Presence of Myth in Recent Indian Children’s Literature in English

Myth transcends the limitations of science and history. It gives us a sense of where we may have come from and also provides pathways where we might go in future life. The word myth comes from the Greek word ‘mythos’ which means a ‘word or story’, and usually it portrays gods and goddesses, demons and supernatural elements in larger than life style that interact in different ways with the mortal ones. The varied symbols in the mythological stories provide frameworks for us to think beyond the restrictions of our horizons, and inspire us to find out the answers of the unanswerable questions like – how we came into being; why we fall in love; why we die; and where we might go after death, and so on.

Indian mythology is one of the richest elements of Indian culture, which enriches it further and makes it a unique one in the world. Through generations, different stories and tales in Indian mythology have been transmitted from generation to generation. These are mostly religious, spiritual and ethical in their treatment and message. These messages are conveyed through children’s literature for long-lasting influence. Myth in children’s literature broadens imaginative new horizons that allow child readers to escape from their mundane lives, follow and identify with a male or female hero that battles monsters and demons, before returning home victorious. It helps them to make sense of their place in the world, of birth and death, of the move from childhood to adulthood, and of good and evil.

Children’s literature includes stories, books, magazines, and poems that are composed for and enjoyed by children. Children’s literature can be traced to stories and songs, part of a wider oral tradition, that adults shared with children before publishing existed. Even in the world of today’s techno savvy generation, its content attracts, instructs and entertains children. In Children’s Literature: A Very Short Introduction, Kimberley Reynolds defines the term ‘children literature’ as follows,

From newspapers and other media to schools and in government documents, it is understood to refer to the materials written to be read by children and young people, published by children’s publishers, and stocked and shelved in the children’s and/or young adult (YA) sections of libraries and bookshops. (1)

Kimberly Reynolds continues writing about the scope and possibility of children literature firmly as follows,

Currently, everything from folk and fairy tales, myths and legends, ballads and nursery rhymes – many of which date back to preliterate age as e-books, fan fiction, and computer games may come under the umbrella of children’s literature. (2)

When children book content is analyzed from the research perspective, many distinct and interlinked themes pop out. The very universal theme found in children’s literature of any age, undoubtedly, is imagination as an ingredient to mythology. Award winning children’s writer Katherine Paterson states in A Sense of Wonder (1995), “Mythology and fairy tales deal directly with archetypes….they help children….. to face and conquer their inner dragons” (Agrawal 11).

Along with and apart from fairy tales, imagination and fantasy get magical touch to them. Harry Potter and its series can be taken as a recent example of magical element present. In this regards, Reddy emphasizes on imagination as an enriching inspiration. He says,

The child in his process of development transforms his immediate mundane world into a world of make-belief and magic. The richer his source of inspiration, the richer are his fanciful inventions. (76)

Manish Purohit from AuthorsUpFront (and ex-Publisher for Disney Publishing, India) stresses, “Old Stories can be told in a contemporary manner to engage children. Bheem and Hanuman have been retold in a new context – visually and textually.” In the new avatar, nine-year old Chhota Bheem, modelled after his Pandava namesake, is blessed with extraordinary strength, and loves laddoos that give him a surge of energy. In the New Adventures of Hanuman, as the bad guy-fighting superhero, Hanuman becomes as icon for the young. Both characters have become more real for children who love them. (Singh 1) Even in today’s world, with a technically beautiful presentation in a story attracts children. They tend to read the books with glossy colourful books with pictures and images.

In a country like ours where tradition is pious, parents, who usually select books for their kids, feel far more comfortable buying retold versions of tales based on mythology. Being familiar with these tales from their own childhood, they are confident that they are providing the right literature for their kids. Reading myths will keep the young in touch with their heritage, culture or religion; they feel and inculcate the correct values.  The greatest success story of publishing for children in India is the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) series of comic books, largely based on traditional and mythological stories. It shows the fascination with myths in India. Not a single contemporary Indian writer has ever enjoyed this much popularity which ACK has gained. Amar Chitra Katha (‘Immortal Pictorial Tales’) was first published by India Book House, Mumbai in the later half of the 1960s. It has the distinction of being both the first and the best-selling product of its kind in India. One great observation for the success of Amar Chitra Katha is found here as,

Amar Chitra Katha is an inseparable part of what future generations will inherit as the ‘Indian tradition’. It has found its permanent place on every Indian’s bookshelf. (Guha 162)

This is one of the greatest comics series where a reader can find pictorial presentation of a story. Anant Pai (1929-2011) is the man behind the success story of Amar Chitra Katha and thus, an initiator of children literature in Indian. Raja M writes about the inspirer of Amar Chitra Katha,

Once upon a time there lived an orphan who was often the subject of ridicule. Small, docile, he wore funny clothes and had even funnier ideas – like growing up and becoming a chemical engineer only to tell stories through pictures for a livelihood……. The world calls him Anant Pai, the pioneering czar of Indian comics. The children call him Uncle Pai. (np)

On the footsteps of Mr Pai, the next generation writers for the children continue the same tradition to bring mythological settings and stories with modern perspective and pedagogical outcome.

Devdutt Pattanaik, India’s favourite mythologist, has many books for children at his credit. His list includes the Fun in Devlok series and Pashu. He explains, “These books were meant to help parents bring mythology into the lives of their children, make the gods more accessible in the case of Devlok, and make the animals of Hindu mythology more popular” (Varma 1)

The stories in Indian mythology vary from subtle maxim conveying tales of Panchatantra and Jataka-tales to subtle life paradigm defining stories from the Bhagvad-Gita, Ramayan and Mahabharat.  A key point to note is that there are usually multiple stories explaining the same fact or occasion or festival or situation. So each version/retold story is right in its own merit. This is a result of the natural evolution the stories might have gone in the process of being handed over from generation to generation for centuries.

Mythology, Devdutt Pattanaik believes, shapes the way we think. He clarifies, “Greek myths evoke ideas of heroism. Abrahamic myths evoke values of submitting to authority. Hindu myths evoke the idea of adapting to circumstances and different people” (Varma 1).  The presence of mythology in recent Indian children’s literature in English reaffirms that the future of Indian children’s literature has a bright and meaningful future.


Bibliography:

  1. Agrawal, Deepa. “Indian Children’s Literature: How the Past is Eroding the Present”.<http//www.indianfolklore.org/journals/index.php/IFL/article /download/333/362.>
  2. Guha, Aryak. “Amar Chitra Katha: The Making of an Indian Comic Book.”       Reading Children: Essays on Children’s Literature. Eds. Rimi Chatterjee and Nilanjana Gupta. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2009.         Print.
  3. Lerer, Seth. Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter. Chicago: Uni of Chicage P, 2009. Print.
  4. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009. Print.
  5. Raja M. ‘Dear Uncle Pai’, Impressions, Statesman, 10.8.97.
  6. Reddy, Balashouri. “The Role of Mythology in Children’s Literature.” Telling Tales: Children’s Literature in India. Ed. Amit Dasgupta. New Delhi: ICCR & New Age International Pub Ltd, 1995. 74-78. Print.
  7. Reynolds, Kimberley. Children’s Literature: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2011. Print.
  8. Singh, Preeti. 13 Feb 2015. Access on 01 Jan 2016. <http://www.mid-day.com/articles/why-indian-mythology-is-gaining-popularity-with-kids/15986173#sthash.pyc49uvy.dpuf>. Web.
  9. Superle, Michelle. Contemporary English-Language Indian Children’s Literature: Representations of Nation, Culture, and the New Indian   Girl. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
  10. Varma, Anuradha. 27 Feb 2015. Access on 01 Jan 2016. <http://scroll.in/article/709846/eight-indian-writers-your-children-might-want-to-read>. Web.

Vaseem G Qureshi, Assistant Professor in English, Vishwakarma Government Engineering College, Chandkheda, Ahmedabad – 382424. Email Id : vaseem_qureshi@yahoo.co.in     Contact No(s) : 9328945694 / 9825323233

 

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