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A nosegay of bedtime tales


Which child would not like to listen to tales, especially at bedtime, from mummy or granny? These short and crisp stories with a message have been a source of inspiration to children from time immemorial. Bammidi Jagadeeswara Rao and his mother, Sarojini, have done yeoman service to Telugu children---and even elders--- by retelling such tales in a handy volume, titled `Amma Cheppina Kathalu'*, a la Arthur Mee style.

There are very few story books of this type in Telugu for children, and the authors need to be complimented first for bringing out an attractive, well-illustrated book at a reasonable price.

It is a laudable attempt to wean the kids away from the idiot box and inculcate in them the reading habit.

Mullapudi Venkataramana wrote a scintillating book for children and adults - `Budugu' - in the late 1960s and since then there has been no such work.

Telugu publishers and authors never seem to have taken this genre seriously and there is a dearth of fiction for children.

The authors have retold several folk tales narrated by mothers and grandmothers in the rural areas to small children.

The dialect of the north coastal Andhra districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam is employed by the authors in these tales but the language is too colloquial for comfort on certain occasions.

It may not be intelligible to readers of other areas, but lucid enough for a literate reader to convey the gist to impressionable minds.'' Once upon a time, there was a king with seven sons who went fishing and brought seven fish home. One of the fish did not dry up.... '' so goes the well-known first tale in the collection. The `Puliraju' story may remind the children of the PSI's anti-AIDS `Puliraja' advertisement campaign blaring through all the frequency modulation radio and television channels. This Puliraju story is a different one, a lengthy narrative story to lull a child to sleep, unlike the other ones with a social message.

A blend of fiction and fantasy, it mixes human and mythical characters to stimulate the child's imagination. The tale of a busy fly (`eega') which forgets its own name and goes all over the place, asking animals, objects and people in a bid to remember it, is well-narrated. Indeed, it is a tale for kids and adults as well.

The great Telugu critic and an admirer of Jean Paul Sartre, the late R.S. Sudarsanam, once referred to this story in his essay on existentialist literature. In his opinion, the plight of the fly in the tale, which forgets its own name and identity caught up as it is in a flurry of activity, is very much akin to that of the modern man caught up in the material world and alienated from himself.

All his existential dilemmas and anguish, could be traced to the basic cause. "The modern man, like the fly, should rediscover his name and identity to live in peace with himself and the world,'' was Sudarsanam's remark. To make such an attempt, books of this sort are necessary, as they are rooted in the native tradition. Especially so, as most of the modern kids are being brought up on the Harry Potter books of J.K. Rowling. Propagation of local folk tales is on the wane due to the lack of initiative by Telugu publishers to reach lakhs of native kids. Releasing the book a month ago in Srikakulam, from where the authors originally hail, was a sentimental satisfaction to them owing to their love for the region, though they reside at present in Hyderabad. These days, when the majority of mothers and grandmothers themselves are slaves of the soap operas of various channels, they can spare very little time for their kids before they go to bed. This book could inspire them to read a few stories to entertain and enlighten the child. The colourful cover and the caricatures by Raju with large font size in print makes it attractive to young readers and is probably the right gift for a child.

* * *

The authors

Bammidi Sarojini, born in Chodavaram village on the banks of the Vamsadhara in Srikakulam district, discontinued education in the elementary stage itself, but got inspired to story-telling from a relative, Ramanappa, who used to gather children and entertain them for hours.Bammidi Jagadeeswara Rao, known for his book `Pindodiyam' (1998), has three other compilations of stories `Rekkalagoodu' (1996) and `Devullu, Deyyalu, Manushulu' (1999) and `Mattiteegalu' (2000). Many of his stories have been translated into Hindi and Bengali. He is a member of Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Virasam) since 1991.

RAMESH SUSARLA

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