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Updated: April 26, 2010 15:51 IST

Stories of yore – retold

MADHUMITHA SRINIVASAN
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Title: Kalila and Dimna, The Pancatantra Retold. Author: Ramsay Wood.
Title: Kalila and Dimna, The Pancatantra Retold. Author: Ramsay Wood.

A narration of the 13 rules of conduct that is proper to the behaviour of kings. It is at once interesting and familiar.

Teaching children morals, ethics and warning them against vices can be difficult, but not when it is in the form of stories. Not just any stories, but those that feature talking animals.

Kalila and Dimna – The Panchatantra Retold (Book One) by Ramsay Wood features many such stories. The main thread that runs through the book is that of Dr. Bidpai narrating the stories to King Dabschelim to explain each of the “13 rules of conduct proper to the behaviour of kings”.

In Book One, the interaction between the King and Bidpai is interspersed with the narration of the tale of Kalila and Dimna, the two cunning jackals, who are the lion king's attendants. Dimna jealous of the king's closeness to the bull Schanzabeh, plots his downfall which ultimately results in the lion killing the bull. This story is used to explain the first rule of how to manage “servants” for “anyone who is close to the king will always unwittingly arousing jealously and envy among those who do not enjoy such happiness”.

This sub-plot featuring Kalika and Dimna has many stories narrated by the characters to explain a certain situation or behaviour. Confusion prevails when there are stories narrated within stories. Many of the stories would be familiar to those who have read Panchatantra and Aesop's Fables. They only differsslightly in narration because of the writer's intention to add freshness to the more than 2000 year-old text.

Dwelling a bit on the introduction by Dorris Lessing and the abbreviated pedigree of the Bidpai literature will give one an idea of how the original texts have travelled all across the world and has evolved.

Reading one story with numerous breaks in between by way of smaller stories can be tiresome. And the usage of certain swear words, graphic description of violence and certain settings may make it unsuitable for very young readers. But on the whole it makes for good reading. The moral of these stories though should be allowed to settle in subconsciously rather than consciously.

Like Dr. Bidpai says, “…the urge to tag tidy little rationalisations, persuasive formulae, intellectual summaries, symbolical labels, or any other convenient pigeon-holing device, must be steadfastly resisted.

Mental encapsulation perverts the medicine, rendering it impotent…to explain away is to forget…Familiarise yourself with them but fiddle with them not.”

KALILA AND DIMNA by Ramsay Wood, Random House India, Rs. 225

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