Storyteller, the Calcutta-based independent book store, recently organised a Saturday evening filled with stories about “princesses, monsters and magical creatures” to celebrate World Kid Lit month. Sutapa Basu, the best-selling author of The Curse of Nader Shah, was present in this exclusive session with her latest book, Thakurmar Jhuli: Princesses, Monsters and Magical Creatures. A translation of Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar’s Thakurmar Jhuli, it is a compilation of iconic kids’ tales, originally in Bengali. The Zoom session welcomed a host of children who enthusiastically commenced the meeting by waving their copy of Basu’s book.
In this invigorating session, Basu helped the children visualise how old the stories in the book were. “When your great-great grandparents were little boys and girls just like you, they read these stories,” she said to the excited kids. The Thakurmar Jhuli stories had been written more than a hundred years ago by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar who had collected folk tales from across Bengal. With time his anthology has gone on to become synonymous with the very culture of the region. The English translation will help these age-old stories reach more children, even those who are not well-versed in Bengali. The kids who were present also seemed to love the cover of the book, which featured a flying horse –– a top choice when asked who fascinated them the most.
“My grandmother told me these stories,” Basu reminisced, “And even now, the people from the stories like Buddhu Bhutum, Neel Kamal Lal Kamal, Patal Konna Agnibala… they all remain with me. That is why, when I was writing the stories in English, they all seemed to come around me and tell me over my shoulder, ‘Sutapa, write about that. Sutapa, write about me!’”. She mentioned how she will never forget the magic of these stories and this translation came into being from the want to “spread this magic among more and more children”. The stories in Basu’s book are divided into three sections, with stories about princes and princesses, monsters and more. Next, the audience was treated to storytelling by Basu, who discussed the tale of Neel Kamal Lal Kamal with the children. However, there was plenty of intrigue as she left everyone on a cliffhanger, for them to read it themselves. Following this was another story that Basu shared, with ghosts this time, featuring an ice-cold hand from the closet grabbing hold of one of the protagonists. However, the children present proved to be quite perceptive as they came up with various theories as to who they thought the cold hand might have belonged to! Most of them seemed to believe that it was not a ghost but was rather an ice-monster, or a “dangerous and cruel” ice queen! Many young ones revealed themselves as storytellers as well and talked about the stories they had written. This section of the session sure reminded us why magic was such an important ingredient to our growing up years, giving wings to our imagination and creativity.
Basu also introduced the art of alpana and its various motifs to the children present, calling it an “art form which has been drawn on the floors of Bengali homes for a very very long time –– for centuries during weddings, pujas and various kinds of celebrations”. To this generation of children who have mostly seen alpanas being drawn with brush and paint, she discussed the traditional method of drawing alpanas with rice paste (as rice is considered to be auspicious). Following the screening of a video showing alpana painting, the children partook in a fun activity where they created their own alpana design. Enthusiastic cries for extra time to complete designs were soon heard as the meeting neared its end.
Storyteller and Readomania, the publisher of Thakurmar Jhuli: Princesses, Monsters and Magical Creatures deserve a thank you for such storytelling sessions, promoting stories of yore. It is not only children who benefit from them, but everyone of all ages can engage to jog their memories and spend time soaked in nostalgia.