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Prologue
∏:≠≠ a.m., december ≤≠≠≠
Knock, knock, knock. The flimsy wooden door of my mud house
was rattling.
‘‘Not again,’’ I thought, waking up from deep sleep, rubbing my
eyes.
‘‘Alpa, Alpa! Get up! Get up! This is the Jungle Raj, the Forest
Kingdom! In Tapu village you can’t sleep till midday,’’∞ teased Safid
Khan.
I lay in bed, registering that I was waking up in this little-known
part of India, in the newly formed State of Jharkhand, listening to the
rhythmic pounding of rice in the house next door.
‘‘Come on, Alpa! Get ready! It’s market day!’’
‘‘Okay, okay, I’m coming!’’ I replied, clumsily climbing out of my
blankets and spilling the hay that Somra Munda—my neighbor, who
later became my adopted brother—had put under my thin mattress
to keep me warm.≤
Safid Khan is dead now, but I often smile to myself when I remem-
ber the glint in his eyes; his large, smiling face; and the spindly
legs that supported his hunched back. I didn’t particularly like being
woken up that early every day, but I was fond of the old man. His
teasing and joking helped to break many boundaries for me in the
early days.
It was less than two weeks since I had arrived to live in Tapu, but I
was already aware that the village was deeply divided. On the one
hand, there were the poorer tenant descendants of the old land-
lord system, who made up about 80 percent of Tapu’s 102 house-
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