Nalak: A picturesque tale

Abanindranath Tagore- the master storyteller- could paint with his words just as he did with colours. His simple, yet beautiful way of weaving tales still continues to attract people of all ages. Although he is known primarily as a childrens’ author, his books Rajkahini, Nalak, Buro Angla, Shakuntala and Khirer Putul transcends the boundary of ‘childrens’ literature’, and are equally enjoyable for adults.

Written in Bengali, ‘Nalak’- one of Abanindranath’s unforgettable works was first published by Indian Publishing House in 1916. In December 1986, it was republished by Ananda Publishers. The picturesque quality of Tagore’s writing has been further intensified by the enchanting book-cover and illustrations by Krishnendu Chaki. The cover of the sleek book illustrates memorable moments from the Buddha’s life- Queen Mahamaya dreaming of the white elephant, the birth of Buddha, his Great Departure in search of Enlightenment, and ultimately, his attainment of Bodhi in spite of all obstacles posed by Maar- giving us an idea about what the upcoming pages could consist of.

The story narrates the life of Gautama Buddha- his journey in becoming Buddha from Prince Siddhartha. But the author does this through a novel way. He tells the tale of Gautama in parallel with that of Nalak, a little village boy. Nalak is born with the special power of divine vision- owing to which he gapes at the incidents of Buddha’s life happening at the same time in another part of the world. The entire story is narrated from his viewpoint. Although all the incidents are well-known, there is something in the book that would compel its readers to read and reread it times and again.

The magic lies in the sheer lyricism of Abanindranath’s writing. Every line he writes invariably turns into poetry, and the captivating descriptions bring the entire setting to life. In addition, the simple yet expressive illustrations offer the readers a kaleidoscope of emotions. They vivify the birth of Siddhartha- whom the author describes as ‘a dewdrop on a lotus leaf- tiny, delicate, serene’, the grandeur of Prince Siddhartha’s childhood and youth, and finally- his arduous journey towards Enlightenment.

Nalak wanted to meet Buddha, the one who grew so close to him through his visions- but could not ignore the urge to meet his mother after so many years. As the book comes to a close, he silently sits by the river, looking at a white crane flying to one bank and the other- unable to decide where it should go, and at last decides to visit his mother. Although Nalak could not cross paths with Buddha, the latter had already become a part of the boy’s life, and had impacted him deeply. Just like the readers, as we come to the end of the masterpiece!

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