An introduction to an anthology of stories for children, broadly
between the ages of eight and twelve, is perhaps dispensable as it is
unlikely to be read by them. Nevertheless, some explanation for the
selection in this volume seems necessary. Unlike literature for children
In many countries, in India there is very little material specifically
designed for them which has delighted successive generations and is
also enjoyed by children today. Here, stories that have gone down from
grandparent to parent to child are mostly from the Epics, myths,
legends and folktales, the Panchatantra, Jatakas, Kathasaritsagara and the
Hitopadesha. So instead of taking excerpts, most of the stories in this
volume stand on their own: only a few have been extracted from
novels of well-known writers like R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends,
Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Dhan Gopal
Mukerji’s Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon.
The main aim of The Puffin Treasury of Modern Indian Stories is to offer
some of the best Indian children’s fiction available in English. All the
authors included are renowned storytellers whose imagination, skill,
elegant prose and wit have won them acclaim and awards. They have
also given us stories for children which will endure for times to come.
A few translations are included. Very little children’s fiction from
the Indian languages has been rendered into English. Of the
published material, good translations are hard to come by.
I have also done my best to include as wide a range of themes
as I could. So we have a ghost story, fantasies, humour, historical
fiction, real-life incidents, those that sensitively explore the inner world
of the child, the serious, the light-hearted and the whimsical.
The book is profusely illustrated by some of India’s most talented
artists, who have complemented and enlivened the twenty-one
selected works. As the stories showcase the best of English fiction for
children in India, the illustrations showcase the skill and versatility of
Poverty, inequality, communal tension, degradation of the
environment confront today’s children. This collection also reflects
these concerns, deftly and subtly. Faced with a complex environment,
the Indian child cannot be a passive observer but is constantly
questioning. I conclude this Introduction with one of my favourite
pieces written by Mahasweta Devi when she was sitting across the
table in my room: ‘The Why-Why Girl’. Even if children are se.
reluctant readers of introductions, I am sure that those who a a
have got thus far will relish our why-why girl.
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