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Meera Visvanathan

STORIES FROM KATHASARITSAGAR
By Devika Rangachari
Children's Book Trust, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 96, Rs. 150.00

30 TEENAGE STORIES
Visualiser Ankur Mitra
Children's Book Trust, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 248, Rs. 85.00

5 MYSTERY STORIES
By Nilima Sinha . Illustrated by Subir Roy
Children's Book Trust, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 431, Rs. 125.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 11 November 2004

Maybe I had strange literary pretensions, or else, read too much Nancy Drew— whatever it is, I can’t say I ever read enough by Indian authors writing for children. While reading these books I was set to review, it struck me that I wish I had. The ‘Golden Set’ brought out by the Children’s Book Trust is well produced, competently written, beautifully illustrated and reasonably priced—worthy of being read and held on to with all of a reader’s possessive pleasure.      Devika Rangachari’s retelling of stories from the Kathasaritsagar—a collection composed by Somadeva in the 11th century—has a style that is simple, concise and direct. It successfully manages to bring one of the many narratives of Indian tradition to an audience of young readers, in a manner that is engaging rather than pedantic. Neeta Gangopadhyaya’s illustrations gleam with colour and life, and the stories resound with the poetry of Sanskrit names.      There is Putraka (who loses wealth and family but eventually becomes the ruler of Pataliputra), Brahmadatta (who risks death to save the life of his friend), Virabhuja (who wins the hand of a princess despite her demon-father’s objections) and a host of other characters who face all of life’s adventures with courage and intelligence. The stories contrast the loneliness of the forest and the splendour of cities, hideous beasts and beautiful women, fools and wise men, the need for restraint and the dangers of desire. Wealth and power are shown up as false and transitory, and the only things that can overcome adversity are love, compassion, friendship and bravery.      30 Teenage Stories is a collection of prize-winning entries from the Competition for Writers of Children’s Books organized by the CBT. Each story deals with the complex struggle that marks a teenager’s ‘coming of age’ and the world described is a familiar one: of Appa and Amma rather than Mom and Dad, of competition at school, anxiety over appearances, the first attempts at cooking, the first motorbike, parental pressure and the problem of choosing a career. But beyond this, the collection seems to resemble an Indian version of Chicken Soup for the Soul. The writing, though proficient is rarely evocative, the conversa-tion seems stilted, and each story comes with a moral attached. The illustrations, too, invariably show a sulking or contrite teenager, grimacing in a most extraordinary fashion. However, I ...


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