What would the world be without Cindrella and the Pied Piper? It would a world full of rakshasinis and apsaras, it would be peopled by farmers and ghosts and wise courtiers and drunk kings, not to forget chatty crows and mysterious beggars. It would be full of magic, India style. Beyond Panchatantra, here are 7 books that bring out the best of regional folk tales:
1. Folktales from India by A.K. Ramanujan
One hundred and ten stories from across 22 languages, this is AK Ramanujan’s epic. India’s best-known folklorist did the country a favour by compiling this collection, which took several decades of dedicated documentation before it could reach us in the form of a book.
2. Three Satires from Ancient Kashmir by Kshemendra
Travel back to 11th-century Kashmir (yeah, long before it hit the roof) with three thought-provoking fables written by ancient Sanskrit scholar Kshemendra. As the name suggests, they are satires mocking the social ills of the time.
3. Stories of the Soil: Classic Punjabi Stories by Nirupama Dutt
This collection of 40 ‘classic Punjabi stories’ isn’t exactly folk tales, but a mixed collection of short stories that nevertheless bring forth the legends of the region. It also features such Punjabi literary icons as Amrita Pritam.
4. The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai
Poet Mamang Dai of Arunachal Pradesh brings to life shamans and water serpents in the unknown, mystical landscape of her home. Pensam is the ‘in-between’, the grey area between myth and reality, and that is where these stories are placed.
5. Folk Tales of Bengal by Lal Behari Day
This one is a classic penned by the missionary Lal Behari Day back in 1883. It’s one of the truest collections of ancient tales passed orally through generations, and the book is a visual treat too with illustrations by Warwick Goble, a renowned British children’s books illustrator.
6. Santal Folk Tales by A. Campbell
Another classic, this old text was compiled in 1891 and survived to tell stories that would surely have been lost otherwise. They belong to the aboriginal tribe of the Santals in Eastern India.
7. Tibetan Folk Tales by A.L. Shelton
This magical book narrates 49 stories that you’d best enjoy with a thermos of chai handy, because the storytelling session unfolds on a mountain where tea is being brewed on an open fire. They were archived by the author during his journeys upland and published in 1925. It’s a book refreshingly free from the Tibetan culture distorted by all things pop today.
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