Tales from India by Bali Rai

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Tales from India by Bali Rai

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Tanja Jennings
Reviewed by Tanja Jennings
Summary: Bali Rai has compiled a lively and accessible selection of magical Indian folk tales and animal fables for young readers to enjoy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 212 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Puffin Classics
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780141373065

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Fairy stories, folk tales and fables are a rite of passage for an inquiring mind. They open the door to enchantment, magic and moral lessons. Many European collections exist, some of the most notable being that of Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang and Perrault. Tales can also originate from exotic climes.

An endless source of delight for me as a child was my great grandmother's much cherished copy of The Arabian Nights. Full of mystery, imagination and charm, it communicated to me the power of storytelling and transported me to different worlds. This is what Bali Rai aims to do for young readers with his latest offering. Inspired by the collected tales of the 19th century, Sydney-born English folklorist Joseph Jacob, Rai has lovingly created a tribute to the traditional stories of India.

As the British-born son of Indian parents, this project was a significant voyage of discovery for Rai. He found a rich treasure trove to choose from, dating back centuries, including the Buddhist Jataka Tales, the Hitopadesha Tales, the Panchatantra animal fables and the epic Ramayana. This material could have filled volumes. He explains in his Author's Note that he took immense care in reworking the stories he finally selected for his modest book, using Jacobs' retellings as a starting point. This involved stripping Jacobs' Victorian archaisms, copious footnotes and awkward terminology. Rai also navigated obscure and verbose texts, endeavouring to keep them secular and adapting them for a modern audience. India is a country of multiple faiths so in spite of his amendments, elements of Hinduism and Islam remain in the stories.

In reading Rai's re-imagined tales one encounters fairy tale tropes such as wise talking animals, good deeds paid forward, perilous quests, impossible tasks, deceitful magicians, devious giants, tricksters, forsaken princesses, lovelorn princes, evil stepmothers and magical objects. Jacobs' scholarly work is prolific. It includes The Fables of Aesop, English Fairy Tales, Celtic Fairy Tales, Indian Fairy Tales, The Book of Wonder Voyages and Europa's Fairy Book which could explain the appearance of these familiar patterns. Indeed tales emanating from an oral tradition can have many different versions. Rai himself concurs that Western and Indian stories feature recurring themes.

Where the book strives to be different is in Rai's inclusion of the Akbar-Birbal stories of the Mughal period, which feature real historical figures and give the reader a true taste of Indian culture and customs. Birbal is the devilishly clever and witty educator who is a counterpart to the impetuous and eager Emperor Akbar, a fascinating man whose dream was to promote religious harmony in his country. Rai describes their encounters as wonderfully simple and full of warmth and charm. The collection includes eight stories about these two iconic characters. Interspersed with these the reader meets a diverse cast of animals who learn some painful lessons and a handful of rags to riches plots. Although there is an appearance by Parvati, Indian deities do not have starring roles in 'Tales from India'. The majority of the tales serve a purpose, as did the Panchatantra legends, namely to inculcate children with the ability to make moral judgements and to hone their critical thinking. They are also amusing and engaging.

Why does Birbal ask for 50 lashes? How can a man walk in the sun without an umbrella but still be in the shade? How were the sun and moon created? How did the rabbit outwit the lion? What lesson did the crab teach the crane? If you wish to enter a world of adventure just open this entertaining read. You will experience colourful fairy tales and apposite lessons within its pages.

The book includes useful appendices providing an informative historical context, recipes, suggested activities and a detailed glossary to the tales. A black and white illustration also accompanies each chapter heading.

If you would like to return to the delights of India try the following, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, Buddha: An Enlightened Life (Campfire Graphic Novels) by Kieron Moore and Rajesh Nagulakonda, Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda for mythological mayhem and danger, Rama and the Demon King by Jessica Souhami for a classic legend and Brahma Dreaming: Legends from Hindu Mythology by John Jackson and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. For something a little different but just as absorbing why not read The Orchard Book of Magical Tales by Margaret Mayo, In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah or become lost in the intoxicating and beautifully illustrated Middle Eastern folktales of The Thousand Nights and One Night by David Walser and Jan Pienkowski.

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Buy Tales from India by Bali Rai at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tales from India by Bali Rai at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Tales from India by Bali Rai at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tales from India by Bali Rai at Amazon.com.


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