‘Indian Folktales: Creating a Culture of Nostalgia.’

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Book Review by Geeta Sharma

Folktales are a part of the wide-ranging cultural expressions of common folks, such as folk songs, folk drama, oral history, sthala-purana (a traditional story of the history, gods, and people of a village), folk traditions, folk art and craft, folk clothing, folk slangs, and so on.

In fact, before ‘short story’ came into being as a literary genre, folk stories were the only stories people told and listened, and storytellers, like established modern creative writers, were much sought after and revered people, especially in India.

In north India, these storytellers were called Bhaat, and they were storytellers and oral historians in the same garb, who roamed around villages, stayed with their patrons, and after dinner spun their charming yarn before their mouth-agape audiences under the stars on pleasing moonlit nights.

Thus, there exists a long-standing tradition of storytelling in India, and since bhaats were only occasional visitors, whereas children needed stories for recreation and education, the elderly people continued spellbinding the children at home with their bedtime stories. This was the time when other informal educational materials, such as puzzles, riddles, word games, number games, guesswork, and so on, would also come into play.

I remember my grandmother asking us children to solve riddles, such as: so man ka lakkad, us par baithamotamakkad, rattirozkhaye to kitne din meinkhayega (a fat spider sits on a four thousand kilograms log of wood. If it eats one ratti each day, how many days will it take to finish the log?)  

Live storytelling is a dying art now. The art started dying in India in early nineteen-seventies with the arrival of TV, and children’s bedtime-story time was first usurped by TV and now it has been completely taken over by mobile phones. However, children’s interest in stories is not diminished and, a result, bedtime stories first began appearing in colorful books and then online in digital formats.

Printed formats gave an impetus to fresh interpretation of folktales from various cultural perspectives, especially with the creation of folklore departments at universities and identification of oral literature as a new literary genre called ‘Orature.’ Pradeep Atrey’s book, Indian Folktales: Folk Stories, Legends and Anecdotes may be looked at from this new perspective as the author writes that the idea to compile, translate from Hindi and edit these stories came to him after reading Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, and AK Ramanujan’s Folktales From India.

The reference to these books is enough to put the author’s point in perspective that the book is meant for a serious reading as well, apart from being aimed at presenting entertaining stories to children and adults alike. The collection contains forty-five stories, out of which forty-two are illustrated with full-page drawings done by the author himself.

The book’s sub-title is well justified as it contains folk stories, legends of kings and queens, and a few anecdotes as well, with diversified themes, such as moral lessons, spiritual awakening, and cultural takes, etc. Folk-stories strengthened the emotional bond between the teller and the listener – I was so attached to my grandmother – as well as between the listeners and their culture.

In my opinion, the book is highly relevant for the Indian diaspora in Canada, especially for those who have been away from the land of their birth for a long time and whose children have only a vague idea of what India is, and has been for centuries.

The book opens a magic casement to the past of Indian people and the Canadian-Indian readers feel nostalgic about the aspects of the culture of the homeland they left behind. If they wish their children should have a good knowledge of Indian culture, this book is a must read for them.              

Atrey, Pradeep. (2023). Indian Folktales: Folk Stories, Legends, and Anecdotes. Self-published.

Available at: amazon.com/.ca/.us/.uk/.de/.fr/.es/.it/.nl/.pl/.se/.jp

Hardcover ASIN: B0CF4FLXS7 (color illustrations)

Paperback ASIN: B0CFCWVZ5H (color illustrations)

Paperback (Black-n-white illustrations): https://www.barnesandnoble.com

eBook: Google Books