Spinning Yarns – The Best Children’s Stories from India edited by Deepa Agarwal attracted me with its interesting title and attractive cover. Short stories being my favourite genre, I suddenly realized that it has been long since I read any. As I read, I found myself enthralled by the genre once again.
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Varied stories – some ghost stories, some adventures and some nonsense rhymes form a part of this collection. Some have been translated from various Indian languages lending the book a multicultural flavour. Some are light and flippant, whereas some others are heavy or philosophical. But almost all of them touch a chord somewhere.
The Vicious Vampire by Satyajit Ray and The School by Ranjit Lal are dark and chilling. Though the former is a straightforward story giving clues of the twist at the end, the latter takes one by surprise with its sudden change of direction and tone. Both do not fail to send a shudder down one’s spine, in spite of the smile they put on one’s face. Ranjit Lal’s trademark wit, seen in his works like the Simians of South Block and the Yum Yum Piglets, is again evident in passing sentences like the description of the school building.
It was a huge, imposing four-storey structure, gaunt and grey and square as any prison…
Then there is Tagore’s Parrot’s Tale which is a parody on our education system.
No anthology of Indian stories is complete without a taste of Swami of R.K. Narayan, and a tiger tale of Jim Corbett. So we get to enjoy a portion of the lives of Swami and Corbett, two radically different protagonists – one fictional and the other autobiographical, one a child and the other an adult, one trying to break the ties of his society or come to terms with them and the other trying to blend into a society to which he doesn’t belong. But, what is common to both is that both the tales are vignettes of a period of time in a certain milieu and certain place in Indian history.
The Library translated from Paul Zacharia’s Malayalam version is fantastic, and I am curious to read more of such stories in the fantasy genre in regional languages. A time-travel story inside a story where the protagonist meets himself of a different period!
Eid by Paro Anand lays emphasis on our differences and similarities amidst our differences. I wonder if Paro Anand has first hand knowledge of Muslims and their lives, considering that her books Weed and No Guns at My Son’s Funeral also had Muslim protagonists.
Sudha Murty’s tale of How I taught My Grandmother to Read is the story of a certain grandmother’s yearning for literacy, and how she achieved it notwithstanding her constraints. It is also the story of a little girl’s first attempt at teaching and how successful she was.
Sukumar Ray’s nonsense rhymes Mister Owl and Missus and Pumpkiin-Grumpkin and Vikram Seth’s tale in verses of an intelligent ram in The Goat and the Ram serve to lighten an otherwise heavy dose of tales.
Big Brother by Premchand is a big brother’s angst in retaining his power and position as the academic years between him and his younger brother narrow down.
Rain-making by Shankar makes one laugh out loud for showing the sheer absurdity with which coincidences are taken to be divine interventions. Beneath the humour is hidden a questioning of superstitions.
Ruskin Bond manages to leave an imprint on us by the story and his (and his friends’) empathy for the stoic Mr. Oliver in Here Comes Mr. Oliver.
If a little boy comes into possession of a soap, in an era where soaps have been unseen and untouched, what happens to him and others in his immediate circle? Pinty’s Soap by Sanjay Khati throws light on human yearnings and behaviours, when such a trivial, yet priceless object comes into their lives.
Sundara Ramaswamy’s Stamp Album deals with jealousy and generousness in a child. The pain of separation has been poignantly portrayed in a single sentence.
Though I enjoyed all the stories, one story that is deeply imprinted in my mind is The Portrait of a Lady by the master story-teller Khushwant Singh, for the powerful visual that it created (in my mind) of a thousand sparrows refusing to eat the breadcrumbs thrown for them, to mourn the death of an old lady who fed them regularly, when she was alive.
Yarns of various hues shining brilliant!
|Editor(s)/Author(s)/Illustrator(s)/Translator(s)||Ashokamitran, Deepa Agarwal, Gopa Majumdar, J. Devika, Jim Corbett, Khuswant Singh, Paro Anand, Paul Zacharia, Premchand, R.K Narayan, Rabindranath Tagore, Radha Chakravarty, Rakhshanda Jalil, Ranjit Lal, Ruskin Bond, Sampurna Chattarji, Sanjay Khati, Satyajit Ray, Shankar, Sudha Murty, Sukumar Ray, Sundara Ramaswamy, Vikram Seth|
|Publisher||Rupa - Red Turtle|