Friday, June 29, 2007

Good old Indian folktales need a Magic Genie

New Delhi, June 29 (IANS) Once upon a time, traditional folk tales from thePanchatantra or, say, stories of Akbar and Birbal used to be hugely popularwith Indian children.But ask a kid today about her favourite book, and chances are she will namean Enid Blyton, a Nancy Drew, a Hardy Boy and - even more likely - a HarryPotter.

To give an example, the pre-bookings for the seventh edition of the HarryPotter series to be released July 21, is escalating at a rapid rate. Thesixth in the series sold a smashing 160,000 copies in India last year.The story is entirely different for Indian folk tales and other children'sbooks. A predictable storyline, monotonous illustrations, lots of moralbaggage and more importantly sloppy marketing have led to their taking abeating."Most children have heard the folk tales before - either from their parentsor their grandparents. So there is no attraction to read a folk tale book,"said Vandana Bisht, an author based in Delhi."Moreover, they don't find the Indian folk tale books interesting becausethey are not laid out as interestingly as their foreign counterparts. "Most traditional Indian stories have a rural backdrop or a royal setting.Many have birds, animals, trees and flowers talking and interacting freelywith man -far removed from reality and a rather different take on fantasycompared to, for instance, a Harry Potter!

"The main problem I think with these books is that they compromise on the fun factor by attaching too much of moral baggage. Also, kids get bored of seeing the same kings and queens in their royal garb," Bisht told IANS.Currently working on a book based on Tibet and with elaborate illustrations,Bisht has authored many children's books like "Avadhi Folktales" and"Princess With The Longest Hair".

Mamang Dai, another writer of children's books based in Arunachal Pradesh,said that besides lacklustre illustrations, the marketing strategy adoptedby publishing houses and agents here is perhaps not good enough to attractmore readers.Agreed Gita Wolf, publisher of Chennai based Tara Publishing House. "Thereason why certain things are popular is often not because of theirintrinsic merit, but because there is a huge marketing machine behind them.This is increasingly the case."This is not to say there is no merit in Harry Potter - on the contrary. Butsadly, marketing budgets need to be several times larger than publishingcosts - and Indian children's books do not have pride of place in Indianbook shops," Wolf told IANS.Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, deputy director of publications of the NortheasternHill University based in Meghalaya, said there is a need to revamp folktales to suit the changing tastes of children."

There should be an element of modernisation along with the mythical elementin the folk tales so that children can relate to the stories. There shouldbe contemporary characters with elements of mystical powers. While somethings - a part of the essence perhaps - are going to be lost because ofthis, there will be something gained as well," Nongkynrih saidThe author of numerous folk tale books in the local language of Meghalaya,Khasi, he said there was also an urgent need to transform these stories that hardly goes beyond three pages into full-length novels.Bisht points out yet another reason."Children today are looking towards the West in every aspect. Be it inclothes, movies or food.

So is the case in books. Moreover, the ruralsetting or royal background which the Indian storybooks generally deal withis not identified with by the children," said Bisht.Steering away from this trend, some publishers like Tara Publishing House ofChennai and Katha of Delhi are giving a push to children's books that aremore realistic and have extensive illustrations.One of the books by Tara, "Trash! On Ragpicker Children and Recycling", forinstance, is based on the real life experience of ragpicker children.It talks about one particular child who runs away from home and ends up as aragpicker in the city. His trials and tribulations, humorous instancessprinkled with serious ones like child labour, child rights and recycling,earned this book a mention in the Munich-based White Ravens, a selection ofinternational children's and youth literature.
- Azera Rahman

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