- Old Deccan Days, or Hindoo Fairy Legends, and: Folktales from Northern India
The two volumes under review are part of a series from ABC-CLIO, Classic Folk and Fairy Tales, under the editorship of the ever-zealous Jack Zipes. The series, according to the publisher, "brings back to life [some] key anthologies of traditional tales from the golden age of folklore discovery," the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I recognized the title Old Deccan Days; I had a copy, published in 1897 in Albany, New York. Other readers may remember it as an aging volume on a library shelf; as Kirin Narayan says in her introduction, "By now every library with a substantial South Asian or folktale collection has a copy of Old Deccan Days," which has also been many times translated to other languages (vii). The new series "provides a freshly typeset but otherwise virtually unaltered edition of a classic work and each is enhanced by an authoritative introduction by a top scholar." Though both volumes offer old wine in new bottles, they differ in materials and intention.
Kirin Narayan's detailed and comprehensive introduction to Old Deccan Days identifies it as "the outcome of a remarkable collaboration." Mary Frere, daughter of the British governor of Bombay, wrote down stories told by her servant, Anna Liberata de Souza, and published them in 1868, with her notes on the teller and her father's ethnographic commentary. Kirin Narayan discusses the tales and Mary Frere's editing; she recounts the unexpected success of the book. She then reconstructs the biography of the teller and points out a recurrent [End Page 301] theme in her tales: "working for a living—after all, this is the substance of the relationship between herself and Mary Frere" (xvi). In a third section, she explains the role of "the famous and well-connected Sir Bartle Frere" in fostering the publication of his daughter's book. Through his introduction, he put the tales "to the service of the larger colonial project of typifying and generalizing about India" (xxi). Then Kirin Narayan discusses Mary Frere, "salvaging stories that were being distorted or forgotten" (xxiv), and her challenge to others to collect in India. The conclusion of the introduction proves that "Old Deccan Days is a groundbreaking and deeply original book" (xxvii). The twenty-four tales themselves are eminently readable, the more, I think, because their Victorian vocabulary causes a reader to relax into a childlike receptiveness.
Folktales from Northern India also reveals the collaborative role of an Indian subaltern with a colonial officer, but it is far more of a discovery. The book presents a collection of 363 Indian folktale texts, published originally in the periodicals North Indian Notes and Queries and The Indian Antiquary from 1892 on. The editor was the most prominent of British colonial folklorists in India, William Crooke. Crooke's previously unrecognized Indian collaborator, Pandit Ram Gharib Chaube, transcribed and translated the texts. In her revelatory introduction, Sadhana Naithani presents this scholar for the first time, establishing Chaube as "an unusually prolific scholar," linguist, translator, and collector of thousands of bits of folkloric information. It was Chaube who enabled Crooke to make "a systematic collection of folktales" (xxxi). Yet Chaube—the creative subaltern working for the civil servant—has remained obscure till now. The relation of the two men, the way the tales were recorded, the context of Anglo-Indian folkloristics, and the issues that arise from the long invisibility of this material would make this book an essential contribution to anthropology, literary history, and cultural studies, as well as the history of folklore, even if it did not contain such fascinating narratives. The editor also gives the history of the two periodicals, in which the narrator, collector, place, and caste are always recorded...