Sabah Hussain
THE WINGLESS FLIGHT AND OTHERS by Edited by Geeta Menon. Illustrations by Saurabh Pandey Children’s Book Trust, Golden Set, 2022, 144 pp., INR 190.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Children’s literature reminds one of life’s simpler joys and how everything is driven by curiosity alone. The book Wingless Flight and Others is published by Children’s Book Trust, a publication house founded by cartoonist K. Shankar Pillai in 1957. He is also the founding father of Shankar’s Dolls Museum in Delhi which houses a collection of dolls from numerous countries. He began his journey as a satirist, in a weekly publishing political humour, specially making fun of politicians and public men. The Trust has been inculcating the habit of reading amongst children and young adults for seven decades now. The books have also travelled to places in various exhibitions through the National Book Trust.
The CBT takes the entries through a national-level story-writing competition suited to different categories of age groups, with the themes of Indian culture, heritage, and morality, as has been done for this book. Navigating through fifteen stories of the hard-bound book, one could travel through the different corners of India from the interesting names of the characters to the inclusion of peculiar topographies in the book. This golden set of anthology has stories by multiple authors and interestingly most of them include regional culinary traditions with authentic names like ulundu kali, masala vadai, bisi bele bath, saaru and palya. The book is a beautiful adventure through the lifestyles of the fisher community of Chennai to the weaver community of the Brahmaputra.
As Shankar envisioned storytelling through cartoons, following the tradition this volume too supplements a page-long colourful illustration for each story by Saurabh Pandey. The fiction collection includes information on government initiatives like the Night Shelter project for the deprived, Corporate Social Responsibility, work on the state of art technologies, and the function of capital generation for NGOs. These details can act as a catalyst for young minds to find interesting ideas to embark on an expedition of their own.
The book follows the tradition of didacticism but lacks the genre of humour which children’s literature ideally should also be endowed with. Stories like ‘How the Stories wereSaved’come to aid by employing sterling creativity in fiction and tell a tale of story-telling through an occult character ‘Kahani Khaa’. This story brings pure joy to the readers, while others tap on moral underpinnings about matters like firecrackers burning, ecosystem conservation, and courage in the grimmest of times. The book also explores serious themes like militancy through the lens of a young girl who loses her limb in a mine blast, a story which also forms the title of the book. These issues are political in nature and an incomplete context of the militancy can raise a thousand questions in young minds which remain unanswered in the story. ‘The Rival Kings’takes the readers back to the era of Janapadas where the rivalry between the empires of Avanti andKaushambigets resolved through a mutual thread.
‘Three on a Track’, a story about three friends, celebrates friendships, mourns the transience of childhood and paves the way for the future amidst penury. This story reminds me of Stephen King’s novella The Body, from his Different Seasons collection, the most commemorated cinematic adaptation of which is ‘Stand by Me’ by Rob Reiner.
When I was a kid, I read a story that dealt with the insecurities of a young girl, until she sits down and engages with her emotions in depth rather than escaping them. I remember how deeply I could relate to the anxieties of the protagonist and how beautifully the text wired the emotions in a few pages. This is the influence a narration could leave on the tabula rasa of a young mind. Children’s literature does not need to be always informative in an academic sense but a lot can be learned from the dilemmas, experiences, and existential contemplations of the characters.
The volume is for children between the age group of 9-12, and that is the time they start observing the human emotions of adults around them. For instance, ‘Breakfast at theWaffle Place’, most ordinary in its setting and pace, engages with the compound sentiments around separation. Through its subtleties and nuances set in a waffle place, the child protagonist collects the pieces of a withering marriage wrapped in the acrimonious conversation of his parents. The story does not give readers a definitive clincher but ends when Amma turns back and looks at the façade of the Waffle place saying ‘This might remain, somehow, you know.’
In terms of technicalities, the volume lacks story titles as the running heads in the interior pages which even in a children’s book are essential to orient readers. In a few stories, at places, the position of the narrator switches between the first and the third person. Barring these minute incongruities, the volume serves its reader with all that is expected from an edition of Children’s Book Trust publication.