‘The Owl Delivered The Good News All Night Long’ is a modern take on tales of yore

‘The Owl Delivered The Good News All Night Long’ is a modern take ontales of yore
Edited by Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai. Aleph. Pages 496. Rs999

For a generation that grew up on the literary staple of ‘Once upon a time’, we adapted quite well to the changing times. We cleverly improvised our folk tales to suit the sensibilities of our progenies, infusing modern elements here and there to make them relatable.

Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai belongs to the generation that grew up listening to those improvised folk tales. And one of those titled “Tuntunir Boi”, which narrates the harrowing experience of a crocodile in search of a modern school for his seven children, particularly left a mark on her. As her father seamlessly integrated a traditional folk tale from the erstwhile Bengal region with modern ethos, he unconsciously laid the foundation for her to delve deeper into the world of legends and tales.

And the result is this comprehensive volume of folk tales and modern legends spanning genres, starting from oral tradition to digital media. She has covered as many as 57 languages and dialects from 28 states and eight Union Territories. By selecting three stories — a myth, an oral lore, and a modern story — from each of these, she has given so much more to a reader than just pure nostalgia.

Arranged alphabetically as per their place of origin, the 108 tales included in this volume have been transcribed by 60 narrators and translators. The narration has gone through several filters as each tale involves a collector or storyteller, translator, and, finally, the editor to shape it up in the present form.

But again, many of these stories have been already ‘written’ by various authors in English and recollected from memory, or several informal retellings, before they made it to this volume. So, the style of narration does not often follow a consistent pattern.

Lopamudra, who is currently serving as the culture specialist at the SAARC Culture Centre, Colombo, has done thorough research to bring a primarily oral tradition into organised framework by putting her collection of stories and legends under nine sub-heads such as ‘Friendship’, ‘Lost Love’, ‘Creation Stories’, ‘Humour’ and so on.

A mix and match of folk tales, legends, and modern lore gives a reader just enough idea of the culture and tradition of the place of their origin. But what proves to be the merit of this book also leads to some confusion. For example, Chandigarh is represented by stories of Mirza-Sahibaan, mystic Baba Farid and poet Amrita Pritam. Another story on Baba Farid also features in the Punjab section. Even if, for argument’s sake, we say that Chandigarh belongs to Punjab and hence the overlapping, by no stretch of imagination can we associate Mirza-Sahibaan or Baba Farid with Chandigarh. Chandigarh is too young a city to have its own legends and even if it does, eventually, these will be centred on the genius and eccentricities of its creator Le Corbusier, not Baba Farid!

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