Buying A Song

By Komal Narwani

In a tranquil village in Madhya Pradesh, on a quaint morning, Vidyawati made her way to the village well where all her friends also came to fetch water.

“La La Lalalala La Lalala Ley”

“Hello, Vidyawati. Why are you so late today?” said one of her friends.
“I stopped by to admire a beautiful singing bird on my way,” said Vidyavati. “And now I see you all humming a wonderful melody too!”

Illustration: Abhijeet Kini | Script: Aditi Pasumarthy

They all giggled and continued singing but Vidyawati did not sing. One of her friends asked her, “Why don’t you sing with us?”
With a sad look on her face, Vidyawati said, “I would love to but I do not know any songs. You all sing so well. Where did you all learn so many songs?”

One of the women said, “Oh! Don’t you know? You can buy them at the market.” When she winked, the others understood that it was a prank and decided to play along. “Is that so? I had no idea it was that simple!” said clueless Vidyawati.

On her way home, she started daydreaming of the morning she would sing with her friends. As soon as she reached home, she called out to her husband, Kantilal, “Dear husband, please get me a song from the market.”

Kantilal was confused; he had never seen any songs being sold in the market! However, Vidyawati insisted. “My friends told me. Please, could you just get me one song from the market? I would love to sing with them.”

Kantilal was a loving husband. He saw how excited his wife was and decided to give it a try, “Okay. I will go and look for a song.”

Illustration: Abhijeet Kini | Script: Aditi Pasumarthy

At the market, he went from shop to shop to find out where the songs were being sold. The innocent couple were pranked by many. When Kantilal asked one of the shopkeepers, he said, “Ah! Songs. Yes, we do keep songs but right now we are sold out. The silk shop at the far end might have some.”

“Thank you!” said Kantilal.

As soon as he left, the shopkeeper giggled, “Haha… That should be fun!” At the silk shop when Kantilal asked for a song, the shopkeeper said, “I have the finest of silks, not songs.” Although tired, Kantilal kept searching for songs but obviously, with no luck.

Disappointed, he decided to head home. As he ambled away, he wondered if there was any way to get a song for his wife. Suddenly, it occurred to him!

“Ah! If I can’t buy a song, maybe I can make a song myself,” he thought aloud. “Hmmm… What shall I sing about?” he continued thinking. A rat ran across his path, almost answering his question.

“Why not sing about the rat digging a hole in the ground?
Khode Kharar Kharar
Hmm, yes, that sounds good!”

Pleased with his newly crafted one-line song, Kantilal marched home humming it.
“Khode Kharar Kharar… Hmmm hmmm hmm hmm hmm hm.”

On his way, “Khode khaaaaa… a snake!” he panicked as a snake crossed his path but the snake slid away without noticing him. As he got some relief, “Phew! The snake is just slithering away. Sarke Sarar Sarar. I could add this to my song!”

As he kept humming the song and walking, he noticed a fluffy white hare, behind the bushes, looking at him with sparkling eyes. “Such a cute bunny looking at me. Dekhe Tagar Magar. Oh! Another line!”

Illustration: Abhijeet Kini | Script: Aditi Pasumarthy

When Kantilal had almost reached his house, he saw a deer merrily jumping along. “I think I have got the perfect ending to my song. Koode Alaang Phalaang.”

“Khode Kharar Kahar
Sarke Sarar Sarar
Dekhe Tagar Magar
Koode Alaang Phalaang”

“Vidyawati will be so happy,” he said to himself as he knocked on the door. Vidyawati was too anxious. As soon as she opened the door, she asked, “Did you find a song, husband?”
With a sparkle in his eyes and a wide smile on his lips, Kantilal proudly replied, “Yes, my dear, I bought the most expensive song I could find!”
Vidyawati was overjoyed to hear that. She could not contain her excitement and sat to learn the song at once.

“Khode Kharar Kahar
Sarke Sarar Sarar
Dekhe Tagar Magar
Koode Alaang Phalaang”

The couple sang the song many times. Vidyawati did not seem to get tired of practising. At night, Vidyawati went to bed but kept tossing and turning. She was too excited to sleep! She wanted to practice the song again to make sure she remembered it. Swiftly, she got out of bed, went into the kitchen and started practising the song. She realised that there was some corn left to be ground. Making the most of her time, she started grinding corn and practising the song.

“Khode Kharar Kahar…”

“No, no. Is this how my husband sang? Let me sing that line again. I want to practice the song perfectly. I am so excited to sing it with my friends tomorrow morning,” she thought to herself.

In the village, there lived a thief named Dhanga, a man with wide eyes and a pointy-long nose. Every night, he would prowl through the village. That night, Dhanga decided to sneak into the house of Vidyawati and Kantilal.

Digging a hole in the wall, Dhanga thought “That last house was useless. All I got was a few coins and a bag of clothes. This house looks full. I hope I get a little gold in this one.”

Illustration: Abhijeet Kini | Script: Aditi Pasumarthy

Just then, he heard Vidyawati sing, “Khode Kharar Kahar…”

“Oh no! Did somebody see me digging? Let me quickly hide behind the bushes to make sure,” he feared.

Few minutes passed but nothing happened. Dhanga thought it was safe to resume. He crept inside the house through the hole.

Vidyawati continued, “Sarke Sarar Sarar…”

He was startled to hear that but he observed Vidyawati and realized she was busy grinding corn. Assuming she didn’t see him, he decided to make the next move. But –

“Dekhe Tagar Magar…”

THUD!

He panicked and hurt himself as he struggled to get out through the tiny hole. “She saw me…She definitely saw me otherwise she wouldn’t have said that. What’s more, it’s as if she can read my mind! I need to get out of here now!” he thought.

Meanwhile, unaware of Dhanga’s presence, Vidyawati merrily sang, “Koode Alaang Phalaang.”

“Aaghh! How is she still watching me? I shall never come to this house again.” Saying so, Dhanga ran for his life.

The next morning, Kantilal was stunned to see a hole in the wall. He thought that they had been robbed but to his amazement, he found the valuables untouched. Nothing was stolen from the house. He called out to Vidyawati, “Vidyawati, did you notice there is a hole in the wall? I think somebody broke into the house but surprisingly nothing was stolen. What were you doing last night? Didn’t you stay awake for a while?”

“I was practising the nice expensive song you bought me,” said Vidyawati.

Kantilal laughed, “Haha! I think it must be a very good song. After all, it has scared a thief away from our home.”

Illustration: Abhijeet Kini | Script: Aditi Pasumarthy

Later that day when Vidyawati met her friends, she happily flaunted the song to her friends. “My husband bought me a nice expensive song from the market, just like you said! It even scared away a thief from my house. Oh, it’s a beautiful song!”

Leaving her friends flabbergasted, she merrily continued,

“Khode Kharar Kahar
Sarke Sarar Sarar
Dekhe Tagar Magar
Koode Alaang Phalaang!”

Read folktales from around India in our title Ranchen the Stone Lion and Other Stories. It is now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart and other major e-tailers. 

5 Children’s Books On Indian Culture

By Pratit Raiturcar and Krithika Nair 

Many Indians believe that the world of children’s literature is dominated by ideas and stories from the Western part of the globe. While that may have been true for a long time, the children’s literature scene in India has evolved greatly in the last few decades. Many of these books represent Indian culture through retellings of famous myths, legends and folktales, while some others talk about experiences that are relatable to Indians everywhere. Here are some of our favourite children’s books that do a beautiful job at representing Indian culture:

Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team
The Diwali Gift by Shweta Chopra, Shuchi Mehta and Anna Koan

The Diwali Gift is an adorably illustrated children’s book introducing readers to the grand Indian festival of Diwali. Three little monkeys named Suno, Dekho and Jaano get curious about a mysterious gift from Suno’s grandmother. The excited monkeys take guesses on what they think the box contains. The book presents many cultural practices surrounding Diwali through the gift, initiating interest regarding the festival and its celebration. The lively illustrations complement the riddles and rhymes written by the authors very well.

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Emily Haynes and Sanjay Patel

This colourful retelling of the story of the elephant god Ganesha and how he started to write the Mahabharata will definitely introduce the littlest readers to one of India’s greatest stories. Kids will enjoy reading about the magical world of gods and celestial creatures. The beautiful illustrations and fun style of writing make this picture book an absolute winner. The story deviates slightly from the original legend to make it more interesting and funny for the younger audience while retaining the cultural significance of the myth.

Monsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Sheth and Yoshiko Jaeggi

Kashmira Sheth weaves a beautiful story about a grandpa and his grandson’s day spent outside during a monsoon. When a little boy notices that it is about to rain, he goes to each family member and asks them to join him to play in the rain. Everyone seems to be occupied until his grandfather finds him looking sad by the door. The boy and his grandfather have fun doing some mundane yet memorable activities such as floating paper boats in a tub until the rain stops. They take a long walk and notice that the ants are gone, the banyan tree’s leaves are shining, and the wild peacocks around the area are dancing, just as they did when the grandpa was just a child, showing how some things remain constant across generations, and how people connect through them.

Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani and Elena Gomez

Imagine dressing up with glamour and having yourself be seen with happiness and wonder while watching the sari caressing the floor perfectly. The child clearly wanted the thrill of having such dazzling looks and what it feels like to be as gorgeous as her mother. When the child looks at her mother’s suitcase filled with cotton and embroidered saris, she decides that she too should wear a sari just like her mama in order to look as beautiful as she does. Mama’s Saris is a peek into the mind of every young girl who wishes to play dress up. This is a beautiful story between a mom and a child and how their bond deepens through their mutual fondness for saris.

Gobble You Up by Gita Wolf and Sunita

Gobble You Up! is a simple, traditional tale about a jackal who makes a fool out of his friend, a crane, by telling him that he is too lazy to hunt for food and proceeding to gobble the crane! The jackal ends up being a hunter and starts to kill and eat every animal that crosses his path; which in turn bursts his stomach open and all the animals he ate are set free. The beautiful style of art, known as Meena art, is a traditional style practised in Rajasthan. The message of the story, that greed always ends in bad consequences, is communicated quite effectively to its young readers.

We, at Amar Chitra Katha, cherish our heritage and always try to represent our culture in its most authentic form. Be it mythology, folktales or history – we have it covered! Check out our vast digital library on the ACK Comics App. 

Profile: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

By Mehar Dhillon

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni embeds within her work the subtleties and complexities of what it is like to be a woman, or to identify as one, in a patriarchal society. This patriarchal society erases the experiences of women and fills the void with an objectified version of a woman, as constructed by the male gaze. Women no longer remain people, but concepts and fantasies. She deploys her skill as a writer to restore these forgotten female voices.

Illustration: Narendra Pardhi

This prolific writer was born in Kolkata, India. She pursued higher studies in the United States and received a Master’s degree in English from the Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Her novel, The Forest of Enchantments, is a retelling of the Ramayana but through the eyes of Sita. The story of Sita has always been a subset of the main story of the male protagonists. Such storytelling makes it impossible to accurately depict and explore Sita’s uniquely female experiences and essentially hides her voice. Divakaruni manages to unearth Sita’s voice and pen it down in The Forest of Enchantments, thus adding more depth and nuances to the age-old epic, the Ramayana. 

The writer takes the same approach in The Palace of Illusions. In this novel, the half-mythical and half-historical fusion that is the Mahabharata, is reimagined through the perspective of Panchaali,  the wife of the five legendary Pandava princes. The novel demonstrates the virtues and qualities this princess possesses and how she becomes a pillar of support for her husbands. It fleshes out her varied emotions as the Pandavas fight to reclaim their throne and also her determination and strength as she takes control of the household from her mother-in-law. Once again, Chitra manages to add more dimensions to an age-old story.

Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

Arranged Marriage is a compilation of many short stories that delve into the experiences which are distinct to Indian women. Most of the stories in this collection follow the dissonance faced by Indian women of different backgrounds as they navigate their way through American culture. Their Indian upbringing, in simple environments, collides with the glamour and abundance of the American way of life. The women in these stories make their own choices as they encounter events that weren’t available to them back in India which pushes them to adapt and evolve in unique ways. 

Her work has been syndicated in The Best American Short Stories, The O’Henry Prize Stories, two Pushcart Prize Anthologies as well as The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. She is a recipient of The American Book Award, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award and the PEN Josephine Miles Award for fiction along with many others such as the Light of India Award, Times of India, 2011, Cultural Jewel Award, Indian Culture Center, Houston, 2009 and more. 

Chitra Divakaruni continues to enthral her readers, adding more pieces of work to her repertoire of writing. Her works, ‘The Mistress of Spices’ and ‘The Word of Love’ have been published in the digital medium and both of them have won awards. She continues to push boundaries and expand the portrayal of women in the media. In a world where the feminine is painfully objectified and robbed of all humanity, Chitra Divakaruni excavates the buried and overlooked women of our world.

The enlightenment of Gautam Buddha

By Vijita Mukherjee and Aditya Sen 

Prince Siddhartha Gautama of the Shakya clan left his family and kingdom after he saw the four symbols. He met many teachers and learnt many practices to realise the nature of human existence.

He did not give up

Gautama devoted himself to severe austerities for several years. His body wasted away, yet enlightenment eluded him. Looking at his single-minded dedication, his band of ascetics was sure that he was about to reach realisation. Then one day Buddha walked towards a river, splashed water on his face and felt refreshed. He accepted food from a passer-by woman and he ate a full meal after many months. His companions were aghast and felt disappointed that he had abandoned his spiritual quest at this point and they left him.  But a renewed energy began to course through Gautama’s body. He had not given up. He had just changed direction. 

Illustration: Souren Roy | Script: S.K. Ramachandra
Mucalinda

Then Gautama sat under the Bodhi (peepal) Tree in Bodh Gaya, Bihar to meditate. The skies darkened and heavy rain fell. It was then that the King of Serpents, Mucalinda rose from beneath the earth and protected Gautama with his hood. After the storm passed the serpent king took a human form, bowed joyfully to the mendicant and returned to his palace in the nether worlds.

Mara 

Mara, the Buddhist ‘Lord of the Senses’ tried to tempt Gautama on several occasions. As he meditated under the Bodhi tree, Mara appeared as a messenger with the news that his family had been dethroned. Next, Mara sent his three daughters, Trsna, Rati, and Raga (thirst, desire, and delight) and tried to distract him. He also frightened all the gods who had come to honour Gautama with a storm of rain, rocks and ashes. But he did not succeed in breaking Gautama’s dedication to his spiritual quest.

Illustration: Souren Roy
The dawn of enlightenment 

After sitting for 49 days in meditation, as dawn broke, Gautama was bathed in the light of complete knowledge. It was as if a door had opened within him. He was now a  Buddha or one who has attained wisdom. Brahma appeared to Gautam Buddha and urged him to teach the people what he had realised. 

The first sermon

Buddha then set out for Benares to find his erstwhile companions. They had left him earlier because they thought that he had abandoned the path of spirituality. He found them at a grove at Sarnath called the Deer Park.

Illustration: Souren Roy | Script: S.K. Ramachandra

When they saw him coming, they decided that they would ignore him.  They felt that they did not need him. But as he drew nearer, they noticed a great change had come over him. He was noble, majestic and so mesmerising that they hastened to meet him.

Here he delivered his first sermon, ‘The Dharma Chakra Pravartan’ or the turning of the wheel of law. He discussed the ‘Middle path’ and the ‘Four Noble Truths’ which are the tenets of Buddhism.

Thus, Siddhartha Gautam came to be known as Gautam Buddha on attaining the highest spiritual knowledge and began to spread it amongst all the people.

Read the full story of the Enlightened One in our title Buddha, now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Flipkart, Amazon, and other major e-tailers. 

Prince Siddhartha And The Wounded Bird

By Vijita Mukherjee and Aditya Sen 

Siddhartha Gautama, who was later known as the Buddha, was born into the royal family of the Shakyas in present-day Nepal, close to the Indian border. Tall, strong, and handsome, Prince Siddhartha was exceptionally intelligent and compassionate.

It was predicted that he would either become a great king or a powerful spiritual leader. Since his parents wanted a powerful ruler for their kingdom, they surrounded him with every kind of luxury. They were worried that a glimpse of worldly sorrows may influence him to choose the path of a renunciate.

The wounded bird
Illustration: Souren Roy | Script: S.K. Ramachandra

Once while taking a walk together, Prince Siddhartha’s cousin Devadatta, shot an arrow and got a bird down. Both the boys ran towards it. Siddhartha picked up the bird, gently removed the arrow and tended its wound. Devadatta too reached the spot and he claimed the bird as his kill. When Siddharth refused to part with it, Devadatta took his cousin to court for justice.

Siddhartha reasoned, “The one who nurses have a greater right than one who aims to kill.”

The judge ruled in his favour and gave him the bird. When the wound healed, and the bird recovered fully, Siddhartha set it free.           

The four symbols

In spite of his parents’ efforts to shield him from suffering and keep him away from the spiritual path, Siddhartha did get a glimpse of the transient nature of the world. On four successive chariot rides outside the palace grounds, he came upon a diseased man, an old man, a corpse and a wandering holy man. These four encounters are known as the Four Signs.

Illustration: Souren Roy

Prince Siddhartha Gautama was so deeply affected by these incidents that he decided to lead an ascetic’s life and search for freedom from the suffering caused by the infinite cycle of birth, death and rebirth. 

Soon thereafter, he left his wife Yashoda, his son Rahul and all the pomp and glory of his father’s court to search for the true meaning of life and living.

Thus began the spiritual quest of this prince of the Shakyas which, many years later, transformed him into the Shakyamuni (the sage from the Shakhya clan) or the Buddha (the enlightened one).

Read the full story of the Enlightened One in our title Buddha, now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Flipkart, Amazon, and other major e-tailers. 

Profile: Kabir

By Vijita Mukherjee

Jyon naino me putli

Tyon malik ghat mahin

Moorakh log na janhin

Bahar dhundan  jahin

– Kabir

Illustration: Mitushi Sharma

Simple language garbing a complex thought process; that is the essence of the poetry of Kabir Das. He used the language of the common man and examples from an ordinary life and spoke that extraordinary truth, which is beyond the grasp of many a learned scholar and philosophical tomes.     

Life

Born in 1398, Kabir’s parentage is unknown and hotly debated.  He was brought up by a weaver named Niru and his wife Nima in Varanasi. They practised Islam. His spiritual teacher was Swami Ramanand, a Hindu. However, his own religion was one that he discovered within himself. He followed a path illuminated by his own experience, which was a far cry from the dogmas and doctrines of any of the faiths around him. He married a hermit’s daughter named Loi, but was not really interested in the affairs of the world. The religious leaders of all the faiths around him found his unconformity threatening. However, Kabir was unconcerned with their views and distilled his inner growth into a treasure of poetry.

Illustration: Umesh Burande | Script: Dolly Rizvi
Kabir’s Work

Coming from an economically humble background, Kabir was unlettered and had no opportunity to study any of the scriptures. Yet, his poems are filled with a deep meaning and spirituality that is hard to find elsewhere. His ‘koi bole Ram Ram, koi Khudai’ reflects his belief in the oneness of the Godhead. This thread of oneness forms the bedrock of Kabir’s literary and philosophical work. 

In some other verses, he urges people to follow the path of righteousness and maintain a purity of heart and mind. Devotion, unshackled by the fetters of caste, colour, creed, rituals and religion is the dominant aspect of Kabir’s philosophy and reflected in his poetry.  He talks about a formless God, who can be attained only by inward reflection, devotion and love. 

His work exists in three major regional variants namely the Eastern (the Bijak), Rajasthani (Kabir – Granthavali) and Punjabi and Hindi (contained in the Adi Granth of the Sikhs). The language he used is a mixed dialect also known as the ‘khadi boli’. His poems are not adorned with any literary embellishments, they spring from the earth he was connected to and are simple and straightforward.  

Kabir is famous for his ‘dohas’, which are still popular among the common people and are very lyrical.  He also wrote ‘padas’, which are short rhymed poems. The shlokas or ‘sakhis’ that he wrote are a part of the Granth collection. They are terse utterances that are the ‘witnesses’ to the ultimate truth. He mixed Hindu and Muslim references to convey his belief in the oneness of God. He openly spoke about the weaknesses of both Hinduism as well as Islam.

This mystic poet is studied by scholars of poetry as well as philosophy. He is probably one of the most iconic figures of the Bhakti and Sufi movements in 15th century India, which stood for a coming together of all humans in a surge of devotion towards God. 

The Kabir Panthis

The followers of Kabir’s philosophy are called Kabir Panthis. Many of them write poetry along the same lines as Kabir. However, Kabir himself encouraged people to explore and learn for themselves.

Kabira kabira kya kare, socho aap sharir
Pancho indriya vash kare, so hoy das Kabir.

 

Why are you quoting Kabir, think for yourself
Control your five senses and then you can be Kabir.

Kabir’s poems have been translated by many scholars both in India and abroad. Rabindranath Tagore too translated and made available these verses in his One Hundred Poems of Kabir’. This mystic poet is said to have passed away around 1518. His death, too, is shrouded in mystery. It is said that his body turned into a heap of flowers, half of which was claimed by the Hindus and half by the Muslims. Kabir’s poetry remains as relevant today as it was so many years ago. 

Read the complete story of Kabir on the ACK Comics App. Our title Kabir is also available on Amazon, Kindle, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

Profile: Khushwant Singh

By Mehar Dhillon

Apart from a widely read and celebrated author in India, Khushwant Singh was also a famous public figure, lawyer, journalist and politician. He was a nominated member of parliament from 1980 to 1986, an editor for The Illustrated Weekly, National Herald and Hindustan Times and had a weekly column named ‘Malice Towards One and All’ which was printed in several publications.  He is known best for his literary work. He was a winner of the Padma Vibhushan and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship and a recipient of the Padma Bhushan, until he returned it in protest against Operation Blue Star. He was loved by his companions like Sadia Delhvi for the pleasure of his company and lively nature, and was respected by his colleagues because of his humble and generous personality.

Illustration: Aakanksha Patil

However, he was also regarded as a controversial figure due to his acerbic sense of humour and political views. His defence of the emergency that was imposed by then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and his public declaration of admiration for Sanjay Gandhi was not well received.

Singh came from a desert village named Hadali, which now lies in Pakistan. He was born to a highly affluent family; his father was Sobha Singh, who was one of the Indian civil contractors that built Delhi from the ground up. He controlled almost half of the land in Delhi and was nicknamed ‘Adhi Dilli Ka Malik’. Khushwant Singh was unable to discern his true calling in life for the longest time and thus pursued many different career paths as a lawyer, a politician and a diplomat.

Khushwant Singh’s most well-known piece of work is ‘Train To Pakistan’, published in 1956, which is based on the Partition of India. It constitutes post-war and colonial literature and is a work of historical fiction. The story begins in a village called Mano Majra, where there is no hostility between the Muslim and Sikh sects and the people are completely unaware of India’s independence from the British. The story is a whirlwind of conflicting emotions and beliefs and the subsequent harrowing consequences of the dissonance brought forth by the partition. The tiny glimpse it gives into the mortifying events that took place in 1947 pushes the reader to tear away from their negative prejudices, if they have any. It is imperative that we keep history close to our hearts because that is the only way we avoid making the same blunders again, and this novel does an excellent job at waking us up from our ignorant stupor. 

Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

Khushwant Singh’s book ‘Sunset Club’ gives insight into the loneliness felt by the elderly, while ‘Women and Men in My Life’ beautifully recaptures Singh’s experiences and relations with the people he had fallen out with. ‘A Portrait of a Lady’ is another remarkable book of his, which is a collection of short stories. Singh’s work has inspired many aspiring novelists.

Khushwant Singh’s clarity of thought and the beautiful simplicity of his words make his novels excellent reads. His controversial ideas and beliefs have earned him scorn, however, his opinions cannot tarnish his literary achievements. The legacy that Khushwant Singh has left behind, is a rich one. 

Gopal And The Hilsa Fish

By Mansee Jain and Krithika Nair 

In the kingdom of Krishnanagar in Bengal, there once lived a king named Krishna Chandra. Among his courtiers, his favourite was Gopal, the jester. Gopal’s wit would often come to the king’s rescue when he was in sticky situations. The jester’s guidance was quite valuable to the king.

Once, it was the season of Hilsa fish in Krishnanagar, and nobody could stop talking about it. The fishermen only caught Hilsa fish, for the fishmongers wanted nothing else. Why? Because the people would not buy anything other than Hilsa these days. The Hilsa fever spared no one, it gripped everyone in Krishnanagar right from the householder to the courtiers!

For a few days, the king politely indulged all the talk about the fish but sometimes, it was intolerable.

“Have you been to the market yet? I heard the price of Hilsa is down today,” said a courtier.

“I did! You wouldn’t believe how much I got it for,” the other one replied.

“Really?”

A third courtier chimed in. “He’s right. I was there early, got the biggest one.” Then, turning to the king, he said, “Your Majesty, you should have seen the Hilsa I bought. It was this big!” while gesturing with his hands.

The king could not stand this obsession anymore.

“Enough! Not another word about Hilsa. What are you, courtiers or fishermen?” he angrily roared.

The court fell silent. They had no intention of angering the king, they were just discussing something that was the talk of the town. Realising that his frustration got the best of him, the king calmed down.

“I’m sorry. I lost my temper. It’s just that ever since the Hilsa season has begun, no one has talked about anything else. Nobody can stop anyone from talking about Hilsa. I don’t think even Gopal could do it!” he said.

Gopal saw a challenge.

Illustration: Souren Roy | Script: Urmila Sinha

“Oh, I think I could, Your Majesty,” Gopal said with a mischievous smile.

The king huffed. “If that is so, then let me see you buy a huge Hilsa and bring it to the palace without a single soul asking you about it.”

Gopal accepted the king’s challenge and began to plan his victory.

A few days later, Gopal’s wife walked into an interesting scene. Gopal’s usually clean-shaven face was only shaved on one side. He was busy smearing ash on his scalp and cheeks when she let her curiosity get the better of her.

“Why are you only half-shaven? Why are you smearing ash on your face? What’s the matter with you?” she questioned.

“Didn’t I tell you? I’m dressing up to buy Hilsa,” he casually replied.

Then, he proceeded to pull out his oldest, most torn pair of kurta pyjamas. His wife was horrified.

“You can’t possibly go out in those disgraceful rags! What are you up to?” she asked.

In reply, Gopal calmly repeated that he was going to buy Hilsa. Seeing him walk away so coolly, his wife worried that he was going mad!

When Gopal reached the market to buy fish, all eyes were on him but not a single one dared to speak to him.  Not even the fishmonger that sold him the Hilsa said a word, handing the fish over while quietly gaping at him. Fish in hand, he began walking towards the palace. On the way, he heard many whispers.

Illustration: Souren Roy | Script: Urmila Sinha

“Look at that man! Isn’t he funny-looking?”

“He must be a madman. Poor chap.”

“I think he is a mystic!”

Gopal smiled inwardly at all this attention.

When he reached the palace gates, the guards frowned at him.

“What do you want?”

“I want to see the king.”

The guards were annoyed. “You can’t see the king. Get away from here!”

At this, Gopal began to sing and dance loudly at the gates, creating a ruckus. Even the courtiers began to notice and talk about the crazy man demanding to see the king.

Illustration: Souren Roy | Script: Urmila Sinha

The king, too, heard the commotion and summoned a guard to bring him in. When he appeared, the king and the courtiers were astonished.

“It’s Gopal!”

“Has he gone crazy?”

“I think it is one of his jokes.”

The king waved at his courtiers to silence them.

“All right, all right. Out with it, Gopal. Why are you dressed in this ridiculous fashion?”

“Your Majesty, please look at me carefully!”

“Look at you? Yes, that’s what we are asking about. What’s all this?”

Gopal then dramatically held up the fish he bought.

“Strangely enough, nobody seems to be interested in the Hilsa fish today! I walked past so many people on my way from the market to the palace and now in your court. Yet, not one word about Hilsa was spoken!”

The king then remembered the challenge he’d thrown at Gopal and burst out laughing.

“Hahaha! Congratulations, Gopal. You have achieved the impossible once again!” the king said in his praise.

Read more stories of Gopal in our title Gopal the Jester. Now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

Popular Indian Science Fiction Novels

By Mehar Dhillon 

The science fiction genre is evidence of the infinite potential of the human imagination. The unique human ability to weave ideas and stories around things that we have never seen, touched or smelled is reflected in this genre. It is a genre of speculative fiction, containing imagined elements absent from our world, and often encompasses stories that revolve around otherworldly elements such as space and time travel, galactic exploration, extraterrestrial life forms, parallel universes, technological and scientific developments and their subsequent consequences. Thus, science fiction, or sci-fi as it is popularly called, is rightfully cited as the literature of ideas.

While the genre has still not been explored thoroughly in India, we still have many sci-fi gems to offer. Here are some of the most popular Indian science fiction books.

Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya

Sultana’s Dream is about a woman that is transported into Ladyland, where being a woman is to be privileged and free and to be a man is to shut in and shackled. It is a piece of parallel universe science fiction literature, written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain in 1905. The story follows the protagonist as she wakes up in Ladyland and is slowly introduced to its lore and laws. This story was revolutionary for its time and reveals the logical fallacies in the arguments supporting the way of the patriarchy in a witty and humorous manner. It peels back the patriarchy’s veneer of disliking anything ‘frivolous’, that only barely hides its actual disdain for everything ‘feminine’. Rokeya explores the condition of Indian womanhood by juxtaposing it with the liberated life the women of Ladyland live. Sultana’s Dream may justly be considered regressive by today’s standards of feminism, however, it is important we acknowledge that it was conceived during a time when feminism was in its beginning stages and women weren’t given even a fraction of the rights as they are today.

Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

The Calcutta Chromosome is a medical science fiction thriller written by Amitav Ghosh, in 1995 and received the Arthur C. Clarke award. Ghosh brilliantly braids the characters within each other’s lives as we follow each of them through a mix of different timelines, making the plot incredibly complex and intricate. We, as readers, follow the enigmatic L. Murugan on his search for the ‘Calcutta Chromosome’. His deep fascination with the Nobel Prize–winning scientist, Ronald Ross, who found out that malaria is spread through mosquitoes allows him to unearth an underground movement that has the potential to grant eternal life. The Calcutta Chromosome’s various twists and turns ensure a captivating and thrilling reading experience. 

The Simoqin Prophecies by Samit Basu

The Simoqin Prophecies is the first novel in the GameWorld trilogy, it is followed by The Manticore’s Secret and The Unwaba Revelations. The story revolves around the realization of two prophecies, the first one foretelling the rise of great rakshas ‘Dahn Gem’ and the subsequent prophecy that comes as a beacon of hope that reveals a hero would arise to defeat Dahn Gem. The story follows the hero as he is faced with a moral dilemma, where he must commit terrible acts in order to save the world from the rakshas. 

It is written by Samit Basu and was published in 2004. It is a kaleidoscopic mix of eastern and western mythical elements beautifully blended to create an enthralling universe that enchants the readers and makes them invested in the series. 

Oftentimes, the genre is reduced to a means for escapism rather than being the effective social tool it has proven to be over the years. Pioneering authors of this genre have used it as protest literature, usually in the form of dystopian world stories. These stories highlight the pressing issues of our time that are slowly turning into the norm and turn our attention to the problems we have the privilege to divert our gaze from in order to retain our comfort. Science Fiction or Sci-Fi, through the efforts of authors like Begum Rokeya, Amitav Ghosh and Samit Basu, continue to inspire our ‘sense of wonder’ and provide us with much-needed glimpses into dystopian futures that could become reality.

Raman of Tenali Is Blessed By The Goddess

By Vijita Mukherjee

In the village of Tenali, there lived a very poor yet carefree boy named Ramalingam or Raman. Though his father was dead, he hardly helped his mother in any way.

One day a wandering sadhu (ascetic) saw him wasting his time and chided him. The naughty Raman had no intention of arguing with the holy man as he wanted to continue his siesta. So he told the sage that he wanted to work but unfortunately, he was stricken by a deadly disease.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Kamala Chandrakant

The sadhu believed the lie and felt sorry for the boy who otherwise looked cheerful and bright. He taught him a mantra (chant) and its practice to appease the Goddess Kali. He thought the boy would ask her for good health. Blessed with a razor-sharp intellect, Raman easily learnt the mantra but he was already in the best of health. So, he decided that he would use it to ask for food. 

That night, Raman chanted the mantra a hundred thousand times and the Goddess Kali appeared before him. She was magnificent with huge expressive eyes, a dark complexion, a thousand heads and two hands raised in blessing. However, instead of asking her for anything at all, Raman burst out laughing.  The Goddess was not amused and demanded to know the reason for his mirth. Raman told her that with two hands he found it hard to manage one running nose; he was wondering how she would manage her thousand noses if she ever had a cold! The Goddess could not help but smile at his childlike innocence and imagination. 

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Kamala Chandrakant

She addressed him as a ‘vikat kavi’ (a jesting poet) and blessed him with the power to be able to make people laugh. Now, anyone standing in the grace of the goddess would be overcome with emotion but not our Tenali. He bantered with her further: while this boon would make others happy, how would it help him, he asked her. She liked his fearless confidence and decided to offer him one of her most coveted boons.

Lo and behold! A golden cup with the milk of learning and another one studded with diamonds and full of the sour curd of wealth appeared in the goddess’s hands. She asked Raman to choose one. Raman of course wanted both and immediately devised a plan. 

Scratching his head and wrinkling his forehead, Raman said that he had no idea what was the flavour of either wealth or learning. After all, he was but a poor lad from a small village. Could he not be allowed to taste both and then make an informed choice? The goddess thought that was quite a fair request and held out both the cups in front of him. Quick as a flash, Raman gulped down both the milk and the curd. 

The cups were empty and the Goddess was furious. But Raman had prostrated himself before her. He closed his eyes and praised her with songs in childlike innocence. In any case, he reasoned, one would not be useful without the other. 

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Kamala Chandrakant

Goddess Kali relented and smiled yet again. She granted him both the boons but cautioned him that they would earn him many enemies. With that, she vanished.

Quite pleased with this turn of events, Raman went back home. With wealth and knowledge to call his own, Raman of Tenali eventually entered the court of King Krishnadevaraya of the famed Vijayanagara Empire, but that is another story! 

Read the full story of Tenali in our title Raman of Tenali, available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.