The Adikahani Series

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REVIEW

The Adikahani Series

By : Bijal Vachharajani  / 2015

The Fox and the Lump of Clay.jpg
With its Adikahani series, Pratham Books delves into the rich repertoire of oral stories that can be found in Odisha and attempts to navigate at least part of India’s diverse linguistic landscape by documenting them in the form of picture books for tribal children. In their concept note the publishers explain, “Unfortunately, many tribal languages do not have literature for children in book form or books for reading pleasure. As increasing numbers of tribal children go to school, it is now more necessary than ever to create a body of children’s literature in their languages.”

Children grow up speaking their mother tongue at home and then find themselves learning another language, such as English, in school. The transition isn’t often easy and sometimes in the quest for so-called modernity, mother tongues fade away from memory. Which is where theAdikahani series become an important educational tool – the picture books are bilingual in format. The ones that came to me were in English and Hindi, but other editions are available in Odia and Munda, Kui, Saura and Juanga (the languages used by four tribal communities in Odisha).

The ten books in the series have been written and illustrated by authors and illustrators who belong to four different tribes from Odisha. These books are the result of a series of workshops conducted by Pratham Books, IgnusERG (a group of professionals who work to develop education modules and curriculum for students of preschool and upper-primary levels) with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation (a funding body with an interest in mother-tongue education). The stories are primarily folktales, illustrated in the Saura wall mural style (the art form common to all four tribes). The illustrations are simple, and at times elaborate, like the graceful monkeys on top of trees, a grazing herd of chital or elephants dancing in a circle to the beat of a dhol.

Of the three books by the Munda Writers’ Group, What should Soma Grow? is a delightful little story about multi-cropping and how an old man ends up growing different kinds of crops – oats for himself, horse-gram for the squirrel, maize for the deer, peanuts for the parrot, sesame for the hog, and sweet potatoes for the jackal. It’s an insightful and timely story given the known benefits of multi-cropping for the soil and climate adaptation. In The Elephants who like to Dance, a boy finds that elephants love dancing to the beats of his dhol, and, in The Water Seed, a drought-ridden village becomes self-sufficient by digging its own water source inadvertently. The last story again has a strong message of environmental conservation as it talks about water being precious.

The Kui Writers’ Group has also written three books. The friendship between The Fox and the Lump of Clay is doomed from the start and ends tragically when the lump of clay dissolves in water while trying to help quench the fox’s thirst. The Rabbit’s Long Ears is reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, where the young reader learns why rabbits have long ears and bob tails. The modern world creeps into Asila… Basila… Uthila… Jaucha, where villager Samu becomes friends with Sudhir who lives in a town. Both of them don’t speak the same language which leads to a misunderstanding but also a good turn of events. This is one of the lighter book in the series and is sure to appeal to young readers.

The two books by the Juanga Writers’ Group are The Clever Chicken and Doong Doong Dum Dum. The first one is about a chicken who uses its brains to avoid becoming the jackal’s next meal. The second is about a boy who hears a conflicting drumbeat, one tells him to “doong, doong”, which in the Juanga language means “go, go”, and the other urges him to “dum, dum”, which means “stay, stay”!

The Saura Writers’ Group has contributed two books to the series. The Catty Ratty Tale tells the story of a clowder of cats that invites a colony of rats for a feast hoping to make them the chief entrée. But the rats are clever and manage to escape in the nick of time. In The Jackal’s Loss, a hare helps his tortoise friends to escape from the clutches of the jackal.

Most of the tales have some sort of lessons embedded in them – friendship, greed, inclusiveness, cleverness. Since they are aimed at really young children, these are simple stories. Unlikely friendships are struck up in these tales, a hare and a tortoise, a jackal and a rabbit and a fox and a lump of clay. The concept of arch enemies is also introduced with the story of the cats and the rats. Music is another prominent theme that runs through the books. The dhol pops up in the stories, enticing a parade of elephants to dance to its beat in one story or confusing a child with its strange beat of “doong, doong-dum, dum” in another.

These stories are an attempt to archive some of the oral storytelling traditions of Odisha. It also means that children belonging to these particular tribes now have access to picture books that tell familiar stories in their own language and using images that are inherently part of their culture. And that in itself is a great start to introducing them to reading in their mother tongue and in a new language – and to the magical world of stories, of course.

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