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Shefali Srivastava

By Nita Berry and Deepa Agarwal
Year 2014, pp. 168, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 11 November 2016

Folktales, since time immemorial have been a source of knowledge, cultural beliefs and practices and most importantly, entertainment. Leaving an indelible mark on people’s memories and consciousness, folktales have played the role of a teacher before books, television, internet and other modern technological inventions took the human race by storm. Brief, secular in nature and a repository of knowledge and culture, folktales have had a strong appeal for the masses. The cover page consists of a montage of illustrations from different stories in the anthology with the title written on the silhouette of the leaf of a Peepal tree, symbolizing antiquity and eternity, very much like these folktales. Carrying tales from seventeen States of India, the collection is quite varied and wide in its coverage of themes. The collection is also diverse in terms of the forms of stories included. There are humorous tales, such as, ‘The Two Travellers’ and ‘Buying a Song’. There are fables, such as, ‘The Wily Jackal’ and ‘The Tests of Friendship’. Then there are cumulative tales such as ‘The Promised Boon’ and ‘The Honoured Guest’, which due to their cyclical structure and repetition are easy to remember and hence good for storytelling. There are wonder tales dealing with magic, ‘Magic in the Mango Grove’, ‘The Needle Prince’, ‘Prince Monkey and Prince Owl’, ‘Gifts for the Worthy’ and ‘The Snake Princess’ among others. ‘The Sun and the Moon’ is a Pourquoi tale which offers a mythological explanation of the natural phenomenon of day and night. A Noodlehead tale, ‘Buying a Song’ depicts the foolish rich couple who unwittingly manage to scare the thieves away. Such a rich representation of different forms of tales is one of the strengths of the book. One of the purposes of folktales has been to educate people regarding social values, often ending with a moral, sometimes explicit, at times implicit. The tales in this collection, many of which are loaded with moral lessons, do not make these explicit, leaving scope for a more agentic role for the reader and an openness for interpretation. Many tales in the anthology are immensely popular. In fact, different versions of many of the stories are in circulation in several neighbouring States. For instance, ‘Tapoi’ from Odisha and ‘The Promised Boon’ from Bihar are also popular in the nearby State of Uttar Pradesh and are told on various occasions, such as, festivals, of course with ...

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