If there is one thing I can’t get enough of, it is reading books, and sometimes, I’ll dig into my library to choose books that I read as child growing up in India. There were tales of folklore and mythology, of great kings and queens, of wise animals and foolish humans, of wit and laughs and, of space and science, midnight feasts and island adventures, and of teenage love triangles.
This Children’s Day, let’s take a trip down memory lane and re-visit some books we read from our childhood
1. Panchatantra: Literally ‘the five books’, the Panchatantra is a collection of animal fables as old as we are able to imagine. One of the most frequently translated literary tales in the country, the sublimity of the Panchatantra lies in its staunch belief to present life in black and white terms. The stories of these anthropomorphic animals, standing in for humans, accurately depicted the dichotomous nature of life — the deceitful with the honour, the foolishness with cunningness, cruelty with kindness tied in with incidents. Layered with life lessons, the stories in the end showed the characters getting their rewards or punishments depending on their actions.
2. Jataka Tales: As a kid, did you know you were reading stories that are an intrinsic canon in the sacred Buddhist literature? I didn’t. The odd 550 anecdotes and fables represent the lives and times of Siddharta Gautama and then, as the man he would go on to be, Buddha. The stories featured an extensive motley of character portrayed by animals and humans, alike, who would often get into some sort of shenanigans, and a character representing Buddha as a human or animal, would intervene, solve the dispute, and thereby impart by virtue of story telling, lessons on the three pillars of karma, samsara, and dharma. Fun fact, the tales are also engraved on the stupas of Sanchi.
3. Chandamama: A monthly children’s magazine as old as the country; the first issue was published in 1947, Chandamama published stories, which drew its influences from historical texts of India, along with epics, fables, and mythologies from India as well as other countries. The stories were written in simple narrative style, easy for children to read and understand the underlying moral message. Known for their striking and beautifully drawn covers; the story of which would be explained in the overleaf, the magazine also popularised the serialised stories of Vikram and Betal, adapted from the Sanskrit Baital Pachisi. Originally published only in Telugu, the monthly magazine eventually started publishing in 12 other Indian languages.
4. Tinkle: A monthly magazine that defines multiple generations across the country, Tinkle is the behemoth of children’s literature in India. Edited by Uncle Pai, as he signed off his editor’s note in every issue, where stories, comics, columns were published, all of which young children read voraciously. Every generation in India has their favourite characters of course, some of which have been discounted over the years and news ones have been added. My favourites, by far, were Uncle Anu from Anu Club, Ina, Mina, Mynah, Mo, Nasruddin Hodja, the Dumbbells, and Tantri the Mantri.
5. Malgudi Days: Written by R K Narayan in 1943, Malgudi Days is a collection of 38 short stories about the inhabitants of a fictional town of Malgudi in South India. With R K Narayan’s keen observations, gentle wit, and subtle narrative, the characters of Malgudi Days stole the readers imagination and tugged at their heartstrings with their stories that mirrored the everyday life they lived, characters they knew and of course the town which stood in for every town in India. Such was, and is the enduring popularity of the stories that many of them have been adapted for TV and plays.
Enid Blyton: I cannot recollect a more omnipresent children’s book author whose books were read by every child in India. Blyton’s books could be found in your school library, at your local library, even at the raddiwalla! And, they probably can still be found there.
The entirety of Enid Blyton’s bibliography — The Famous Five, Faraway Tree, The Secret Seven, Noddy, Malory Towers, to name a few, come replete with children living in a world where adults apart from the cursory mention, are majorly absent, thus placing only the children at the core of narrative as they go about their lives either at school or on vacation. Vicariously living through the characters’ midnight feasts, picnics, or just forming a society to solve mysteries in your neighbourhood, Blyton’s works are a timeless celebration about the joys of childhood.
Archie comics: I’ve always wanted to hang out with Archie and the gang at Pop’s. The comics so quintessentially indicative of America, where wholesome hijinks of teenagers living in a small town was voraciously read by every Indian teenager growing up. Idealistic, and the extremely simplistic story, which probably gave an incorrect perception of the American teenage life, the series was beloved for its eternal triangle between Archie, Betty and Veronica, Reggie’s cunning pranks on Moose, which always backfired, and Jughead’s insatiable quest for the perfect burger.