Happy Diwali! A Review of Indian Tales: A Barefoot Collection
November 07, 2007
A Guest Column by Pooja Makhijani
As I said last year, in this very space, I don't have to wait until December for the holidays. On Friday, November 9, I will be opening gifts, eating gulab jamuns, dressing up in a brand new sari, and placing tiny clay lamps along our walkway and driveway so that Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, can find her way to our home.
Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, although the deities, rituals, and stories that are associated with the holiday are different in different parts of India. One of the stories associated with this exuberant holiday—"Hanuman's Adventures"—can be found in a delightful new picture book anthology, Indian Tales: A Barefoot Collection by Shenaaz Nanji and illustrated by Christopher Corr (Barefoot Books, 2007).
"Hanuman's Adventures" tells the tale of the monkey-god Hanuman. Hanuman aided Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, in rescuing his abducted wife, Sita, and slaying the ten-headed ruler of Lanka, Ravana. Nanji draws heavily from the source text—the fifth chapter of the Ramayana, one Hinduism's central texts—and gives young readers an action-packed story to read over and over again.
In fact, many of the stories in this entertaining collection should be read over and over again; I really enjoyed "Damayanti and Nala," a love story from Uttar Pradesh and "Five Men in a Cart," a fable from Andhra Pradesh. Nanji is a graceful storyteller; her retellings captivate.
And the illustrations! Corr's paintings are just so beautiful; he immerses the reader in the color and contrasts of India. I particularly appreciated his attention to detail such as the bandhani, or tie-dye, fabrics showcased in "The Drummer Boy," a story from Gujarat or the abundant use of pink in "Shaira's Secret," a story from Rajasthan. I also loved the two-page spread of Ravana that closes "Hanuman's Adventures." It is both awe-inspiring and scary, much like the demon king himself.
The front and back matter is informative and balanced. In her introductory note, Nanji not only provides readers with a brief history of India, from the Indus Valley civilization (2600 BCE to 1500 BCE) to the Mughal dynasties (which reached the height of its power in 1700 CE), but paints a realistic picture of modern India as well. In addition, each story is preceded by a well-researched note that offers readers fun facts about each of the states from which the story came. A rich list of sources, including books, articles, and websites, gives eager readers many, many leads for learning more about India.
This year, I will also be spending Diwali at the Main Branch of Edison Public Library sharing Mama's Saris and my family's traditions with the young residents of this New Jersey suburb. It will also be a bit of a homecoming: Edison is my hometown and I am a "graduate" of the library's story time. Dear reader, if you do live nearby, please stop in and celebrate.
Pooja Makhijani is the author of Mama's Saris (Little Brown, 2007).
Pooja, thank you so much for this wonderful guest column. Happy Diwali!
Posted by: Susan Thomsen | November 07, 2007 at 09:16 PM
Many thanks, Susan, for the opportunity and the holiday greetings!
Posted by: Pooja | November 07, 2007 at 09:47 PM
Thanks to you both for the information. Alternate side parking is suspended today, and I am glad to know the reason.
Posted by: MJN/NYC | November 09, 2007 at 11:39 AM
De nada, MJN. Hope you have a good spot!
Posted by: Susan T. | November 09, 2007 at 01:30 PM
As Diwali grows in popularity in Canada, children here will need to know the stories that are at the heart of these community festivals. Actually, it's the adults lured by the food that need it more. Thank you for this gift to the world. It might take some time to get here, but we'll keep looking for it. CHEERS
Posted by: Alden E. Habacon | November 14, 2007 at 03:02 AM
I work in a world cultures museum, and a colleague brought this book to me to get my opinion on it. I was just about to email Pooja to ask her if she knew it - and then lo and behold! We're so delighted to read her thoughts and will be adding the book to our resource collection immediately.
Posted by: Beth | May 23, 2008 at 10:46 AM
Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood! I've read and enjoyed your blog, too! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Pooja wrote an excellent review, didn't she? Her guest columns for this blog are always helpful and informative.
Posted by: Susan T. | May 23, 2008 at 12:17 PM
Oh my goodness - I've read and enjoyed your blog - and have now sent it out to colleagues for future reference! :)
Posted by: Beth | May 23, 2008 at 03:02 PM
Thanks, Beth. That's most kind of you.
Posted by: Susan T. | May 23, 2008 at 04:08 PM