Bijal Vachharajani reviews the Adi Kahani series on Goodbooks.
With its Adikahani series, Pratham Books delves into the rich repertoire of oral stories that can be found in Odisha and attempts to navigate at least part of India’s diverse linguistic landscape by documenting them in the form of picture books for tribal children.
The ten books in the series have been written and illustrated by authors and illustrators who belong to four different tribes from Odisha. These books are the result of a series of workshops conducted by Pratham Books, IgnusERG (a group of professionals who work to develop education modules and curriculum for students of preschool and upper-primary levels) with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation (a funding body with an interest in mother-tongue education). The stories are primarily folktales, illustrated in the Saura wall mural style (the art form common to all four tribes). The illustrations are simple, and at times elaborate, like the graceful monkeys on top of trees, a grazing herd of chital or elephants dancing in a circle to the beat of a dhol.
Most of the tales have some sort of lessons embedded in them – friendship, greed, inclusiveness, cleverness. Since they are aimed at really young children, these are simple stories. Unlikely friendships are struck up in these tales, a hare and a tortoise, a jackal and a rabbit and a fox and a lump of clay. The concept of arch enemies is also introduced with the story of the cats and the rats. Music is another prominent theme that runs through the books. The dhol pops up in the stories, enticing a parade of elephants to dance to its beat in one story or confusing a child with its strange beat of “doong, doong-dum, dum” in another.
These stories are an attempt to archive some of the oral storytelling traditions of Odisha. It also means that children belonging to these particular tribes now have access to picture books that tell familiar stories in their own language and using images that are inherently part of their culture. And that in itself is a great start to introducing them to reading in their mother tongue and in a new language – and to the magical world of stories, of course.