The millennium old Vikram and Vetaal stories get a delightful modern twist that will appeal to the mischievous imagination in each of us in Natasha Sharma's "Vikram and the Vampire". Assisted ably by Priya Kuriyan's inimitable wicked illustrations, with her unfailing eye for the quirky and ridiculous, the book is a laugh- riot with a strong underpinning of folksy Indian wit and wisdom
This treat of a book begins with an unusual hook:
"The question that foxes me is: How does one deliver a vampire?....You could courier the vampire.....What if it rears up and bites the delivery guy?"
And so we get introduced to King Vikram - who finds riddles irresistible - and who sets out on his journey to find the " vetaal"/vampire and bring him back on his back using "good old manual labour."
From here the story journey gets more and more "chatpata" in typical Natasha Sharma style! We meet sorceror Shaitanish, then the betaal, followed by a procession of smart young ladies - Cleverish, Madhumalti, Princess Brillianto and Athi Sundari. Add to this the Samajhdaar dad with his four silly sons aptly named Nin Com Poo and Oops and others, and you have rib-tickling stories ( with just the right and healthy amount of gore, ghouls, head chopping and screeching) to keep your little ones' ears and eyes glued.
The series of tales ends predictably with the King killing off Shaitanish and making friends with the vetaal who grants him a lifelong boon. The book ends with a note on the historical origin of the " Betaal pachisi" stories.
As for the language and wit, the writing is full of lines like these and make one want to read on :
" Can you imagine what might come out if a vampire threw up?
" The princess threw the sword away, tidied up her hair and strode out of the cave."
" Marry you clowns who get caught in a trap set by us! Are you out of your mind? Come darling," said the queen to her daughter.
What is really good to know for the grown ups who buy this book, is that the women and girls in these stories are feisty and independent thinkers, who make their own choices and are quite capable of fending for themselves whether it's trekking through a dark forest dealing with robbers or dealing with troublesome suitors. I'd buy the book just for this very welcome modern touch!
Yet the ancient wisdom and Indian feel of the stories remain unspoilt, which is quite a feat.
For today's children who have an appetite for the ghoulish and macabre, here's a book that will satisfy them without scaring their pants off. The healthy wacky humour serves to prevent kids from getting too serious as they often do, watching the over wrought weepy vampire tales of blood, gore and revenge peddled by Hollywood that some pre teens seem to love these days.
A lovely little book for reading out aloud by mums, dads, grandparents - or teachers. ( Does anyone do this these days?!)
And what a happy way for kids ( and adults) today to revisit the well- loved Vikram and Vetaal stories!
Reviewed by Urmila Ramakrishna