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Growing up on a staple of Indian folktales, most of us are familiar with Vikram and Betal, and in this book Natasha Sharma brings some of these stories to life!
A merchant comes to King Vikramaditya’s court and presents him with an apple, and tells him to keep it carefully. The merchant returns every single day that week and gives the King a fruit. Now, the king loves his fruit chaat, but does not give into the temptation to eat the merchant’s fruits. When one day, a plum falls out of his hands, the King realizes that it held a large precious ruby. The King cuts open all the other fruit and finds a precious gem in each. He asks the merchant how he acquired them. Turns out the merchant is actually Shaitanish, a powerful sorcerer, and he promises the King many more riches in exchange for a favor. Vikramaditya must get a ‘Get a corpse! Hanging from a tree!’
That corpse turns out to be the talkative vampire Betal. Betal agrees to be carted but has his own condition. He will tell the King a story, and ask a question. If the King knows the answer to the question and says it out loud, Betal will fly back. Else he will stay with Vikramaditya.
With a brilliant sense of humor Natasha Sharma spins fantastic tales in Vikram and the Vampire. In the Delicate Darlings, which of the three queens, Queen Touchmenot, Queen Itsratherhot and Queen Oohmyhead is the most delicate? Which of her three suitors should Madhumalti marry in ‘Who Shall Be the Husband?’ In ‘The Greatest Fool of All’, Vikram must answer the question ‘are all fools alike or are some more foolish than others?’
I found myself behaving like King Vikramaditya and second guessing the answers. The answers to Betal’s questions are well thought out, sometimes commonsensical, and at other times not so obvious.
I consider Natasha Sharma to be one of the best contemporary children’s authors in India.She has sharp wit, a deft hand, and the ability to convert old stories into completely fresh new ones. And she is really lucky to find publishers and editors who share her passion for this kind of writing!
Highly recommend this book!