I knew when I found this book in the Singapore Library Book Fair that it was one of those books that would speak to me – I was already taken by the subtitle: A Fairly Weird Fairy Tale – for some reason black and white quirky illustrations and equally strange narratives (or at least those which claim to be) appeal to me. While it is not technically a retelling of a tale that is already old and familiar to most of us, it is described by the author Paro Anand as a “modern fairy tale which looks at contemporary issues including how we look at people who are different from us” (source here).
An Angel Without Wings. The story begins with a Princess being born: the beautiful Princess Chutki to King Quicksilver and Queen Sparkling Gem. She was an ‘almost-perfect’ child except for the one thing that supposedly defines her being an angel: her wings (or should I say its absence).
Naturally, this ‘aberration’ was met with fear and mourning – and what people do not understand they reject and treat unjustly. Here are some of the people’s reactions (and judgments) to Chutki’s being different:
“The King and Queen must have done something VERY bad to deserve a daughter like this.”
“The Kingdom of Angels is doomed. The end is in sight.”
“We must kill this freakish princess before she kills us.”
“She has brought Hell into Heaven. She must be punished.”
All these are familiar lines to most of us. We have heard this in one form/variation or another. Its being common and trite however does not make it right. More than anything, it makes me sad. Yet another way to deal with things we do not understand is to seek greater knowledge and ask people who may provide us with more information – hence, we get introduced to off-the-wall characters such as Nani Ma who is a thousand and three years old, Dadi Ma who happens to be two thousand years and 364 days old…
… and one of my favorite characters in the narrative Zamroo of Zamroodpur. In his offer of help to the King, he introduced himself in this fashion:
One thousand years ago, when I was born with ‘W’-shaped wings instead of the standard ‘V’-shaped ones, your father, the King prevented the angels from cutting my wings off. He convinced the angels that W was a very write shape. For, after all you write Wings with a ‘W.’ They are Wings not Vings. That perhaps, this was the shape of wings to come. Of course he was just being very wise and witty, but through all this, the angels learned that they should try to understand someone or something which is different from them. Just because a person is not EXACTLY like you, does not mean that he is not a person. It just means that he’s a person who has some things or some wings that are different from you and other things that are the same.” (p. 10)
The reader is also taken through black rains and wild storm by a very helpful mynah bird, a family of cats as we see a babyless home meeting a homeless baby amidst dust, smoke, and fleas. The story is fast-paced, quick-witted, absolutely no dull moments in the repartee and exchanges. This is such a refreshingly beautiful book from authors and illustrators that I had no knowledge of until now that we are doing this fractured fairy tale theme. Truly a moving story that depicts how one does not need wings to fly and realize one’s inner truth and being.
Illustrations with Rhythm and Movement. After much googling and websearching, I was able to find some information about cartoonist/illustrator Atanu Roy. Atanu is said to have illustrated more than a hundred books and has received various prizes including the Children’s Choice Award in 1989 (AWIC), the IBBY Honour List for Illustration in 2006 and various prizes at the Yomiuri Shimbun International Cartoon Contest in 1983, 1984, and 1986 (source here).
What I enjoy about Atanu’s art work is that there is a cartoon, graphic novel element to it and it is packed with such rich details one can literally get lost in just a single page. So the images are constantly moving, flying from one page to the next, and essentially filled with movement. Here are some of the photos I have taken to give you a glimpse into Atanu’s world:
When One is Neither Here nor There. Another aspect that I enjoyed about the book is this constant struggle between being neither here nor there. I like how they summarize the narrative at the back of the book in this fashion:
As Chutki grows up, does she find out what her true origins are? Does she get rejected from where she belongs and accepted where she doesn’t?
I am always taken by this notion of being in-transit: of finding one’s self neither here nor there, being caught-in-between-worlds. Princess Chutki’s realization of her inner being also borders on the story being somewhat like a folktale – which once again blurs the boundaries between fairy tales, folk tales, and legends – narratives of how things came into existence. The power of the story lies in the struggle to find wholeness and acceptance from within you and the people around you, and the ultimate complexity of being disassembled in unity – and finding meaning and integrity in the fragments of who you are.
Paro Anand has written 18 books for children and young adults, which also include plays, novels and short stories. Her official website also noted that she headed the National Centre for Children’s Literature, The National Book Trust, India, which is the apex body for children’s literature in India. She has also helped in setting up libraries and Readers’ Clubs in rural India and conducted training programs on the use of literature.
Paro Anand has likewise been given a number of recognition for her contribution to children’s literature by The Russian Centre for Science and Culture. Dr. Kalam, the President of India, honored her for her writings on Republic Day, 2007 and has represented the country at various forums internationally, including UK and France (source here).
Wingless: A Fairly Weird Fairy Tale by Paro Anand with equally weird illustrations by Atanu Roy. IndiaInk, New Delhi, India, 2003. Bought my own copy of the book.