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Evergreen Tales

P.R. Chari

By Rudyard Kipling
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2009, pp. ix 227, price not stated.


The eight short stories collated in this book have been culled from Kipling’s two Jungle Books, arguably the best loved stories children read in my generation. Others like the Just So Stories and Kim were also avidly read, but the Jungle Books and Mowgli stories had a special fascination. These books like the classics by Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, were written for children, but can be read at all ages, with fresh meanings being found at every new reading. This is equally true of the Mowgli tales.   The adventures of Mowgli have a special resonance for this reviewer. He lived his childhood near the Seonee hills that are the setting for these stories, and has visited the forests where Mowgli’s adventures take place—around the village Rukhad some 20 miles south of the district town of Seoni in Madhya Pradesh on the State highway between Jabalpur and Nagpur. The Waingunga river flows through these forests. In those days of my childhood—I speak of the nineteen forties—the Seonee hills possessed all the animals that populate the Mowgli tales, they were not endangered, nor had several of them become extinct.   The Mowgli tales are peopled by these animals with their very human characteristics—Baloo the lumbering bear, Bagheera the fierce black panther, and Kaa the massive python; they are Mowgli’s friends and well-wishers. But we also have the evil tiger Shere Khan who is Mowgli’s mortal enemy. These are the main characters. But there are the fascinating minor characters—the scheming and cunning jackal Tabaqui, who is Shere Khan’s adviser; Rann the far-sighted eagle , who serves as the lookout and carrier of messages in the jungle; Father and Mother Wolf and their cubs—Mowgli’s family—for he was, as we know, brought up by the wolves.   Then we have the Bandar Log (Monkey People). For some reason they are cast in the villains’ role, and one of these stories has them capturing Mowgli, who is then rescued with some difficulty by Baloo, Bagheera and Kaa acting together. The Bandar Log are despised as ‘folk who live in the trees. They have no laws. They are outcastes. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words that they overhear when they listen and peep and wait up above in the branches. They have no leaders. They have ...

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