ABOUT THE BOOKHow did the pig become dirty? The saras get its long neck? And the langoor his black face? Biologists may have their own theories, to do with nature and evolution and whatnot, but the real story believe it or not lies within these colourful tales. This is a set of three ‘origin’ stories that know just how the animals we know and love today, got their distinctive features.
- This is a handsomely produced collection of three short illustrated animal stories. Following in the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved Just So Stories, How the Pig Became Dirty and Other Animal Stories tries to come up with interesting explanations for why some animals are the way they are. It is set in the fictional town of Pashupur, and features a recurring cast of characters, including Nut and Khut the monkey twins, and Mohan Ram the goat.
- Author Rahul Kansal’s stories are certainly inventive. Nut and Khut are the resident troublemakers of Pashupur, and it is their schemes that lead to most of the drama. For instance, Squeaky the meticulously clean pig is a source of great annoyance to the monkeys, so they replace his bath soap with a fake soap bar that contains muck and tar, and turns the pig into the dirty animal we see today. Children are sure to enjoy the rather outlandish scenarios and explanations that Kansal comes up with.
- Vijay Manure’s cartoon-style watercolour illustrations sit well with the tone of the book. Despite having a slightly unrefined appearance in places, they are humourous and exaggerated, much like the narratives themselves. The colour palette is bright and varied, and is likely appeal to the book’s target audience.
- The strangeness of the explanations may strike some readers as silly. In the second story, for instance, the idea that the Saras crane becomes stretchy and rubbery simply by eating erasers, is a little too ludicrous to be funny.
- The characters of Nut and Khut are somewhat problematic. Even though both the pig and the crane come to terms with their suddenly-altered physical appearances, too much of the humour in the stories centres on the monkeys’ pranks. The long-drawn-out scene in which Squeaky the pig repeatedly washes himself with the fake soap, only to find himself growing dirtier, is certainly intended to be funny. But Nut and Khut are essentially bullies, and to invite young readers to laugh at the humiliation of the monkeys’ victim seems in poor taste.
- In the final story, the joke is on Nut and Khut. Mohan Ram decides to teach them a lesson by replacing a face-sanitizer with invisible ink that turns black over time. The Langur monkeys find their faces turned black by the ink and become the laughing stock of the town. Here too, by focusing the humour on the blackness of their faces, Kansal ends up with clumsy messaging that permits, and even endorses making fun of someone on the basis of their appearance, particularly their colour.