Along with the Panchatantra, the Jataka Tales and many others narrated in Amar Chitra Katha, there were the Arabian Nights. I had a small pocket sized edition with a few illustrations and most of the stories were narrated in large font and within two pages. There were films and TV serials as well.

And then one day I picked up Richard Burton’s translated and annotated edition of the Tales from 1001 Arabian Nights. And it opened up the world of stories as never before. As Nilanjana Roy says,

Even today, to read the One Thousand and One Nights is to hear the voices of a hundred storytellers from across the centuries whisper in your year

And my specific experience of reading the Burton piece was that along with the stories (which by themselves were windows into the culture of the cradle of civilisation) the annotations served as a guide to the reader the way a Sherpa helps a mountaineer navigate through the Himalayas. Explanations of Arabic words along with their etymological journeys across the tribes; descriptions of the different great cities of Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, etc;  insights into different traditions and sub-cultures of the people of that era; the Arabian Nights is not just plain tales but also a history book, a travel guide, a cultural compendium and a language teacher.

So news that a few people in Egypt want it to be banned sounded extremely preposterous to me, even funny.

I leave you with this footnote from the Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni. The context is the Wazir carrying a fish to the cook and bidding her to fry. To which Burton annotates

Charming simplicity of manners when the Prime Minister carries the fish (shade of Vattel!) to the cookmaid. The “Gesta Romanorum” is nowhere more naive

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