Stories Across Languages and Dialects
Vaibhav Iype Parel
THE OWL DELIVERED THE GOOD NEWS ALL NIGHT LONG: FOLK TALES, LEGENDS, & MODERN LORE OF INDIA by Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai Aleph Book Company, 2021, 496 pp., 899.00
March 2022, volume 46, No 3

The Owl Delivered the Good News all Night Long is a mammoth compilation of folk tales from all the States in the Indian Union.  With 108 tales from 57 languages and dialects across India, it is a stupendous effort to keep alive the spirit of these regions through words and stories that emanate from and are deeply inscribed in their lived realities. The book has an interesting organizational structure. The editor, Lopamudra Bajpai, a visual anthropologist by training, has selected three stories from each State or Union Territory with the help of sixty narrators and translators. For each State she has three different kinds of stories: the first one is from the dominant language of the State, the second one is from a minority language in the State, and the third is a modern ‘lore’ which speaks about a post-1947 tale about some personal/collective achievement which is a more modern take on the idea of the ‘lore’.

These stories have been mostly collected from family and village groups through personal interaction, travel and research. So, often there are no textual references to fall back on. As Bajpai points out in the Introduction, the physical act of narrating a story through words, eye-gestures, hand movements, intonation and pauses, all make a difference in the way narration takes place, meaning is created and transmitted. This collection is a good place to start to get a sense of how different tales sometimes coalesce in their themes like friendship, lost love, nature, women and creation, even if they originate from geographically distant parts of the country. It is these commonalities which remain fascinating, where we meet the everyday world, and the story focuses on quotidian realities which root us in a particular ethos, region and language.

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