Setting off the mood in her introduction to this collection of sixteen stories for girls – sadly, only three of them of Indian origin; Manjula Padmanabhan, recalls that in her growing years books were not “written specifically ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’.” Years later, the realization dawned on her that, “In many parts of the world, including some parts of India, girls were not expected to have much use for reading at all when they grew up, except to do accounts and make laundry lists!”
The stories are from different countries and are set in different eras. Some of them are from much loved, well-thumbed books, such as Heidi, whose aunt leaves her in the care of her very reluctant and grouchy grandfather. As time goes on, Heidi steals his heart, just as Pollyanna brings about a sea-change in her stern and upright Aunt Polly. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is an all-time favourite of mine and was recently re-discovered and enjoyed just as much as I did when I was a child.
The other classic stories in this collection are What Katy Did, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Necklace and The Wizard of Oz - all-time favourites. Of the Indian titles, Kabuliwala, is one that pulls at one’s heartstrings, every time one reads it. The tender relationship of a lonely vendor of dry fruits, ‘Kabuliwala’ and a little girl is beautifully explored. In all his stories one realises that master story-teller Tagore, understood human emotions at a deeper level and that perhaps explains their 'eternal' appeal. Making a Mango Whistle by Bibbhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, is a heartwarming story of Durga and her little brother Apu. Apu, being a boy, is fed well and pampered, but that does not get in the way of the siblings. The story is bubbling over with their childhood pranks and their resilience in dealing with the consequences of deeds gone astray.
Ruskin Bond’s The Blue Umbrella is another little gem from his repertoire of stories. Simply told with his usual finesse. Binya has a new umbrella. Holding her blue umbrella up makes her feel beautiful – like the little lady it had once belonged to. She refuses to part with it for love or money, until one day a playful wind decides to have some fun.
All in all, a lovely collection. One wishes however, that there were more stand alone stories, as excerpts somehow leaves one a bit dissatisfied.