Book Review: The Mission and the Mangoes
Author: Hena Parveen
The Mission and the Mangoes is a work of fiction that sets its premise around a dystopic, water-starved Earth where unrestrained mining, drilling and the exhaustion of earth’s resources is rendering the planet unlivable. The young author of the book, 12-year-old Hena Parveen, tries to marry a futuristic setting where technological advancements such as humanoid robots and regular space exploration are a reality, with the Earth’s ecosystem that is hurtling towards an inevitable collapse. Interestingly, all this does not take place in a far-fetched future, but in 2050—only 27 years from now. By setting up her story only two decades from now, Hena acknowledges the immediacy of the climate emergency that confronts us today.
The story begins in the Thumba Space Research Station in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, where the foundations of Indian space research were first laid in the 1960s. In Hena’s book, the world of 2050 is running against time to find a solution to its fast-depleting water reserve. Humans have resorted to space exploration to find an alternate source of water for survival. These expeditions have not yielded any results, until a mysterious planet—that they name Tian—pops up on their radar and shows signs of an unlimited supply of water. An expedition of astronauts from different ethnicities is immediately sent off towards the planet. However, it is discovered only too late that the planet is not uninhabited, as it was previously assumed. Will the civilization of Tian be welcoming to an alien expedition from Earth? Will they allow humans to take their water? These are the questions that drive the story forward.
Hena’s imagination is vivid and her portrayal of a world on the brink of extinction due to global warming is commendable for such a young author. She uses the perspective of multiple characters to explore deep sentiments such as nostalgia for a better world, loss of loved ones, and at a larger scale, global climate anxiety. Her ability to sketch out banter and conversations among characters is definitely a strength as a writer. The book ends on a childlike, hopeful resolution. As unrealistic as that may be in contrast to the very real issues addressed in the book, it is nevertheless a reminder that children harbour an innate hope and optimism for their future—something that is to be valued.
Throughout her story, the author references contemporary events such as the Covid pandemic, extreme climate events and COP meets to root readers into the environmental issues that concern us today. Therefore, it is important to engage with what the young author herself sees as an antidote to problems outlined in her book. Her world of 2050 is governed by a single centralised body headed by a President. The story references interconnected global space stations and agencies set in the future, seemingly alluding to a technocracy.
This is quite interesting considering our current attitude towards space travel in the context of the Earth’s future. At a time when we are constantly bombarded by news about the billionaire space race, and ofcourse Elon Musk’s ambitious claims of space colonialism as a salve to our planet’s woes, we must delve deeply into what the next generations see as solutions to our current environmental crisis. Looking at solutions to our environmental issues from a technocentric lens alone leaves out the more complex intersections that are integral to discussions around the environment—such as those of indigenous populations, people’ resistances, and ultimately, about how these solutions will affect people from all strata of life.
The plot of The Mission and the Mangoes engages with the complex angle of humans trying to steal another planet’s water for survival—a good metaphor for how powerful institutions have encroached on tribal and indigenous lands for natural resources. But the book does not problematise it much, rather sees it as a necessary recourse. Alternately, the book does acknowledge the long lasting effects of people’s movements by placing the Silent Valley movement as central to its narrative, with the touching line, “A long time ago, people had saved the Silent Valley and now the Silent Valley was saving them!”
As the next generations become leaders in environmental activism, and indeed guide the previous generations towards the future, they must also be steered into seeing the complex intersections of justice that is inherent to environmental issues. If children are to lead and articulate the fight against climate change, it is imperative that they view climate solutions as not merely technical—relying on technological solutions alone—but also address the important and fundamental questions of equality and justice.