Author Interview: ‘Sorry, Tony the tiger’

Born in Ajmer, Rajasthan, Prateek Sethi has had the pleasure of living in many small towns and cities across India. Being pre internet days and with limited access to TV, his family and friends used to spend time narrating tales and talking to each other.

During these sessions as a young child, he was introduced to folklore by his mother and grandmothers. Every meal and gathering was a storytelling session. Then there were the books on world folk tales which Prateek had the pleasure of reading.

This further sparked his interest in the varied stories of the Indian subcontinent. Travelling to remote regions of India as a young adult further cemented this interest as there are awe inspiring and eclectic stories at every turn of our culturally rich nation.

Communication Designer and Founder of TRIP Creative Services, Prateek’s YouTube channel, Folktales of India brings to the forefront our rich Indian culture through these tales with their corresponding regional art along with a moral for the viewer.

“We started the channel Folktales of India as a means to tell our Indian stories and showcase our fantastic Indian art forms (some from the remotest regions while others modernised and abridged for animation production), for all to see beyond the commercial content available

A passion project to add to the community feeling and general wholesome content. Not all tales have happy endings. A lot of Indian folklore is morals from incidents as learnings for future generations. Our purpose is to bring forth this combination of story, audio and visual to the world at large,” he shares.

Asked about the importance of storytelling, Prateek explains that folktales were one of the primary ways of communicating legends and stories that had a hidden message relevant to that cultural group. The advent of the internet and its access to the populace brought about easier access and sharing of information.

“Children today are more technology savvy and it becomes our responsibility to direct them to these banks of stories, knowledge and relevant cultural tales. A little bit of magic and wonder is what these stories provide in our lives, to understand important life lessons and gain insight into our cultural identity,” he concludes.

Speaking of storytelling, Prateek shares his favourite folktale, Tony the Tiger, which will make a good Sunday read...

I spent a few years in Alwar, near the Sariska Tiger Sanctuary, Rajasthan, growing up. Those were fun times. My first memory of Tony is from my Lower Kindergarten. I wasn’t the most well-mannered boy, especially during meals.

Hated the colour green in my food back then. The reminiscent thoughts of which still hold true now. Besides that, I had this fascination ranging from fear to awe of big cats.

During my stay at Alwar, mum, dad and their merry cronies used to drive out into the reserve/ outskirts/ the Sariska Palace (whose’s lake’s crocodile stories are another interesting set of bonfire tales) often to shoot (not literally but with cameras, binoculars and other paraphernalia including us, although I’ve wondered if they really wanted to leave us behind...) for picnics almost every weekend.

I never saw a tiger during my stay there. I did see a few leopards, lots of stories, kills, man eater attack locations and lots of tracks. So the illusive cat for me in those days was a blur of extreme feline prowess.

Now coming back to the dining table, when I refused to eat or in more bold moments decided to throw a tantrum or spit (mind you this now seems so futile for my father made sure I was adequately dealt with, depending on the offence.

I am a Jain, so one needs to be grateful for what you get, even if it looks green.) My mum used to tell me “Guddu khana khao nahi toh Tony aa jaye gaa!” I clearly remember, when she began, I had no concrete visual of who this “Tony” fellow was.

I was initially reluctant to obey. Then one day she placed one of her embroidered images of a tiger in a village setting (quite similar to our own) right opposite where I preferred sitting on the table. That’s when the fear really sank in.

Thanks to Tony, I’ve gulped down a lot of food. If it hadn’t been for Tony, I don’t know if I would ever appreciate cats, in all sizes, the art of telling a tale or the concept of awe-inspiring fear. This is for you Tony. Thank you, I hope you are still alive. Although forgive us for our sins.