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Folktales And Others


Shobhana Bhattacharji

THE LAZY CONMAN AND OTHER STORIES (FOLKTALES FROM NEPAL)
Edited by Ajit Baral Illustrations by Durga Baral
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2009, pp. ix+196, Rs. 250.00

A BOY FROM SIKLIS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHANDRA GURUNG
By Manjushree Thapa
Penguin, 2008, pp. 226, Rs. 250.00

BINU AND THE GREAT WALL
Edited by Su Tong Translated from the Chinese by Howard Blatt
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2009, pp. ix+291, Rs. 325.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 2 February 2010

Many of Ajit Baral’s thirty-one Nepali folk tales in The Lazy Conman are classic husband and wife or master and servant tales. In folktales, as in early 20th century US comics, the underdog outsmarts the boss. Thus the conman of the title story cheats people out of so many silver coins that he and his wife live happily ever after and she stops nagging him. Sometimes the underdog is the villain. A king’s barber sends the king’s minister off to heaven because he believes the minister is blocking his (the barber’s) route to wealth, but the minister with his sharper wit returns to send the barber to heaven via a funeral pyre. Several of the stories are rhozzums, short humorous stories about local characters, generally from rural communities. Often about gulls and gullibility, rhozzums were originally oral stories, related to the shaggy dog story, fable, and to the Marchen with supernatural components and a ‘once upon a time’ formula. Baral’s ‘Yagyarath’ fits all these categories which show similarities between cultures, and thus, how tales travel. Academic explanations of folk tales tend to reduce magic to an element, emptying it of its association with wisdom and knowledge. Baral’s tales respect magic. Young Baral was told stories of ghosts and demons, some of them folk tales, embellished—he thought—to make them more terrifying. In fact, folk tales don’t shy away from death, and many of these stories end in bizarre deaths. As folk tales changed into children’s stories, they lost their unwavering confrontation of fear and the frightening, often communicated in tight cause and effect structures that display the many forms of evil, including parents who give away newborn children. Think of Rapunzel. In modern versions of Rapunzel, a wicked witch, a mere female kidnapper in the versions furthest away from the original, comes from nowhere to kidnap a baby girl for no apparent reason. But the oldest Rapunzel stories face the dreadful truth that parents can love each other more than they love their children; that they can and do abandon their children so that the two of them can be together without distraction. In Ajit Baral’s stories, which are more like this than cloying contemporary versions of folk tales, a king’s minister is warned by the goddess of tales (a first-rate idea for a deity) that she will turn ...


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