Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Twist in the Tale: More Indian Folktales

The following is a guest review by Rachna-Maneesh-Dhir. Thank you, Rachna!

Title: A Twist in the Tale: More Indian Folktales,
Author: Aditi De,
Publisher: Penguin India,
Year of Publication: 2005

A few years ago, just when I was getting tired of seeing various retellings of traditional
western children’s tales, I discovered and fell in love with the unusual new age versions such as “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig” by Eugene Trivizas, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Similarly, I was pleasantly surprised by Aditi De’s retelling of forty Indian folktales, some more well known that others, in this book. As Penguin, the publishers of the book, say on the jacket, “From Bengal to Bastar and Kashmir to Coorg, there are stories that have been handed down generations”.Even when I thought I knew the story’s end, I was surprised quite a few
warned by the title)!

Aditi De’s efforts at making the age old stories contemporary in context are
praiseworthy. Here are a few examples: “Do you dream of being a tiger one
day, you pipsqueak? ….It’s just three lakhs, with another lakh extra for
broader, darker stripes and sharper than sharp teeth. Does that appeal to
you?”, ““Of course, I’ll marry him,” she declared. “I’d have to be a moron not
to””and “Is the majority always right? I don’t think so”.

It goes without saying, that there is no dearth of humour. Examples, “He has
the right girth and height for a king”, “After I’ve ruled for a year and a day,
may I take a summer break to hunt for wisdom?” etc.

To call author Aditi De’s approach extremely refreshing, would be an
understatement. To give you yet another an example, “Inside the cave, dazzling lights flashed on and off. cauldrons simmered, letting out groans and muted screams as their contents bubbled and squeaked. Dog eared volumes of spells, black magic and sorcery leant against each other on leather-lined shelves. Cobwebs draped from one ornate frog decorated chair back to another, glinted as they caught rays from the wizard’s wand.”

Let me be honest - when was the last time you read such a vivid description
of a wizard’s cave by an Indian author in a children’s book?

Each tale is perfect either to be read aloud by an adult to the very young, eager
listeners – one a day, for example at bed time, or to be read on their own by
confident readers of ages 8+ years. What was also unique was the reference
to foods and costumes in most stories. The author had herself told me once
that when she reads a story, she wonders how the characters live and hence the
details to sweets and clothes was absolutely amazing!

This review would be incomplete if the illustrations by Uma Krishanswamy
are not talked about. Simple, yet detailed, unique black and white line drawings
make an ordinary fish, frog, tiger, man, woman special and worthy of second
(third and so on and so forth) looks! Every item of clothing, each and every
tree and shrub and flower, all humans and animals seem to be inspired by
elements of various folk arts – a hint of madhubani here,
a touch of gond art there, reminding me of Artnavy’s interview with the illustrator published earlier by saffron tree (

All in all, A twist in A Tale, is an extremely enjoyable read both for the young and
those of us who are young at heart. I am actually hoping Aditi continues to twist
many more traditional or folk tales from our country. Afterall, can there ever
be “enough” good stories retold in a fashionable way? Children as well as adults
always have an appetite for more- don’t we?


Choxbox said...

Have seen this book Rachna, haven't picked it up though, will do ASAP :)

And good having you here again!

sandhya said...

Hmm...the review is compelling enough for me to go search for the book. Thanks, Rachna.

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