White as Milk and Rice – stories of India’s isolated tribes by Nidhi Dugar Kundalia

India is not only a vast land but also unique for its diversity!! Even a lifetime is not enough to explore and experience the beauty of our country. I always felt fortunate that since my father was in the Army, we made home in the different and (mostly) secluded parts of India. Our prolonged stay gave us a close look of the culture and tradition of those places.


But when I read this book, I felt my knowledge about them was so shallow. We were posted for three years in Bangalore and never did I hear about the Halakkis of Ankola (Karnataka) or the Kurumbas of Nilgiris.

There is a distinct culture throbbing in every nook and cranny of our country. This book is a beautiful collection of stories of isolated tribes of India and gives detailed accounts of their lives. The stories are about six tribes from different regions of India – the Halakkis of Ankola, Kanjars of Chambal, Kurumbas of Nilgiris, Marias of Bastar, Khasis of Shillong and Konyaks of Nagaland.

The author enumerates the daily activities of the tribal people and the ways adopted by them to sustain life. These tribes have been living in harmony with the nature and the immediate environment. Though they lead a difficult life but they are at peace. The city life is a lure for a few and some have already taken to it.

Here again the author empathetically writes about the challenges faced while the tribal people embrace life outside their close knit tribe. They are mostly ostracised and do not find easy acceptance. Some of them thus rebel and even join the naxal movement.

This books gives insight about how looting and killing was a way of life for the Kanjars. The Maria adolescents practice sex as an institution before marriage but with rules. The Konyaks, of Nagaland took pride in killing and collecting human heads. The Halakki women sing throughout the day. Each tribe has its own religious beliefs which predominantly gives importance to forests and their produce. These Adivasis still live in forests and hills and represent the cultural wealth of our nation.

Though I enjoyed reading this book and it took me on a journey to different places but I found something amiss. I realised I was unconsciously comparing it with the writings of William Dalrymple and Gerald Durrell, which are far more impactful. Nevertheless, this book is a must have for anyone who wishes to know more about Incredible India and its people!!

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