In all the myths that are told, animals and birds have an important role to play. This is so in stories from around the world. In Indian myths too, each godly being is associated with a creature he or she uses as a mount. The author of this set of stories has brought these animals and birds centre stage by exploring their origins and perspectives. An unusual angle and one that could appeal to young readers.
Shiva is known to use Nandi the powerful bull as his mount; Vishnu is associated with the brave Garuda. Among the female gods, every Puja pandal shows the feisty Durga with the roaring lion; while Ganesha’s mount, a mouse, evokes laughter. Each of these creatures is an accompanying artist but with their own passions, personalities, and patterns. Mamta Nainy does well to research these tales and present them to a younger audience. However, here comes the question: Does the narrative and language help make the book accessible to children? The words used are sometimes heavy and unappealing to younger readers. “Lord Shiva appeared before the sage in his effulgent form… Sage Shilada looked at the divine sight transfixed as the Lord said…” Frequent use of words like ‘divinity, ‘celestial’ and ‘swargaloka’ gives an unnecessary heaviness to the language. On the other hand, there are lighter sentences that are far more accessible to children. For instance, “‘Don’t you worry, my friends! I shall teach this pesky little creature a hard lesson,’ saying this Ganesha stood up, his belly sticking out a mile.” Would that there were more such sentences in the entire book!
Stories about gods and goddesses can be conveyed without any aura of religious sentiment or even the use of capital letters. Shanta Rameshwar Rao, who wrote The Children’s Mahabharata and numerous myths and legends, had the gift of a light touch when it came to talking about ‘divinity.’ Let me give you an example: “That night while Karna slept he had a strange dream. It seemed to him that he saw a shining being descend from the sky and appear before him… ‘I am your father, Karna, the sun god!’ Karna started, ‘What is this you say?’ he whispered huskily…”
Where the book could work well is if teachers, librarians and parents read out the stories and use simpler words. The content is good but the vahana or the vehicle seems ponderous. Any page opened might yield sentences like this: “As Garuda was about to fly back to his mother he heard someone calling him in a divinely sweet voice… It was Lord Vishnu – calm and serene. Garuda almost felt dazzled by the light emanating from Lord Vishnu.”
Aniruddha Mukherjee’s black-and-white drawings pick up the sombre hues of Abanindranath Tagore’s artwork. While the unusual quality of his artwork is to be appreciated, one young reader asked why there was no touch of colour in any drawing. This young reader made the point that Durga is seen in such vivid colour when she is depicted, so could the artist have added a few splashes of crimson to liven the illustration?
In her dedication, the author Mamta Nainy says, “To our great storytellers of yore, who spun such magical tales.” True, but those magical tale-tellers’ characters were human with qualities we could relate to. Perhaps that is the missing link in this book.
By Usha Mukunda
VAHANA: TALES OF DIVINE ANIMAL MOUNTS OF THE GODS
Author: Mamta Nainy
Illustrator : Aniruddha Mukherjee
Mango Books, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction