Welcome to this book, dear Reader. My editor, Chiki Sarkar, gave me a very specific and fascinating focus for Hindu Fables. It had to be a collection of parables actually told by or historically linked to a sage, saint or guru, from the very beginning to the present, ‘from the Vedas to Vivekananda’. That’s a span of about three millennia represented here, dear Reader, and the tales in this book go on to parables told by Swami Sivananda and Satya Sai Baba.
Thinking this would be very easy and pleasant to do, since I had swum in the river of story for years, I soon discovered that while the telling part was joyful, it was not that easy to choose stories that had not only the required peg, but also attracted me irresistibly as a storyteller. However, several exciting things happened along the way as these stories, with the most curious energy, began to almost find themselves for this book with a twist here and a turn there.
For one, there’s the journey of Sanatana Dharma or ‘Hinduism’ itself, which evolves from tale to tale, as you’ll see – there are shifts from the impersonal to the deeply personal in the approach to ‘God’ over time; but along with these changes, there’s also a worthwhile core value that appears in story after story, from ancient times to the present.
For another, there’s a wide variety of situations in these stories. There are shoot-outs between the ‘earthly’ and the ‘spiritual’, between wives and husbands, fathers and sons, best friends, dancing girls and ascetics, kings and queens, ghouls and angels and between regular, everyday people, not all of them well-behaved.
Sometimes, though the story is very well-known, it’s been a treat to retell it because of the interesting person who cited it, as in Death and the Demon King (to be published in November) whose original is mentioned in the sensational letter from Tulsidas to Meera Bai; and as in Krishna Janma (to be published in November) ‘retold’ in the voice of Jana Bai, probably the first woman to tell a story that had always been told by men. On occasion, the original parable seems very old-fashioned, but turns out to contain a poignant untold story within the story, as in The Touchstone (to be published in November) from an 18th century book of saints.
Some parables like those by Sri Ramakrishna are extremely brief because when he told a story, it was to people who knew its entire background. Since his parables are profoundly touching, it’s been a personal offering of sorts to expand and retell them with details of their milieu as in The Impersonator (to be published in November) and A Voice in the Woods (to be published in November).
All these stories, including three favourites from the Panchatantra and Hitopadesa, have been tremendous fun to retell at length in a contemporary tone.
In sum, each storyteller told these tales his own way, reflecting their own era. As someone who belongs to their tradition, I hope I have kept faith with my times in retelling these fables from our shared heritage. Please join us in this happy adventure!
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture and was religion editor at Hindustan Times for many years. A new story from ‘Hindu Fables’ will release every day on the Juggernaut app. The first story, What the Thunder Says, is now available on the app here.