Bajpai has presented her fables and stories in a manner that can be read to an audience in front of a fireplace as also be a beautiful read while in bed before switching off the lights to enter one's dream world
Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai's book “The owl delivered the good news all night long - Folktales, legends and modern lore of India” is a collection of 108 folk tales, legends and stories gleaned from more than 57 Indian languages and dialects. As a visual anthropologist and author, Bajpai has attempted to present folk tales of the Indian subcontinent in an organized manner keeping in mind the vast diversity of languages, culture and social practices.
To collect, analyze, evaluate and group the folk tales into divisions of perceptions and understanding such as lost love, friendship, wit, courage, humor, etc is, to say the least, a daunting task for any collector of fables, legends and myths. There are many researchers and social anthropologists who differentiate between the terms "folklore ", "folktale", "myth"," legend" and "fables" and present stories accordingly.
In Bajpai's collection, the terms are seen to be used interchangeably for cultural stories, leading many to believe they refer to the same thing. However, while there is overlap among the forms, each of these provides a unique reading experience.
While reading the book I realized that folktales provide an understanding of the people who tell them. Bajpai has been able to portray a sense of society by focusing on the main themes and ideas. Understanding folktales and folklores, in general, can be extremely difficult, though when fairytales are narrated today the underlying meaning is often never realized or thought about.
The collection of folklore and fables would have been a much sought-after research work if the author had carried a chapter to indicate with evidence that folktales reflect memory in the community and may be used to establish and confirm aspects of current importance.
For better understanding, take the present perception of both India and China as to the influence of communities in Arunachal Pradesh, and the evidence that can be ascertained from the folktales and fables of the region. This may have to some extent clarified perceptions of a community's associations with a particular civilization.
A full reading of the book gives the reader an understanding of the immense amount of research that must have gone into collecting the "lores" and then the daunting task of thinking out the methodology of formatting the tales into a series of structured chapters, each dealing with a thought and belief.
Bajpai has not only been successful in presenting the tales lucidly but also her prose is both seamless and simple, easy for even school-going children as also adults. It can readily be accepted as a tome for future research by others who may want to traverse this path of fables and myths, legends and tales
Collecting, narrating and presenting folktales and legends is not denied to anyone but over time there became designated people to tell the tales. As with any form of storytelling, some people succeed in relaying stories in better ways than others. Bajpai has presented her fables and stories in a manner that can be read to an audience in front of a fireplace as also be a beautiful read while in bed before switching off the lights to enter one's dream world.
Aleph Book Company has produced the hardbound book as a collectors’ item. Printing, binding and cover design make this book a first choice for gifting it to people fond of reading. I rate this book a five on five.
(The owl delivered the good news all night long- Folktales, legends and modern lore of India; Author Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai: Publishers Aleph Book Company; Pages 496; Price Rs 999)
(The reviewer is a retired Indian Army officer)