Stories are good when they connect with readers and thus to say that some are only for children can sometimes lead us to miss out those that have been written well. ‘Tales from the Himalayas’ is a collection of 17 stories by Priyanka Pradhan that many may miss if they assume the volume is for children. This collection is full of ‘enchanting tales, straight from the heart of the mountains’ as Ruskin Bond mentions on the cover and is ‘an entertaining, heart-warming and delightful read for children and adults alike’ adds Freida Pinto on the back cover.
Desires, conflicts, and challenges find their way into each of these stories and the writer is perceptive enough to make sure that the right resolutions too work their into them. More than this, the way life in Uttarakhand comes alive in these stories is what made me read a few of these stories more than once. For instance, in ‘The Bagpiper’, the father of a little girl tells her that ‘it is not the quality or age of the wood, nor the craftsmanship in making the instrument; it is not the softness of this leather bag, not even the talent of the bagpiper that makes this masak been sound beautiful’ and we agree with him when he tells her to ‘play from the bottom of your heart; only then will it sound any good.’ This little girl desires to play the bagpiper well and her failure at a performance is a challenge that doesn’t deter or discourage her and she finally understands that ‘talent is meant for your enjoyment.’ If one is lead to believe that the stories in this collection are those that adopt the attitude of a preacher of good values, I must add that no, the stories do not go around preaching this or that but simply tell a tale in a way that make a reader’s emotions merge with the intention of the writer.
Stories like ‘The great Himalayan explorer’ and ‘Chipko’ give us a short glimpse into the pioneering spirit of people in the mountains of Uttarakhand and the former is about Nitin Singh Rawat (1830-1882), an explorer from Pithoragarh who thrills us by his tactics and determination. This fellow ‘made notes about his travels, rolled them up into tiny scrolls and then hid them inside the hollow cylinder of his prayer wheel’ and documented a lot of details about Tibet at a time when no outsider was allowed there to map the territory. This enterprising adventurer discovered that river Tsangpo in Tibet becomes the mighty Bhramhaputra when it enters India. The other story woven with history is about Gaura Devi form Reni village in Garhwal and lets us peep into the well-known Chipko movement of 1974.
Now if such stories don’t sound too exciting, there are others like ‘A night in the dark forest’ where a sage from Dharchula in Kumaon decides to enter the dreaded dark forest to discover the secret of conquering all evil in the world. Bhula, a small but brave child does get to listen to his night long adventure inside the forest and how‘…keeping my own thoughts positive, steadfast and sincere, my actions will follow suit. No evil can ever harm me then… if I had reacted with fear or anger to any of the things that happened to me last night, I would have succumbed to evil myself…’ is what the sage with his dreadlock coiled high above his head discovers this secret. The narrative holds a reader tight and is fast paced. The writer does have a knack to weave in humour with a rumour of a a horrific incident in ‘The village monster’ where ‘a serpent-headed monster that emerges from the forest every fortnight. It is the size of a deodar tree and has these huge, toeless, flat feet…’ turns out to be a docile and lovable resident of the forest. These stories cover a wide range of incidents from the villages in the mountains of Uttarakhand and I am not surprised at all that Ruskin Bond found them delightful.
I can go on and on about each of the stories in the collection and a few others like ‘Postcards’ touches upon memory loss in the aged and ‘Kafal’ is about a local legend with a princess finding out what really amuses her. During these times when travel isn’t a sane idea, reading stories like the ones in this collection, have the power to transport anyone to the intriguing charm of the mountains.
Details of the book:
Title: Tales from the Himalayas
Author: Priyanka Pradhan
Publisher: Rupa Publications
04 December 2020