Monday, October 25, 2010

Stories Of The Flood

Title: Stories Of The Flood
Author: Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrator: Birgitta Saflund
Publisher: Roberts Rinehart Publishers
Ages: 6 - 12

(Image courtesy Amazon.com)

How was Earth formed?
How did humans come to be what we are today?
As a species, are we alone out there?
What happens when mankind lives in disharmony? Is there a higher power that enforces a kind of control system? Has the process of evolution from apes to man happened before?

These are timeless questions that exist in every culture.

I grew up hearing stories of the different avatars of Vishnu, the protector in the holy trinity. Hindu mythology talks about how Vishnu incarnated in to the human world in order to save the world from increasing evil. The fun with these stories is that, setting aside the religious context and all impending implication that the world might be wiped out to start clean if we do not get our act together, every person can make their own interpretation. To me the different avatars, in the order stated, signifies the process of evolution. The fish signifies that there was once nothing but water and life originated from water. The tortoise capable of living on land and water signifies the formation of land. Next comes the boar, a mammal that lives entirely on land. The half lion, half human avatar of Vishnu, that can walk upright, shows slow evolution in to human beings and so on. And this perspective is what I highlight in my story telling sessions at home.

With the existence of the same kind of questions and story tellers in all cultures, the natural progression is to have different stories on the same subject. One such example is the existence of stories of the great deluge from across the world.

Whether the deluge really happened and the devastation was so great that it scattered people to different corners of the world, no one will never know. What we know is that different interpretations of the flood myth exists and this is the point highlighted by Uma in her first children’s book, Stories Of The Flood.

If you have grown up hearing one flood story, it is one idea from one person’s home culture. But when similar stories are placed side by side as a collection the thinking of the collective certainly fascinates me.

The book is intended for 6+ year old children. It appeals to the almost six year old at home who is at the cusp of egocentric thought and shows signs of concrete thinking and the six year old in me. We both like to start off with the Matsya story, the third in the collection and work our way forward or backward as our mood dictates. The very fact that it is a collection of short stories with a common theme and breath taking, beautiful, full page illustration makes it appealing for my four year old as well. When I read to her, she follows the stories with out being lost and of course bombards me with questions .... and more questions.

19 comments:

ChoxBox said...

Seen this book utbt, will pick it up next time. Thanks for the reco.

Saw this awesome performance at the National Gallery in London once where they had two performers, one (via Bharatnatyam) acting out the deluge with Moses as the central character and the other (via Kathak) depicting Krishna’s birth. Totally interesting and exactly as you say highlighted the fact that floods/deluges played important roles in the mythological structure of many cultures.

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

I could so relate to your thoughts on human evolution and dashavataaras .... my thinking is exactly on the same lines.

sathish said...

utbt, I enjoyed your interpretation of avatars of vishnu as much as I enjoyed the review. Innovative.

Poppy said...

Looks like we all think the same way about the avataars - of course I run out of fuel by the time we get to Parasurama, Rama and Krishna :)

But I've been looking for alternatives to the Amar Chitra Katha Dasavatram (small pictures, smaller text not suitable for 5 yo). This sounds like it.

Meera Sriram said...

Thanks for pointing out this treasure! Very intrigued.

Tharini said...

Its fascinating to see how stories of the flood are a common thread between diff. cultures. And thanks for that new perspective. This is the first time I am looking at the Dashavataram, quite in the light of evolution. Its amazing!! Can't find this book yet in my lib. Maybe its time to recommend it to them.

artnavy said...

My library guys are going to be very busy !

Chox
the performance sounds really interesting

sandhya said...

Great post, as usual, UTBT. Dashavataram does sound logical in terms of evolution, doesn't it? And to think that we had the concept long before Darwin came along!

Which are the other cultures from where the stories of the flood come? Matsya of course will be from India.

Chox- a question for you. Where did you see this book. Would love to pick it up too. The kid here would love it.

wordjunkie said...

A wonderful find and a lovely review.

I share your view/ interpretation of the avatars too,as stages in evolution. However, the way the avatars evolve from gentle animal beings into largely vengeful superheroes has always seemed to me like an idea borrowed from tribal origins and then adapted to suit the relatively puritanical constructs of formal Hinduism .... Sort of like how Lord Shiva started off as a tribal god but was charismatic enough to be 'borrowed' and 'formalised' into the trinity( where, of course, he promptly became 'Destroyerman')

I've never seen any of Uma's lovely books in Indian shops.. must go check for Indian imprints.

Uma Krishnaswami said...

Thanks, artnavy, for the nice review of my very first book, which is miraculously still in print! wordjunkie, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! is very much available in India, and if your local bookstore doesn't carry it, you should demand that they get in touch with the wonderful people at Tulika Publishers pronto to get their shipment.

Thanks for all your good energy and your interest in literature for young readers.

ChoxBox said...

@Uma: Out of the Way Out of the Way is there in all bookshops which stock Tulika books - the number of which thankfully is rising, sometimes due to the persistence of a certain fan ;)

@Art: It was awesome. They had the performance in front of this work called The Finding of Moses, here it is -http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/nicolas-poussin-the-finding-of-moses
You’ll see the similarity between this story and that of Krishna! We had taken along an english friend and he was amazed to learn of Indian mythology too. I think Uma’s book would have nicely tied in with that performance.

utbtkids said...

@Chox: Do chk it out. What an interesting performance!

@CA: Same pinch.

@Satish: Thanks.

@Poppy: In a way you can call the human avatars as refinement in human qualities. We grow out of our innocence after Vamana. Parasurama - man shedding his anger and tendency to seek vengence. Rama - to attain balance and treat happiness as well as misery with the same balance. Krishna - ability to live a pure life amidst of all distractions.

Well, at least that is what I take away from the avatars.

@Meera, Tharini: Chk it out.

@Art: Thanks for sending Uma the link. :)

@Sandhya: Many from what you mentioned in you goddess post. Nu-Wa from China, Hima from Hawaii, Maoari people of New Zealand, Sumeria, Ancient Greece, Liberia, North America(Alabama Nation), Dao from North Vietnam.

@Wordjunkie: The idea of associating animals and saving the world, empowering nature itself is tribal-no?! Later story tellers felt the need to add on about the powerful men they encountered? This was probably when the tribes grew in to kingdoms and the kings were viewed as God? Just thinking out loud.

@Uma: Nice of you to stop by and thanks for your kind words.

@Chox: Krishna - Moses aside. What do you think of the similarity between birth of Jesus and birth of Krishna? Feels like one story got split in to two or two stories got combined in to one :)

B o o. said...

Fascinating review, Utbt. Im intrigued.

utbtkids said...

Boo thanks for stopping by.

Kodi's Mom said...

What a pick! It would be right on the mark for us now, with evolution being talked about in school, and an interest in Dasavatharam (thanks to ACK) at home.

starry eyed said...

Wow, utbt, I think your review sounds as fabulous as this book. Interest in the avatars is running high around here...just the perfect book, methinks. Thanks!

utbtkids said...

@K's mom, Starry: The book's focus is flood myths. Matsya is only one story. I used Dasavatharam to illustrate how story tells must have gotten their inspiration to come up with their own stories.

Dasavatharam or not, your children will definitely like the book. Do check it out.

Praba said...

Truly special! Didnt know this was Uma's first children's book.

As you have pointed, the collective thinking across different cultures about ocean/water being the source of life is one thing is amazing! (my favorite is the story of Ra from egypt - the shining egg that comes to the surface from the deep, dark ocean!) And popular science discusses the nitrogen fixing blue green algae, the phytoplanktons and other bacteria in the hot and thin, primordial, organic, "oceanic" soup. Equally amazing, isn't it?

ranjani.sathish said...

Hey Utbt, fantastic pick ! I so enjoyed your interpretation of the Dashavatar and have never seen it in that light. Now it makes a lot of sense when you think that way.

Thanks for this great review !

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