This is a beautiful folk tale, told simply and compellingly by Manasi Subramaniam. A wise old woman in a village in Tamil Nadu teaches Parvathi a story and a song. She promises to pass them on, which is the only way to preserve them. But after she marries Kamban, she is so busy that she forgets, and the frustrated story and song escape. It is left to the lamp flames, which congregate in the temple every night, to restore them to Parvathi so that she can breathe life into them again.
The text is just right for a picture book for children who have been reading for perhaps two or three years – not too simplistic, not too much embroidery. The story is fascinating and also thought-provoking, as the best stories are. And though the characters are likely to be outside the experience of the average urban child, I think they will feel a sense of involvement with their concerns because they are both interesting and likeable.
The groundwork laid by the writer has been taken up and brought to life superbly by the illustrator. Ayswarya Sankaranarayan has created a feast for the eyes and the soul, with a loving eye, a wealth of detail and the vision of a great artist. The people, the village scenes with intriguing goings-on, the temple with its beautiful carvings, the comical animals everywhere, the interior of Parvathi and Kamban’s house with all its quaint artefacts, the element of fantasy in the lamp flames bringing back the lost story and song – every bit of the illustrations is an absolute delight! Each time you look at it, you discover some surprising detail you had missed before – a kitten struggling out of the clutches of a child in a hut, the intricate kolams outside the houses, a crow helping itself to some of the vadam laid out to dry in the courtyard, the glimpse of children splashing in the river that is visible from Parvathi’s kitchen window, Kamban’s hilarious clothes horse, the temple rats enjoying a midnight feast of coconut… One could amuse oneself for hours with this book. It is something that parents, grandparents and children will love to share and enjoy together.
I sincerely hope the author and illustrator collaborate on many more such books. They will be doing the country a service by bridging the gap between Bharat and India, and showing city children that our grand cultural heritage has a practical, everyday face that is even more beautiful.