of Bangladeshi citizens for their tepid response at the start of the crisis. Shipping minister Shahjahan Khan, in particular, drew a lot of flak when he claimed that there would not be any major damage to the mangrove forests. This, after close to 200,000 litres of oil spilled into an estuary in the Sundarbans when an oil tanker collided with a cargo vessel.

Frustrated by the slow and confused governmental action, a writer and an illustrator have embarked on a campaign to spread the word about the disaster. Paris-based Karthika Nair, author of a children’s book set in the Sundarbans called The Honey Hunter, and French artist Joëlle Jolivet, who drew the book’s artwork, are reworking some of the images from their stories to depict the devastation of the oil spill.

 Photo: Facebook/Akram Khan

The Honey Hunter is a story adapted from a dance drama that Nair wrote for British-Bangladeshi dancer and choreographer Akram Khan. It is the tale of a young boy who goes in search of honey in the world’s biggest mangrove forests, the ecologically important and fragile Sundarbans. Jolivet, inspired by photographs of the Sundarbans and traditional Pattachitra paintings, created artwork for the book that looks classically South Asian.

Nair, who spent some time in Bangladesh while researching the book, says the new work is an immediate response to the apathy and specious arguments of the authorities. “The Bangladeshi government seems to be trying to shift blame from one end to the other,” she said. “The Indian government gave this absolutely callous and startlingly indifferent response, saying that it hasn’t reached the Indian border yet so it doesn’t matter.”

Jolivet has reworked four images she drew for The Honey Hunter. The original sketches of the forest and its resident animals have been covered in black in large portions to depict the tar that is suffocating everything there. Nair has rewritten the text of these images to tell the story of the current crisis.