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Of Gods, Demons and Junglebodies: Offerings for a Children's Bookshelf

Priyanka Bhattacharyya

By Balraj Khanna
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2010, pp. 111, Rs. 395.00

By Milo Cleveland Beach
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2010, pp. 56, Rs. 495.00


The two offerings from Mapin Publishing are bound to find shelf-space in many childrens bookshelves what with the quality of the production the colourful illustrations and the appealing storytelling. However I have a fleeting suspicion that young readers might treasure these more for their visual appeal than for the content. Balraj Khannas Rajah King of the Jungle is a curious cross between the Kipling classic Jungle Book and the animal tales of the Panchatantra on one hand and the Disneyfied jungle lore of the Bambi kind. Milo Cleveland Beachs The Adventures of Rama is a retelling of the familiar tale with a difference. The illustrations are reproductions of paintings from a late 16th century manuscript (now in the Freer Gallery of Art) Emperor Akbars translation of the epic made for the commander-in-chief of the imperial armies. So while one may have seen all sorts of illustrated Ramayanas one may not have encountered a Mughal miniature style Sita or demons that are a far cry from the ones that inhabit the Amar Chitra Katha universe. The London based painter and writer Balraj Khannas Rajah is a fable-like tale of the jungle of India to quote from the dust jacket. Written in somewhat stilted prose it is a predictable good animals vs evil man tale. The junglebodies whether it be the majestic tiger Rajah the venomous Lord of the Underworld Ananta the Master of the Waters Magar or the wily fox Loombar suffer from too much sugar too little spice in their portrayals. So while we are reminded that the jungle quivers with danger we are unsure of the nature of this threat given that the animals have an almost prelapsarian innocence about them. The central conflict of the collection of episodes is Man who will hunt for greed. Khanna devises some intricate situations where the collective effort of the junglebodies saves the day for Rajah and other hapless victims of shikar. The crises are somewhat predictable and the brill solutions will elicit at most a wry smile from young readers who live in a very complex world indeed! A few episodes deal with the highs and lows of jungle lifebisons battling for the attention of a lady love friends turning into foes (a clever re-jigging of the iconic monkey-crocodile story of the Panchatantra) a jungle celebration of victory a wedding. These episodes lift the narrative imbue it with interest by adding ...

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