Stories express experiences. Experiences are lived memories. Memories, beautiful or dull, when read back, contain the power of unleashing umpteen emotions. These emotions when expressed well become stories for keeps. However, short stories are always quite tricky. While they can be entertaining and interesting to a large extent, there always exists a fear of them not being able to catch the reader’s attention within a short time-span. This is particularly true if your readers are mainly children! The Puffin Book of Holiday Stories: An Anthology runs through this difficult sword of creating and retaining interest quite successfully.
The book is a collection of fourteen short stories by renowned writers and enthusiasts like Nayanika Mahatani, Paro Anand, Ruskin Bond, Nandini Nayar, Rabindranath Tagore, Himanjali Sankar, Sudha Murty among others. Ruskin Bond in the introduction of this anthology clearly calls this book an opportunity to ‘celebrate holidays with stories about holidays’. The fourteen stories thus collated make one colourful collection of tales that express adventures as well as misadventures, boisterous families as well as solo explorations, intimate friendships as well as quarrels and arguments. The common thread running across these different hues is that of the colour of summer. Summer vacations and the idea of holidays are very close to the human soul. The stories touch these with immense care and sensitivity thereby making the reader a part of them.
While a clever parrot interestingly named ‘Carrot’ makes for a wonderful entrance at a summer school, animosity of two enemies is meted out by the usage of mango desserts! A little girl with inflamed tonsils dreams and aspires to use vanilla ice-cream as medication and a little boy ends up being swallowed by a snake! Sudha Murty’s story specially brings an innocent and contented smile on the face. Expressed in the most coherent way possible, it is a story woven within a story and within a story! Tagore builds up the character of an old man travelling in the same train coach where a group of young boys are getting back to school after the end of the summer vacations. The young and the old meet here. An excerpt from the story of Life of Uncle Ken is illustrated by Ruskin Bond where he spends his vacation with granny. Along with his granny is his crazy and weird Uncle Ken. Lubaina Bandukwala has two neighbours raging a war against each other through the weapon of ‘Mangoes’. Desserts made of two different varieties of mangoes are being continuously sent to one another. This tussle between the Junagadhi Kesar and Alphonso mangoes ends up being the most delicious and sumptuous fight possible.
One is always obsessed with summer holidays as they pass in a flash just like these tales. The closing bell that rings in the school thereby marking the beginning of the vacations is the moment that leads each child on the path of enthusiasm and excitement. Grandparents shower their love in abundance. Holidays with families are planned. Adventures begin and stories are made. The stories aim to encompass different stages of life. Lasting friendships are made in some, while passion for life is sought in another. These become all-encompassing tales expressed lucidly in a creative manner. It is interesting to note that the book succeeds in weaving both the young audience and adults into its enigma. Though the book is for children, it is actually for all age groups as there is a child residing in all of us.
Ruskin Bond mentioned somewhere in his interview that India lacks in giving attention to literature for children. The book thus comes at a very appropriate time and with its creative illustrations by Rujuta Thakurdesai makes for a complete holiday trip. In the introduction he mentions, ‘This is when we discover ourselves, our own potential, and, more often than not, we’ll do it through what we read and write.’ According to him holidays are tedious with nothing to read. One should carry three bags full of books wherever they travel. With this anthology, the travel comes to you through different lenses and perspectives. It take the reader on fourteen different rides one after the other. The summer vacation begins, holiday flavour is showered on and tales unravel themselves building up a world of mystery, questions, achievements and above all memories!
Ektaa Jain has submitted her PhD thesis at the Centre for the Study of Social at Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.