Stories of Birbal and Tenali Raman are always popular with children. This is possibly because they feature well-known figures with interesting personalities. There is also the reassurance that comes from an oft-repeated format, which children like. All the stories featuring these two men highlight, again and again, their keen intelligence and quick wit. The other characters in the stories are only props, whose sole purpose is to highlight the cleverness of these men.
The ten stories in Birbal and the Palmist and Other Stories, written by two different authors, focus on Birbal’s reasoning powers and help us understand why this man was considered one of the nine jewels of Emperor Akbar’s court. In ‘The Precious Moustache’, for example, Akbar suddenly wonders how he would punish anyone who dared to pull his precious moustache. Birbal’s reply is based on logical thinking and knowledge of human nature, which is what makes him an intelligent courtier and someone whom Akbar trusts. ‘The Bad Omen’ is a story that is relevant even today, when people still believe in omens and portents. Birbal’s reasoning in this story forces Akbar to look at the situation from the point of view of the old man who has been accused of being a bad omen. ‘How Birbal Caught the Thief’ is based on his innovative ploy to nab a thief.
Fooled You! and Other Stories consists of five stories about Tenali Raman. “Wisdom,” Raman believes, “is the greatest power in the world,” and these stories serve to highlight how he uses his power wisely and well. ‘Fooled You!’ illustrates how intelligence can be used not only to thwart evil plans but also to make sure things work in one’s favour. Tenali Raman overhears some thieves discuss a plot to burgle his house and hatches a plan that ensures they get nothing and instead end up watering his garden for him! ‘How the Gatekeepers were Trapped’ is a story where Tenali Raman manages to get the wrongdoers, in this case a pair of greedy gatekeepers, punished.
The illustrators in both books have done a wonderful job of bringing the stories alive through the deft strokes of their pens. The pictures of a world populated by smiling men with rotund bellies and easily identifiable villains with unshaven cheeks and evil looks create a sense of a time when life was simpler and trouble could be evaded by quick thinking.
It is interesting to see that both Birbal and Tenali Raman use their intelligence to help others not as fortunate as themselves. In today’s ‘me’ world, where selfishness seems to be considered a virtue, it is wonderful to read about men who stand up for those who have been unfairly accused and punished, even going out of their way to help them.
The joy of reading these stories, written in simple, easy-to-understand language, should be sufficient inducement to buy these books. As an additional incentive, one can consider the books a fast-track introduction to important periods in Indian history.
By Nandini Nayar
BIRBAL AND THE PALMIST AND OTHER STORIES
Author: Sarah Jacob and Sajid A Latheef
Illustrator: Satish K
Mango Books, 2015
FOOLED YOU! AND OTHER STORIES
Author: Sajid A Latheef
Illustrator: Debasish Deb and Sabyasachi
Mango Books, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction