There’s something in this collection for everyone-scary ghost stories, thrilling adventure tales, nonsense rhymes that will tickle you silly, stories of school and home, of celebrations and hard times of light-hearted fun as well as heartbreak.
In Spinning Yarns: The Best Children’s Stories from India, the classic works of literary giants like Rabindranath Tagore and Premchand accompany the offerings of modern masters like R.K. Narayan, Vikram Seth, Paul Zacharia and Sudha Murty. Savour the evergreen charm of Shkumar Ray’s poetry and devour an exciting shikar tale by Jim Corbett. Well-loved contemporary writers like Ruskin Bond, Ranjit Lal and Paro Anand, too, find a place in the book.
Author, poet and translator, Deepa Agarwal writes for both children and adults and has about fifty published books to her credit. She has received several awards for her work. The picture book, Ashok’s New Friends, was awarded the National Award for Children’s Literature by the National Council of Educational Research and Training while her historical fiction, Caravan to Tibet, features in the International Board on Books for Young People Honor List of 2008. Five of her titles have also been listed in the White Raven Catalogue of the International Youth Library, Munich.
Go on! Dive headlong into a collection of some of the most memorable stories for children gathered together in a single book. There’s something here for everyone- a gripping vampire story, thrilling adventure tales, nonsense rhymes that will tickle you silly, not to mention thought-provoking fables and fascinating fairy tales. Some stories could have been taken from your own life-stories of school and home, of celebrations and hare times, of light-hearted fun as well as heartbreak. There is a vast variety of fascinating, unforgettable characters to keep you enthralled too-cleaver girls, daring boys, understanding teachers and dogged shikaris.
I must confess it was not an easy task to collect these amazing stories. Indeed, when I began to think about what should be included, I realized what a daunting task I had set myself. There was so much to choose from! It was heartwrenching to leave out some truly wonderful works because there wasn’t enough space.
There are so many more memorable works, and so many writers who have created enduring classics. Tagore, Premchand, Sukumar Ray, Satyajit Ray, R.K. Narayan, have all created some unforgettable characters in Indian fiction. Pioneering writer Sukumar Ray composed some of the most hilarious nonsense rhymes ever written. I could not resist including two pieces of non-fiction-a stirring real-life adventure tale by Jim Corbett about his encounter with a dreaded men-eater, and the story of how a young girl taught her grandmother to read, be Sudha Murty.
There are many brilliant writers weaving tales for children today, writing about the probles, dreams and aspirations of today’s children or carrying the reader off to mind-boggling realms of fantasy. So stories and poems by modern masters like Vikram Seth, Paul Zacharia, Sundara Ramaswamy were added to the list along with those by well-loved children’s writers like Shankar, Ruskin Bond, Paro Anand and Ranjit Lal. And since ours is a large country with many languages, I collected the best from different Indian languages in translation as well-stories both old and new that have delighted and touched children who have them in Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil.
But why did I find these stories so special, so memorable? I felt they contained universal truths- an essential element of great writing. There are many ‘A-ha!’ moments in these stories. For examples, Big Brother, in Premchand’s story with the same name, keeps falling behind his younger brother in school, despite all his hard work. However, when he says with simple dignity, ‘You are flying high today because you have stood first in your class. But you must listen to me. I may have failed but I am older than you. I have more experience of the world than you have…’ Your respect for him goes up several notches- even failure has not shaken the roots of his self-belief.
The warmth of understanding floods through us when Jim Corbett states at the end of his account of a long, gruelling hunt of the man-eating tigress: ‘There have been occasions when life has hung by a thread and others when a light purse and disease resulting from exposure has made the going difficult, but for all these occasions I feel amply if my hunting has resulted in saving one human life.’
These stories are rooted in our culture and history as well. We are reminded about the importance of the guru-shishya tradition in Sudha Murty’s heart-warming story ‘How I Taught My Grandmother to Read’. In fact, two other tales dwell on the very special relationship of grandparent and child-Shankar’s fun-filled ‘Rani-making’ and Khushwant Singh’s nostalgic ‘Portrait of a Lady’.
There are many other thought-provoking themes. The power of the imagination is celebrated in Paul Zacharia’s ‘The Library’; and the peril of excessive attachment to worldly goods is playfully highlighted in ‘Pinty’s Soap.’ Then there are those moments of realization, of understanding that we are all special in different ways as in ‘Eid’
There are also very real boys like Swaminathan to sympathise with when they keep getting into trouble. There are also inspirational characters like Rajappa in Sundara Ramaswamy’s powerful story ‘The Stamp Album,’ who decides to do the right thing, after doing a very wrong thing, even though it requires and enormous sacrifice.
If you adore chills, there are two goosebump-including stories-Satyajit Ray’s scary ‘The Vicious Vampire’ and ‘The School’, Ranjit Lal’s compelling tale of a very unusual school.
I felt children’s writing in India should include some of the best examples of poetry for children, too. Thus the hilarious ‘Mister Owl and Missus’ and ‘Pumpkin-Grumpkin’ by Sukumar Ray. And Vikram Seth’s highly entertaining ‘The Goat and the Ram’.
What else can I say? That there are stories here of village life and city life, from the past and the present, set in real worlds and imaginary worlds; that this is one book you can read is one sitting or you can dip into it again and again.
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