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Sujit Thomas

By Poile Sengupta
Puffin Books, Delhi, India, 2005, pp. 155, Rs. 175.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 11 November 2005

Vikramaditya a.k.a Chandragupta-II of the Gupta dynasty was the wisest, most just and noble ruler in his time. He single-handedly undertook a perilous journey in a dark forest to recover a corpse from a tamarind tree, which when used in a mystical ritual performed by a mysterious sage, would bring great bliss and prosperity to his kingdom. This task was far from easy—not only did he have to carry the rotten decaying body through the murky forest but he also had to answer the questions of a pushy and demented vetal—a vampire—who just did not seem to know when he had outstayed his welcome and demanded that the king answer his questions on as ambiguous and intensely debatable issues as justice, governance, human behaviour and relationship without ever uttering a word but rather by communicating with the vampire via thought alone. But the king, calling upon his great store of wisdom, successfully met the challenge of the vetal and fulfilled his mission.   That’s what the old stories say. The tale of Vikram and Vetal, despite being several centuries ancient, remains an integral part of our rich story-telling tradition—a fact that the authoress, Poile Sengupta accounts for as well, in her enthralling book. Every child has, at some age or the other heard or read the stories of Vikram and the vetal. And this is precisely why Poile Sengupta’s fascinating take on these immortal classics appeals to all generations that have grown up on the masterpieces that are the tales of Vikram and the vetal. The authoress infuses the ancient and yet relevant tales with a dose of modern literary magic by seamlessly merging the two ages that the storyline deals with.   An enigmatic old man narrates the strange experiences of Vikram to a contemporary 12-year-old girl who is thoroughly bored with her summer vacation. Each one of these experiences takes the form of a story, ranging from the most serious to the comically absurd, each followed by a riddle that the hapless king must answer albeit in complete silence. If the king breaks his silence, the vetal takes the corpse back to the tamarind tree from where the king is forced to recommence his fated journey with the corpse on his back. This happens on a total of twenty-four occasions. At last the king manages to bring the corpse to the hut ...

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