Grandparents make for the best storytellers. As they spin yarns, they can transform the simplest of objects into magical vessels; with their imagination turning ordinary spaces into the most enchanting of settings. My childhood was spent listening to my grandfather tell stories of forests and the miraculous events that would transpire within—my namesake would always be the protagonist, and as twilight would set, she would engage in the most heroic of acts, aided by the creatures that dwelled in the thick woods. Even now, I always look out for books that carry grandparents’ tales as they evoke memories of childhood.
Two such books published recently by Talking Cub, a children’s books imprint by Speaking Tiger, celebrate such stories. The Magic Couch: Adventures With Thatha is for five-years-old and above, while Grandfather’s Tiger Tales is for the 8-plus age group. The former has been written by Shilpa Rao, a full-time mom and a part-time development finance professional, and illustrated by Mumbai-based Sahitya Rani.
It tells the story of a little boy and his Thatha, who are the best of playmates and partners in adventure. When the grandfather starts telling a story, the regular couch turns into a flying carpet, of sorts, taking them both on journeys to Ladakh, Mandya, Mars, and more. The writing is quite vivid, evoking the thrill, wonder and adrenaline rush that usually come with such adventures.
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The illustrations elevate the story, adding small details that add to the overall narrative. In one scene, as Thatha turns a tambourine into a steering wheel for the couch, one can feel the coffee cups vibrating, a runway appearing for takeoff and a stuffed toy flying away on a parachute. I loved the illustration for the Nilgiri Hills trips—a dense forest, with vines hanging from trees, and a family of leopards on the bank of a stream. You could almost feel like you were there with Thatha and the little boy. The last few pages contain information and details of all the places mentioned in the book.
The other book, for slightly older kids, has Dadubhai telling stories—some real, some myths and legends—about tigers and forests. The book serves as an engaging introduction to the Sunderbans. It has been authored by Anjana Basu, who works as an advertising consultant in Kolkata, and illustrated beautifully by artist Aaryama Somayaji.
One of my favourite stories is about the tiger who came to a cricket match. I was surprised to find that this is based on a real account. “The account of the tiger that came to a cricket match is recorded in the archives of one of the earliest clubs set up by the British—the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club,” writes Basu in her introduction.
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The reason for that was that Lower South Circular Road, which is now known as Chowringhee, formed Kolkata’s southern border and beyond that were the forests of Sunderbans. “That explains why when the teams Bally and Saugor were engaged in a heated competition on an open ground near the river, the cricket match had an unexpected onlooker. A tiger ambled lazily out of the nearby jungle,” she writes. The other story in the collection that is extremely relevant to today’s times—in context of man-animal conflict—is related to the aftermath of Cyclone Aila when a man in Amlamethi found himself sharing a string bed with a tiger.
So, this weekend, why not let Dadubhai and Thatha take you through a whirlwind adventure to the land of stories.