BOOKs The Puffin Book of Folktales brings together 10 tales, familiar and new

We all know the story of the father and son who took their donkey to the market and listened to everything and everyone but common sense. What would have happened if they had listened to no one?

That’s what Manjula Padmanabhan writes about in ‘A Man, His Son, Their Donkey’, one of the many reinterpretations of Indian folktales that finds its place in The Puffin Book of Folktales. The book has been brought out to commemorate Puffin completing a decade in India.


Other tales in the anthology include Paro Anand’s ‘Harshringar’, where a besotted, heartbroken Surya curses a narcissistic damsel and turns her into a flower; Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s ‘Podna and His Revenge’, where a little angry bird stuffs a zoo in his ear to exact revenge on the king who has kidnapped his Podni; and Kamala Das’ ‘Panna’ about a little girl who ends up in the depths of the sea with the Fish King and Fish Queen.

Binding them are the illustrations by Pune-based artist Poonam Athalye. Done in oil, they capture the spirit of the stories — the determination of Podna who flies to confront the king, the anguish of a drowning king, the boredom of the Fish King and Queen who preside over a kingdom in perfect order; the despondence of the dove whose egg is stolen by the blacksmith’s wife…

Considering some of the stories are familiar, with their own set of published imagery, was there a reference point for her to work with? Says Poonam: “The publishers approached me because they liked a technique I had used for an earlier book. They wanted me to paint using oil and showed me some of my previous work that they liked as a reference. I did not refer to any other illustrations. As always, I just read the stories several times and waited for the ideas to develop.”

Folk rules

Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘Renuka’s Umbrella’, where a sage, angry with the Sun for scalding his wife’s feet, threatens to shoot him down from the sky with his arrow, proved more challenging than the rest, says the artist. “There are some stories in the book that have a mythological background. I wanted to refrain from illustrating any mythological character in detail as it would take away from the folk part of it and appear more like a book on Indian mythology. ‘Renuka’s Umbrella’ was particularly difficult because of this,” Poonam explains.

A student of architecture, Poonam later did a course in visual communication. “Throughout the course I made animation films, for which I drew and painted by hand. But, towards the end of the course I began working with Prof. Kirti Trivedi, and began illustrating for children,” says Poonam.


The book has been brought out to commemorate Puffin completing a decade in India