Tamarind author, Narinder Dhami, takes us to India for an awesome animal story from her childhood . . .
When I was a little girl, for some reason I was obsessed with elephants. I was given a toy elephant on wheels when I was four. ‘Mimi’, as I called her, was an Indian ceremonial elephant with a tasselled head-dress, and I used to push her around the garden. For the next couple of years Mimi featured in almost every photo that my parents took of me!
I loved stories and books from a very early age, and of course, elephants featured in many of the traditional tales which my Indian father loved to tell to me and my sisters. These tales opened up a whole new world for me and later I discovered that these collections of ancient stories were called the Panchatantra, the Hitopradesha and the Jataka. I loved stories such as ‘The Mice and the Elephant’, ‘The Elephants and the Hares’, ‘The Noble Elephant’ and ‘The King’s White Elephant’. But my favourite was ‘The Elephant and the Dog’, from the Jataka, and it goes like this:
Once upon a time there was an elephant which lived in the king’s stables. The king was very fond of the elephant, and so the elephant was pampered and well-treated and only ever ate the best food.
Near the king’s palace lived a skinny, starving dog, and he began sneaking into the stables and finishing up the elephant’s food. For a while, the elephant didn’t notice, but soon he and the dog became great friends. They shared the food and the dog would curl up next to the elephant to sleep.
One day a farmer, who was visiting the palace, took a liking to the dog and asked the elephant-keeper if he could buy him. Now, the elephant-keeper didn’t much like the dog hanging around the stables so he agreed. The farmer paid the elephant-keeper and took the dog back to the country with him.
The elephant missed the dog very much. He was so upset that he wouldn’t eat his food, now that the dog was no longer there to share it with him. The elephant could not sleep either, without his friend by his side. He used to love to bathe in the river, squirting water over himself with his trunk, but now he wouldn’t leave the stables, no matter how much the elephant-keeper tried to coax him out.
Eventually the king found out why the elephant was so sad, and he sent his men all over the country to look for the dog and bring him home.
When the dog arrived, he and the elephant were thrilled to be reunited. And from then on the dog lived in the stables with the elephant, and they were friends to the end of their days.
I don’t know quite why this story appealed to me so much, but maybe it was because I had already realised the importance of true friendship, even though I was only a young child.
That’s what I like to think, anyway!
This autumn, Tamarind published Jamila Gavin’s Blackberry Blue: a collection of six magical fairytales featuring a diverse cast of multicultural heroes and heroines. It has got us thinking a lot about storytelling and the role it plays in preserving cultural heritage. We asked some of our authors to tell us about the stories they enjoyed as children . . . Here’s what Ann Cameron, author of the Julian and Huey series had to say.
My Swedish grandfather lived with my family from the time I was born. He saved my life when I was a baby. One night it rained and the roof of the house got a leak that soaked the heavy plaster of the ceiling over my bed. Suddenly, the ceiling fell right onto my bed, with enough weight to crush me to death. But luckily for me, I wasn’t in bed that night. For some reason my grandpa – who never got me up at night – had taken me downstairs to play. I don’t remember the day the ceiling fell in, but I know that I was safe, held in his arms.
My grandpa was a blacksmith and had a forge where he hammered all kinds of useful things out of red-hot iron. He had his blacksmith shop on our land and we called it the ‘monkey house’ because he monkeyed around there, inventing and making things. I loved to spend time with him in the monkey house, with its smell of tools and fire and its cabinet with many tiny drawers full of bolts and screws and different size nails. Because I was very young, I never understood why there were no monkeys in the monkey house. I kept hoping that one day the monkeys would show up.
My grandpa told me stories about trolls and also about gremlins. When things in our house went astray, he said that gremlins had taken them. I thought the gremlins had carried them away down under the grating of the heat vent into the mysterious dark place below it that led down to the coal furnace in the basement. I didn’t know how tall gremlins were, but I imagined them about a foot high, moving around our house in the night while we slept. It seemed that in our house the lost things, especially buttons, disappeared and were never to be found again – proof that gremlins were real. As I grew up, I rarely wondered where the lost things had gone, because I was quite certain they were never coming back. To this day when something disappears, I remember my grandpa, say to myself, ‘Oh, it’s the gremlins again!’ and wait a good while before I start to look for it.
Although I was born in the United States, I have spent many years living in Panajachel, Guatemala. Just like the tales of the Brothers Grimm, some of the stories from the Cakchiquel Mayan tradition can seem quite violent; there’s one like ‘Hansel and Gretel’ but instead of a witch, there’s a big tree in the mountains which takes compassion on them and opens up so they can hide inside it to escape a lion. Then the two siblings live together in the mountains for years where they grow their food and the brother makes friends with a dog. They meet strange people deeper in the mountains, some of whom plan to eat them! But then Gretel falls in love with one of the men of the place and turns on her brother; she wants to kill Hansel, because he doesn’t like her new boyfriend. Hansel’s dog saves him from poisoned food the strange people want to feed him. Hansel knows about the poison because the dog is his food tester – what the dog won’t touch, Hansel knows is poisoned and won’t eat. The story comes to a climax when at a dance, Gretel and her boyfriend want to push Hansel into a concealed deep pit with a fire at the bottom. Hansel notices the pit, and pushes his sister and the boyfriend into it, where they burn to death. Hansel cries because he had loved his sister. From there on, it’s happily ever after.
Another story concerns a two-headed eagle that carries away children and even adults who go to the fields to plant corn – and eats them. To escape it, one family carries a giant hollow gourd to the fields so they can hide in it when they heard the eagle’s cry. Every day, the eagle lands on the gourd and claws at it, but the gourd is so strong and smooth, the eagle can’t break it open. But one day the father of the family forgets the gourd – and the eagle flies away with them all to carry them to his nest and eat them. When it sets them down in its nest, the father takes out a small machete. With it, he fights the eagle and chops it to bits, and no one ever has to be afraid to plant their fields with corn after that.
British World Champion and Tamarind author, Christine Ohuruogu, has been recognized for her achievements by receiving the Sunday Times and Sky Sports ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ award! We couldn’t be happier for Christine who, in winning this award, has joined a prestigious list of inspirational, elite sportswomen.
Christine is the only British female athlete to have won two world titles, she’s an Olympic gold medal winner and on top of all that, she doesn’t let her success get in the way of her determination. She’s still trying to run faster!
Of course, we at Tamarind also know Christine for her brilliant Camp Gold series.
The series follows Maxine, an enthusiastic young athlete who attends Camp Gold and discovers her natural talent for running. Although not strictly autobiographical, the books give us a little insight into a young girl’s passion for competitive sport and the kind of determination it takes to get to where Christine is today. Maxine is a brilliant, strong female character and we can’t help but see a little of Christine in her.
Christine is a true inspiration to the next generation and – fortunately for us – has passed on a little of her wisdom through her books.
Big congratulations from all of us at Tamarind Books, Christine!