Publisher: Blaft Publications
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The last thing you would be reading right now (assuming you are an adult well past your puberty) is a book of fairy tales. So if I say that a book of fairy tales is perhaps the most enjoyable read I have had in some time, it would not be wrong to presume that you might read further with a heightened sense of skepticism.
But that would be an extremely wrong decision on your part. For you would miss out on the guilty pleasures of entering Ki Rajanarayanan’s delightful world and becoming a child all over again!
The “indie” publishing house Blaft has been responsible for a lot of us rediscovering the likes of Ibn-e-Safi over the last few years. However it seems like even their ardent followers have missed out on this little gem which has been around for quite some time now but is yet to garner any sort of attention through word-of-mouth (read: social media).
The translator at work is a known name for Blaft readers. Pritham Chakravarthy runs Quentin Tarantino close in an extremely well-read discussion on pulp fiction after a couple of drinks. She is in form again with “Where Are You Going, You Monkeys?” as she brings to life in English the vibrant and colourful characters from Ki. Ra’s original work.
The first thing that catches your attention is the red ribbon which binds the last quarter of the book. To call it just a marketing strategy would be crude; in my opinion it is a brilliant way to catch the reader’s attention to something which might turn out to be the most enjoyable part (tsk tsk) of the book.
Once that is done and dusted, you would do good to redirect yourself back to the first page. After a rather interesting introduction (a section which I generally do not worry about too much) by Ms. Chakravarthy, you are swept away within seconds into a world of brave kings and beautiful queens, exotic birds and animals, not-so-scary-but-very-amusing ghosts and demons and the original politicians of our society – the plethora of Indian gods and goddesses.
The stories are short, sweet and often come with an unexpected and vicious twist in the rear end that would leave many a desert scorpion panting for breath. The best part though is that almost none of the stories have the moralistic heavy-handedness of the fables of the Western world. Social conventions are generally taken with a pinch of salt and a fried chili, which in my opinion is how a true fairy tale should be. The rambling and oft-nonsensical nature of the narrative in some of the stories give you a sense that, in all probability, the story was made up on the spot and gives you an opportunity to be awed by the teller’s ingenuity and talent.
Much as we try to brand this form of literature as escapist and not intellectually stimulating, I feel that the genre does its bit to open up the windows in a stuffy library reeking of the musty odour of political correctness accumulated over the ages. The language is ribald and sexy when it needs to be so. Some of the stories have the old world charm of a long-time beloved artifact being passed down by generations after generations under the cooling calm of a banyan tree.
The best thing about it all is that the translation hasn’t been “packaged” to cater to a larger English-speaking audience. This gives the non-discerning reader a chance to take a walk down the lanes of Tamil rural culture and enjoy a bowl of fresh kanji with the effervescent characters who populate the narrative. It is a rare success in the much maligned world of translation and the folks at Blaft deserve a mighty thump on the back (and improved sales) for the same.
Check out what the Deccan Herald has to say about this collection of stories here!