Evergreen Stories. There are some that become a part of growing up and they persist through generations.
It is a collection of fables in Sanskrit originally written to teach the five principles of ‘Niti'(the art of doing the right action at the right time and place) to three princes ( as suggested in the narrative) sometime between the second and the fifth century.
However, there are various versions to its time of origin. We cannot precisely come to terms with who this pristine work belongs to either. The most popular version is that Vishnu Sharma, a brahmin court scholar had been responsible for its compilation.
For the longest of time, the Panchatantra stories were one of the greatest resources for ‘Grandma’s bedtime stories’. Later though there emerged several translations in the form of picture books or comic strips for young English and other vernacular readers. While Arabs are said to have carried these stories to the west, they then inspired many other such fables there including Aesop’s fables. Panchatantra stories with animal characters continue to be loved by children all around the world.
They are the famous ‘Uncle Pai’ comic series that got the entire child population in the 70s and 80s rooting for Indian culture and history. It is the first effective change that India saw towards a new direction different from the British times.
Had it not been for the brilliant idea of Amar Chitra Katha with bright illustrations tuned to the Indian psyche, most of our kids would have been left never knowing who the Pandavas were or why Sita was abandoned by Lord Rama. They would not have known the honest king Harishchandra or the clever strategist Chanakya. Stories of great women like Mirabai or Padmini would have remained undiscovered by the young Indians along with hundreds of other such Indian stories.
Most of the great Indian literature and its historical and cultural references have limited representation in the Indian educational system. Hence the Amar Chitra Katha stories have done a huge service to the Indian population.
While Amar Chitra Katha celebrated already established stories, ‘ Tinkle’, a fortnightly magazine, discovered new storytellers. Out of these, some have become legendary in their own rights, like Supandi, Kalia the crow, Tantri the Mantri, Nasiruddin Hodja, and Shikari Shambu. It is through Tinkle that Anant Pai was embraced as Uncle Pai. The magazine contains informative material in the form of news, picture-quizzes, contests, puzzles and art corner along with comics and stories all targeted at school kids.
Any kid in India would relate to Tagore’s characters. They are familiar and share the same sentiments. The narrative is simple and does not feel like a strain. Most kids know the story ‘Kabuliwallah’ since its adaptation to the silver screen.
Mini’s understanding of the father figure, the similarities in the fatherhood of a middle-class city dweller ( her own father) and that of Rahmun, the fruit-seller, the nomad from a distant land, contrasts well with the relationship between Phatik Chakravorti, the awkward teenager and his mother, in yet another touching story ‘The Home-Coming’.
Tagore began writing stories when he had been a teenager himself. He had been only sixteen. Later, many of his stories were written for Sabuj Patra, a magazine he edited and contributed to.
If you are a ten-year-old like Swami then you probably cannot think of a day when you don’t want to be surrounded by your group of friends. Swami, no different from kids that age forgets all about his homework during the weekend and remembers all about it only just before he has to leave for school.
W.S.Swaminathan ‘Swami’ epitomizes childhood. He quickly notices the complexities of the life around him and often makes flippant reactions in an attempt to escape momentary consequences.
This was R.K Narayan’s first novel, and he would not have got it where it did ( it is one of the most popular Indian novels even today since it’s publication in 1930) if it had not been for the friend he himself found in Graham Greene. In Narayan’s own words,
But for you, Swami would be in the bottom of Thames now.
Greene was completely committed to its publication and even suggested a change of the title from Swami, the Tate, to Swami and friends, putting at once the entire lot at ‘First form A’, Albert Mission School on an equal platform as the protagonist.
For anyone who reads about them, they are familiar and very relatable, as Narayan weaves a story of the Indian middle-class lifestyle through a sense childhood ubiquity.
Evergreen stories by Indian writers don’t end here. Come back for more!