Hilarious tales of creepy-crawlies
Priyanka Singh

The Caterpillar Who Went on a Diet and Other Stories
by Ranjit Lal. Puffin.
Pages 184. Rs 175.

Those who have grown up on Roald Dahl and P.G. Wodehose, know their kind of wit and story construction is above board. Ranjit Lal is not in the same league but his ingenuity is just as remarkable.

To weave not one but 14 marvellous stories — each better than the other — on omnipresent, non-exotic insects like beetles, mosquitoes and flies is no mean task. The stories are so original that it is a virtual treat to read and savour each word that creates a delightful and peril-filled world of these tiny creepy crawlies.

There is Cheeni Chor, an ant, who discovers a jar of strawberry jam quite by accident and doesn’t have the heart to share the irresistible treasure with the rest of the gang, even at the cost of having to face death penalty.

Then there is Nimbu, a well-rounded caterpillar, who is cheated into dieting by a stick insect that drives home the point that fat is ugly and supremely clumsy. The motive is to make caterpillars weak and reed thin so that hunting them when they transform into butterflies, would require less effort.

The Ace of Dragons is about Squadron Leader Neon Streak, a war-hero dragonfly, who loses a wing in a battle against Red Barons. His request to participate in the annual dragonfly airshow is turned down since he is disabled.

A surprise attack by the Red Barons during the show causes panic and the three-winged Neon repulses the attack using his flying skills. His honour is redeemed but he is still not allowed to take part in the airshow as the common belief now is that having three wings instead of four give him an unfair advantage in competitive flying.

The story about a hypochondriac fly who is choosy regarding the stuff she eats for fear of contamination is a satire on the quality of food products that humans like to believe are safe. The death of 367 flies and illness of 4,576 humans after a binge on spiked candyfloss adds to the irony.

Ranjit Lal has written books for both children and adults. Technically, this throw-your-head-back-and-laugh book is for children but the surfeit of wit and the anecdotal style make it unputdownable even for grown-ups. The world of roaches, lizards and annoying flies will never be the same again. The reader will meet Ranjit Lal’s exuberant, greedy, brave, selfless and vicious characters in every home and not all in the same form.