“Oru oorilea oru kuruvi irunthutham”
“Antha kuruvi enna sethutham?”
“Kuppaiyai kuppayi nontitham.Appoa ? —”
Patti, an expert story teller, makes a pause.
The child’s anxiety is awaken and its luminescent eyes open wide gazing eagerly at the old woman’s tooth-less mouth.
“Appoa?’ The sweet little one echoes grandma’s question, in its inimitable style:
“Appoa, oru arisimani kidaichutham”
Thus starts the grand ma’s story session, every night after the child is fed, to lull it to sleep.
“There was a little sparrow”
‘As small as this?” showing its tiny finger the child asks.
‘Still smaller” the grand ma continues.”You know what it did? It picked a grain of rice from the heap of trash. It wanted to make pudding, but it is a bird. Can a bird make pudding?”
“No, No. Then what did it do?”
“It approached an old woman like me and requested her to make pudding for it. The sparrow handed over the grain of rice and waited and waited”.
“What did the old woman do?”
‘She made the sparrow to wait and wait and went on reading her Ramayanam book”
“What did Rama do?”
‘”Don’t worry about Rama. Sita is there to take care of him. Worry now about the hungry sparrow”
“Ok. What did the sparrow do?”
‘It waited and waited and patty went on reading her book”
“The bird became restless and enquired,
“Patti,patti! Payasam acha- Is the pudding ready grand ma?”
“Patti ennachonna ? What was grand ma’s reply?”
“Payasamum illai, keyasumum illai. poi paduthu thoongu- No pudding, go and sleep.”
“Ayyo pavam, kuruvikki pasikkumea? Poor bird .Won’t it be hungry?”
“It was, of course. Reeling with hunger, it filled its stomach with water and slept in the old woman’s cow shed”.
“Then, what happened to the rice grain.?”
“Ha, ha. Good question. The old woman prepared pudding and gulped down the whole liquid”.
“Then what happened?”
“Before going to sleep, the bird had pushed a stack of straw into its anus so that the water stays inside the stomach. While the bird was sleeping, a cow pulled it out and the gushing waters swept everything in the way, the cowshed, the house, the grand ma- everything’
“Nice happened;.. Pinnae ennachu?”
“The bird flew off, singing loudly:
“Adum, madum kulam kulam
Ammyar veedum kulam kulam.
“pattikku appidithan venum- the old woman deserves it”
“Pinne ennachu ? then what happened?
“The remaining story I will tell you tomorrow. Now my darling should go to sleep”
The following night also the same story is repeated and the child hears with the same eagerness and attention-Like this it goes on for generations!.
Story telling is an art. None can equal mothers and grand mothers in that.
I am back again to Baltimore. It is late night now but my biological clock is yet to get tuned to the one on the wall. I glance through the transparent window of my spacious library, at the sprawling lush green lavishness bordered by rows of cherry trees, denuded by the winter. The juvenile sun rays has silently recovered the greeneries from the onslaught of snow restoring them their original glamour. The lazy winter clouds are hovering over the sky enjoying the cold breeze. The March winds here are chill but tolerable as the December breeze in Hyderabad. For my children here, this is a pleasant season..
A butter fly sans wings lands on my lap. She is Ananya, my grand daughter, a power –pack, a bundle of joy..
‘Appu thatha, story chollungo” she chirps.
I tell her, how, while anxiously awaiting her arrival into this world, sitting in the same spacious room facing the oaks and pines and cherries, I started writing stories,about three years ago. I tell her about my unnecessary apprehension about the Haridwar kids, how I molded my Pitchumani, Athai, Lalitha and other characters, how my father came in the form of a crow, perched on the tree adjoining my sit-out when I was showing her the movement of the velvety clouds, singing “ kakke kakke koodividea” etc. I pause, act in between, dance and do all sorts of gimmicks.
She is least impressed. In fact,she becomes restless and get bored. With deep disappointment laced with anger, she withdraws to her bed room , not before revealing her displeasure,
“thatha, ongalukku onnum theirayathu”
I am sad, terribly sad, not because I question her statement but she did not enjoy my stories.
My grand children at Florida also said, “meekku eami theluvath thatha- language is different , meaning is same: you know nothing, grand pa”
I turn back and glance at the rows of books, the great works of my forebears, the great story tellers, Vyasa, Valmiki, Kalidasa and other masters. How is it that their works continue to inspire and invigorate the thoughts and mind of generations after generations, where as my own children do not want to read my stories and my grand children do not even want to hear them!
I pick up a book from the shelf,’Kumarasambhavam’and open the first page. Like my grand ma who used to start her story” ’Oru oorile—once upon a time there was a king..-the great poet is beginning an innovative love story on the valley of Himalayas in a very conservative way, in the same style his grand ma would have told him stories during his child hood.
: “There is gigantic divine mountain in the north, by name Himavan . –
“Asthyutharasyam disi Devathatma Himalayo nama nagathi raja:”
The words are so chosen that before the second half of the first verse is begun, the idea that the topic of narration is something big and vast, is deeply implanted in the mind of those who hear. He continues:
“It stretches from the ocean in the east to that in the west, like a measuring scale for the earth.”
‘Poorvaparow varinidhee vagahya, sthitha prithivyam iva mandandah:”
In just two lines with carefully chosen words, the master has explained the majesty of the great mountain impressively in his unique poetic style.
A piece of paper fell down from the book- a letter scribbled by my father, long ago:
“When you teach in a class, imagine that you are a student sitting on the bench opposite to you and when you are in a business meeting, addressing your customers, imagine you are one among them, preferably the least counted and benefited.”
My father was not a professor or business graduate- he was, in fact, a semi-literate.
Ananya gushed into my room again like a spring cloud. She has completely forgotten her earlier assessment about my story-telling skill- How lucky the kids are!
She repeats “thatah kathai chollungo”
I am now better prepared. I convert myself internally into a kid of her age, sitting before my grand ma anxiously waiting to hear her story:
I start my story:
‘Oru oorile oru kuruvi irunthutham—once upon a time there was a sparrow —
She does not move till the entire story is told and then she sleeps on my lap with complete satisfaction of attaining something unique.
I retire with absolute satisfaction and unalloyed joy.
A tiny bird is singing across the pine branches,”Adum madum kulam kulam–“
April, 1st 2008