Premlata and the Festival of Lights

Overview

Premlata can hardly wait for Diwali, the Festival of Lights. On that night, the great Goddess Kali goes out to battle the demons of darkness. And all over India, people set out deepas—tiny lamps shaped like leaves—to help Kali in her fight.

But Premlata's family is poor, and Mamoni, her mother, has been forced to sell their deepas. Prem knows she must do something. After all, their house can't be the only one in darkness on the night of the ...

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Overview

Premlata can hardly wait for Diwali, the Festival of Lights. On that night, the great Goddess Kali goes out to battle the demons of darkness. And all over India, people set out deepas—tiny lamps shaped like leaves—to help Kali in her fight.

But Premlata's family is poor, and Mamoni, her mother, has been forced to sell their deepas. Prem knows she must do something. After all, their house can't be the only one in darkness on the night of the Festival of Lights!

In Bengal, India, Premlata's family is too poor to celebrate the Festival of Lights until fate and an elephant step in.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"This well-turned tale [of a poor Indian girl who rescues the family's celebration of Diwali] is almost a primer on how to convey the exotic in seemingly effortless fashion," said PW. Ages 7-9. (Jan.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nearly 60 years after publishing her first novel, Godden remains a master of the form. This brief but vibrant story describes a poor Indian girl who dreams up a plan to surprise her mother and rescue the family's celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Since her father died, seven-year-old Premlata must work, her brother Ravi has had to quit school in order to tend their water buffalo and her mother, Mamoni, has sold everything-even their precious "deepa" festival lights. The story progresses briskly, as Prem is reprimanded by a gruff housekeeper, Paru Didi. Nursing her wounds, she is discovered by the kindly landlord who owns most of the village, and he gives her a bag of rupees so that her mother can buy deepas. But Prem decides to hitch a ride to the fair three miles away to buy the deepas herself, and, bewitched by all the stalls, she can't help spending all the money on treats and presents for her family. Godden's intimate, firsthand knowledge of India ensures inclusion of resplendent details important to children-the creamy taste of the Indian ice cream called kulfi, the whirling speed of a carousel pony and the enormous jingling red tassels on Rajah, the elephant. Though the story is set in a distant place (and time, apparently), Prem's own actions are timeless. The narrative itself has an invitingly old-fashioned tone, with plenty of straightforward exposition and comfortably clear characterizations. This well-turned tale is almost a primer on how to convey the exotic in seemingly effortless fashion. Ages 7-up. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
A gifted writer brings her art to bear on what is, for her, a well-loved time and place. The place is India, in the eastern state of Bengal. The time is Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Godden's protagonist is Premlata, small and determined-a heroine with heart, who charms her way into the reader's attention. The ending seems a little too tidy, but the mood and content of the story should hit the mark squarely with the intended audience.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6A tender but slight book that highlights a festival that may not be familiar to most American children. Set in contemporary Bengal, India, this is the story of seven-year-old Premlata and her impoverished family as they attempt to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights in honor of the goddess Kali. There is no money to buy lamps to light up the house for the goddess, so Prem devises a way to attend the mela, or fair, alone and buy the special oil lamps. However, the sights and sounds of the fair are too tempting and she spends her precious coins on treats and presents instead. Frightened and exhausted, she is found and taken home by Bijoy Rai, the honored village landlord. When he coaxes the whole story from Prem, his benevolence saves the day. Premlata is young and amazed at her own daring, but her personality is never fully realized. She is more of a guide to the life and traditions of India than a real-life participant. Readers will certainly learn about her country through this story; it's unlikely that they will come to love it as Godden does. Andrew's precise black-and-white drawings help to personalize the action and clarify many details. An additional purchase for collections with specific multicultural needs.Beth Tegart, Oneida City Schools, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A tender rags-to-riches tale from Godden (Great Grandfather's House, 1993, etc.), with an Indian setting and universal themes.

Premlata cannot believe there will be no deepas—small oil lamps—for Diwali, the festival of lights that honors the goddess Kali. Her widowed mother has sold them—and most of the family's other possessions—to feed Prem and her siblings. At the big house her mother serves, Prem outhaggles the wicked housekeeper, Paru Didi, and is given rupees from the master, Bijoy Rai, to buy new oil lamps. She goes to the market, but is so distracted by sweets, toys, and gifts for her family that all the rupees are gone before she finds the lamp merchant. How Prem gets home safely (with the help of the master's friendly elephant), sees the end of Paru Didi's reign, and helps restore the family's fortunes is but part of this sweetly reassuring holiday story. Illustrated with soft-focus, beautifully detailed black-and-white drawings, the book provides a whirlwind tour of one small corner of Bengal life, and is sure to find an audience ready for any story Godden tells.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780064420914
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/16/1998
  • Series: Chapter Bks.
  • Pages: 96
  • Age range: 7 - 10 Years
  • Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 7.54 (h) x 0.24 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


"Ma, isn't it time to get out the lights?"

Prem-Premlata—was a little Indian girl living in a part of India called Bengal. She was fair for an Indian child, with big dark eyes and curly hair which always seemed to be in a tangle because Mamoni—Ma-did not have time to comb it. The lights—deepas—were tiny earthenware lamps shaped like a leaf and holding a bit of cotton wick in a spoonful of oil. They were for Diwali, the Festival of Lights. On that night, the great Goddess Kali goes out to fight against the demons of evil who spread wickedness, darkness, and bad luck through the world, and all over Bengal people set thousands of little lit deepas on courtyard walls, gateposts, roof ridges, along paths and on boats to help Kali in her lone fight. "She hasn't fought for us in years," said Ravi, Prem's older brother.

"Perhaps this year she will." Prem was ever hopeful.

Most children would have been afraid of Kali—she looks so dreadful. The village potter was making a tall image of her for Diwali. So that no one can see her in the darkness, she is black. She has sharp tusks for teeth and her long red tongue is hanging out because she is a tidy Goddess and licks up the blood of the demons she has killed. She wears a necklace of skulls and has four arms so that she can fight better; one of her hands holds a sword, another the head of a giant that she has just cut off-"She can cut off the hugest giant," boasted Prem. She dances in a frenzy, but something in Prem's own fierce little heart loved and trusted the Goddess. "She has to look like that," Mamoni explained, "to frighten the demons andkill them. They are very strong, and remember, she does it to protect us."

In the puja or prayer corner of the hut in which they lived, Mamoni kept doll's-house-size clay figures of the gods and goddesses on a bracket. Kali stood out among them, and every night Prem went to sleep sure that her family was safe; no demons would dare to come near them.

"Mamoni, it is time to get out the lights."

Mamoni did not answer. She was sitting on the earthen floor sifting rice in her wicker pan, which was shaped like a dustpan. She was so skillful that the good rice grains went to one side—not a grain must be lost—while the husks flew out onto the ground. It would be Prem's task to sweep them up with her small grass broom; though Prem was only seven, she had to work hard.

Mamoni had been beautiful but now, like Prem, she was too thin; her cotton sari was worn thin, too. As she worked, her bangle slid up and down her arm and, watching, Prem seemed to remember that once Mamoni had had many bangles, gold and silver ones. This one was cheap bronze and its metal had gone dull, but Mamoni would not have parted with it for all the world: "It was the first present Bapi, your daddy, gave to me when we were boy and girl." All the rest of her jewelry had gone, as so much had gone since Bapi died. Prem, though, still had her little silver nose-ring that he had given her when she was a year old. She wore it in one nostril, which had been pierced to hold it. She did not remember the piercing, only how pretty she looked with the ring. It was sad that there could be no nose-ring for Meetu, her toddler sister, but Meetu, who had been born after Bapi died, was so roly-poly and happy she would not mind. It was Ravi and Prem who minded.

"Mamoni, everyone in the village has brought out their lights."

The village was Prem's world-she could hardly remember the town of Pasanghar, three miles away, where they had lived with Bapi. The village was on a knoll above a pattern of paddy fields; paddy-rice-is grown in water and the water glinted in the sun; white paddy birds waded across it. Small clay tracks led between the fields, paths just wide enough to take a bicycle, a rickshaw, or a careful elephant.

The village itself had coconut palms; more narrow little lanes led between the houses, most of them huts with earthen walls and floors, thatched roofs, and earthen-walled courtyards. There was a smell of hot dust, smoke, and mustard oil from the cooking fires.

In the center of the village was a wide tank or pool where, in the early morning, the villagers washed their clothes and themselves, dipping a Iota, a small brass pot, in the water and pouring it over their heads and bodies as they said their morning prayers, always facing the sun. Beside the pool was a sacred banyan tree, where the village men sat in the evening, and by it a temple, its pointed roof made of hammered-out kerosene tins that looked like silver. The villagers thought it handsome. The priest who looked after it was another of Prem's friends.

On all sides of the village stretched the great plain. Except for a few other knoll villages, it was so flat that the sky seemed like a great bowl turned upside down to meet the land all around.

There was, too, the Big House of whitewashed brick. It belonged to Zamindar Bijoy Rai. Zamindar means landlord, and he owned most of the villages and the land.

"We lived in a brick house, too, when we were in Pasanghar," Ravi often told Prem, and don't you forget it." Prem could not forget it because she could not remember that time—only in glimpses like Mamoni's gold and silver bangles.

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