What is the best way for a giant to fight sizeist prejudice when he wants to open a bakery in a town full of typical-sized people? He makes the “tastiest, chewiest” baked goods ever made in the world, of course. But what if his melt-in-the-mouth cheesecake, moist, warm apple-walnut bread, crumbly, delicate cookies are all, well, giant-sized? How does one eat a bun as big as a couch with one’s tea?
The warmly hilarious story of Molka the Giant forms one of four stories in Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s newest book, The Amazing Moustaches of Moochander the Iron Man and Other Stories. Farooqi, whose writing for adults, notably 2008’s The Story of a Widow, has moved critics to call his style Austenian, writes in the matter-of-fact narrative tone of fairy tales here. Each of his tales shares the fairy-tale quality of absurdity. In Profundus and Madame Snotbog, the shiny pink piglet Profundus must fight the mysterious force that is gobbling up his town’s shiny pink piglets faster than you can say oink, and the collection’s title character, Moochhander, has to face the existential crisis of his luxuriant facial hair failing him—talk about a little Philip Roth of a children’s fable. In Monkeyshines, based on an old Urdu story, an enterprising monkey finds that his rudimentary barter economy teeters on the brink of collapse when he tries to swap a tray of sweets for a bride.
(from right) Arabian Nights and Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander.
Unlike fairy tales, however, none of Farooqi’s stories are didactic. Instead, they are written to charm and amuse, and all of them succeed, the read-aloud quality of Farooqi’s narratives beautifully complemented by Michelle Farooqi’s comic illustrations, thanks to which baking giants, sarcastic tiny pigs, cunning monkeys and moustaches full of character dance through the pages with aplomb.
And illustrations almost steal the show in Anushka Ravishankar’s The Storyteller: Tales from the Arabian Nights. In blocks and swirls of black and white, Harshvardhan Kadam draws the classic Alif Laila stories retold by Ravishankar beautifully, bringing life to Schariar’s middle-aged crustiness, the imperious beauty of Scherazade, and the principals of some of the Arabian Nights’ most beloved stories. There is no Sinbad here, or Abdullah the fisherman, but Ali Baba, Ali Khwaja and Aladdin all fight, plot and win their way through their immortal stories.
Ravishankar adapts them in a breezy, amused tone of voice that will probably captivate young readers. In her telling, the importance of stories is bound up with the power storytellers exert, and Scherazade and her attempts to save her life and those of the other women are broadly feminist.
“(Scherazade) thanked her stars that she had not wasted her time doing intricate embroidery on delicate silk and cooking delicious sweetmeats with cream and almonds, as most of her friends had done. Instead she had read stories and histories and wondrous tales told by travellers who went with their caravans across the desert. She had learned to tell stories in many voices, enjoying the power they gave her to make people laugh and cry. Now all those tales and her gift of storytelling had bought her another day and saved another young woman’s life.”
Ravishankar remodels the narratives with a lightness of touch that will endear the Arabian Nights even to first-time readers. In doing so, she does leach the stories of much of their darkness and parable-like complications, but it doesn’t stop her heroes—and most of all, her heroine—from having some swashbuckling fun.
The Amazing Moustaches of Moochander the Iron Man and Other Stories: Musharraf Ali Farooqi, with illustrations by Michelle Farooqi, Puffin, 67 pages, Rs 125.
The Storyteller—Tales from the Arabian Nights: Anushka Ravishankar, with illustrations by Harshvardhan Kadam, Puffin, 172 pages, Rs 199.