Sunday, February 8, 2004

Kids’ corner
Grandpa’s witty home truths
Inderdeep Thapar

Tall Tales
by Jaspar Utley. Puffin Books. Rs 199.
Pages 165.

TALL TALES revolves around the fantastic yarns spun by "henna moustached, one-eyed, tea addict" grandpa for his believing grandson who laps up these stories just as the reader does. It is a unique book which combines humour with satire in a masterly stroke of story telling.

The great grandpa dons various roles in his life spanning more than a century. He says he is the first freedom fighter of the country as he had defeated the Viceroy of India in a cricket match, an obvious satrical reference to the Lagaan story. Obviously, the freedom struggle was not just about a cricket match. Similary, the author ridicules the self-styled music "purists" who are in reality nothing more than ambitious socialites trying to carve out a place for themselves on the social ladder. Only that person who has music in his soul can enjoy it.

Grandpa’s take on rural development drives home the truth that a change in rural attitudes cannot be brought about by loud speeches. Instead it can only be done by living with the people and educating them through everyday conversations on issues like literacy, hygiene, environment. This is again a satirical reference to people who plan for rural development sitting in plush apartments.

The Politician, The Athlete and The Extra are the stories where humour rules supreme. The illustration of Ramanaidu is an obvious reminder of you know who, just as tall promises by grandpa to the appaluding populace is a tragic reminder of the Indians being taken for a ride by crafty politicians.

Out of Step talks about the way that people from the North, who prefer fair skin, look down on the dark-skinned people from the South. That this divide can be overcome only by mutual understanding and respect for the ways of the other, is the wisdom imparted by the grey-haired veteran. He also takes a slingshot at religious hypocrisy that is now an integral part of Indian psyche.

In The Spy great grandpa puts Sherlock Holmes to shame as he solves the mystery of a missing treasure. His encounter with a lady in white in The Ghost of Fort St Goerge leaves the question of the existence of ghosts unanswered. The Archaelogist brings out the explorer in grandpa. In this story grandpa shoots the last of the mythical unicorns and even preserves its horn in his stick.

The last story is pensive as grandpa talks about his wife. This is when the grandson discovers that loneliness is the root cause of all of grandpa’s "tall tales"

Devoid of literary jargon, the book is written in simple, uncomplicated English. It is a must-read for all those who enjoy a quiet laugh even as a few idiosyncracies of the average Indian are brought home and raw truths delivered in tongue-in-the cheek style.

The stories are focused, short and gripping and the illustrations by Debashis Deb apt. This is a book for people of all ages.