Dr. Shabbir Mian visited our class this week to talk about folk and fairy tales from Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a small country, surrounded by India and the Bay of Bengal, with lots of rivers and other bodies of water. Because water is such a prominent feature, it tends to be incorporated into fairy tales there. Dr. Mian also explained that, as we’ve seen in many other cultures, most fairy tales—known as “Rupkotha” in Bengali—are passed on orally. Many however, are recorded in two important books: Jataka (fifth century B.C.E.) and the Panchatantra (550 C.E.). Unlike the Western fairy tales we’ve studied, Indian tales do not usually feature redemption. As Dr. Mian said, “If you’re bad, you’re dead.” There is no theme of forgiveness. Also, the wicked stepmother we see in Western tales is equivalent to the “co-wife” in Indian tales. In other stories, an ascetic often comes along and helps a person in need, or a ruler seeks the advice of a wise, talking animal.
For Dr. Mian’s lecture we read a story called “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus”. One thing that comes up in this fairy tale that might not in a Western tale is having a half-sibling. In the story, Lalkamal and Neelkamal are half-brothers, yet, as Dr. Mian pointed out, are still very close and love each other. The story also directly states that one of the king’s wives is a demon; in Western fairy tales, the characterization of a mother as evil is never this strong or direct. The two birds that help Lalkamal and Neelkamal, however, are similar to the magical animals we’ve seen helping other protagonists, such as the birds in “Cinderella” and “Hansel and Gretel”.