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A global relook at the fairy tale at Kolkata Literature Festival 2020

There is a need for an overhaul when it comes to the narrative of a young woman in need of rescuing by a man

By Kasturi Sen

  • Published 23.02.20, 6:52 PM
  • Updated 23.02.20, 6:52 PM
(L-R) Anna Goncharova, Natalya Volkova and Nandana Dev Sen at the session at Kolkata Literature Festival, in association with The Telegraph
(L-R) Anna Goncharova, Natalya Volkova and Nandana Dev Sen at the session at Kolkata Literature Festival, in association with The Telegraph B. Halder

Reading bedtime stories to children has been an age-old tradition. Names like Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Perrault have become synonymous with bedtime stories and for playing a role in influencing young minds. But there is a need for an overhaul when it comes to the narrative of a young woman in need of rescuing by a man, as is common in most of these stories. Young girls today are in need of better role models, instead of waiting for a prince charming on a white horse to come and save them. This was the idea behind the ‘Modern Fairytales for Modern Times’ session at the 7th Kolkata Literature Festival, in association with The Telegraph, held at the 44th International Kolkata Book Fair on February 6. The panellists for the session were Russian authors Anna Goncharova and Natalya Volkova, in conversation with Nandana Dev Sen.

The panelists

Anna Goncharova is a Russian children’s writer, philologist, educator and psychologist who has written 30 books, hundreds of poems and over 200 fairy tales. She won the Terra Incognita Prize for The Joy of Being. Goncharova also hosts Anna Goncharova’s Children’s Book Club on Biblio-Globus and is a member of the Russian Union of Writers and PEN Russia.

Natalya Volkova is also a writer of children’s books and a poet who has co-authored educational literature. She hosts the children’s literature program LitTuchka. Volkova is a member of the Union of Moscow writers and also one of the writers for the stage show Stikhovarenye. Actor, writer and a child-rights activist, Nandana Dev Sen has written six children’s books, which have been translated into 15 languages globally. Her Kangaroo Kisses was selected by over 320 UK nurseries as a “Book of Excellence”.

‘Fairy tales are a very good way to talk to children about important matters’

The mind of a child is very sensitive and innocent and hence it becomes difficult to talk about difficult topics to them, but when it is done in the form of a story it goes straight to their hearts, was the opinion of Goncharova after Sen read from one of her popular books In My Heart — a heart-touching story about a little girl called Mia who goes on a journey to find her birth-mother with the help of her adoptive parents. “Your story is my heart now,” said Goncharova, who said she will be sharing it with her friends.

The role of fairy tales

Is the role of fairy tales in the modern world changing over time? Volkova reiterated her earlier point that fairy tales are a great way to talk to children about important issues, especially issues like adoption which aren’t so widely discussed in society. Another difficult topic is death. But an experienced writer can manage to do it in a softer, more sensitive manner in the form of fairy tales and through allegories. In Volkova’s opinion, the essence of a modern fairy tale is to be able to discuss problems which are already present in society. “Especially with the right vocabulary and in a simple, age-appropriate manner,” added Sen.

Goncharova felt that these days informative and educational stories are becoming increasingly popular. In her books, she said, she takes information and presents it in the form of a fairy tale.

Message for children of the future

“I would say that be open to everyone and try to see not only your own problems but also see each person as an important being and that we are all same despite our differences,” said Volkova. “It is an important time in the world, especially now that divisive politics is so much on the rise,” said Sen. Goncharova felt that it is also important to not only talk to children but also address teenagers, especially given the difficult age they go through.

Beyond language barriers

Volkova has translated many stories based on Indian mythology to Russian, which led Sen to ask a pertinent question: ‘How do fairy tales change based on their place of origin? How do the archetypal structures in fairy tales differ based on their nationality?’ Volkova agreed that fairy tales do differ in different countries, the reason being that mentalities are very different. Russian fairy tales are more traditional and have a moral at the end. English fairy tales approach themes “in a softer way”.

Goncharova added, “I have been meeting with Indian children and playing with them. The game I play with them is from one of my stories called The Magic Place and the idea is to give someone the warmth of compliments. Indian children do not use just one-word adjectives, but combine phrases to express themselves. This is why I feel different countries and different literature change us and book fairs like this are a great way for us to know more about the different literature that each country has. It helps us know each other better.”

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life’s flavours: The founder of Bizness Clinic, ex-chairman of three National Level Textile Associations and a IIM-A double gold medalist Sanjay Jha has now turned author with his book A Pinch Of Salt in the Recipe called Life that was launched at Hyatt Regency Kolkata on January 23 by the author’s mother Kanchan Jain. Published by Bloomsbury, this book shares 18 life-changing concepts to make life more flavourful. All the ideas shared by the author are simple and empirical and to make the concepts clearer, the author has blended theory, practice and experiences. “I wrote the entire book on evening flights with the hope to touch the readers’ hearts,” said the author. (L-R) Begraj Shyamsukha, Kanchan Jain, Sanjay Jain and S.M. Bacchawat. Rashbehari Das

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