Grandma's Bag of Stories, p.10Sudha Murty
The next day, a scruffy, crazy-looking man turned up at the court. His hair was in a mess, his clothes were half torn and on his feet he wore torn shoes from which his toes stuck out. He marched up to the palace and demanded to be given an audience with the king. The guards sighed and let him in. They were used to having all kinds of characters turning up at the gates wanting to tell stories to the king.
The old man was admitted into the king’s chamber. There he made himself comfortable, drank a huge jug of water, and without introducing himself, started his story:
‘This story begins in a humble farmer’s field. The farmer had toiled days and weeks and months and grown a bumper crop of sugar cane. He sold the sugar cane to the nearby sugar factory and they made sacks and sacks of sugar out of it. Everyone was so happy. All this sugar would be sold in the markets and make everyone very rich! That year their children would get nice new clothes, their stores would be full of food and their wives would be very happy with them!
‘Now all that sugar had to be stored and kept carefully till the sacks could be taken to the market to sell. The factory people poured the sugar into many sacks and lugged them into a storeroom. In the storeroom who would you find, but a colony of ants. They had decided that building their house near such a ready supply of their favourite food was a very good idea, and were always on the lookout for new batches of sugar to be stored there.
‘No sooner had the sacks been kept than the lines of ants marched up to them. They found little holes to make their way in and the first ant went into the first bag of sugar, took one sugar crystal and went back.
‘The next ant went into the bag and took a crystal and returned home.
‘Another went into the bag and took a crystal and returned home.
‘Yet another went into the bag and took a crystal and returned home . . .’
So on and on the storyteller droned. King Pratap found he had nearly dozed off, the day had passed by and he was still listening to the same story.
‘Stop! Stop!’ he ordered. ‘I will listen to the rest of the story tomorrow.’
The next morning the old man turned up as usual and started from where he had left off the previous day. ‘Yesterday I was telling you how the ants came and picked up the sugar crystals. Now the next ant went towards the bag of sugar and took a crystal and went back home. Another went and took a sugar crystal and returned home. Another ant . . .’
The story went on and on like this. Lunch and dinner passed by but nothing new happened. By now King Pratap was bursting with rage. How dare anyone tell him such a boring story? ‘What kind of a story is this?’ he complained. ‘What will happen next? What happened to the farmer?’
But the old man only smiled and said, ‘Have patience, Your Majesty. That year the yield was very good and there were thousands of bags of sugar. I have to tell you how the ants collected all the sugar.’
‘Oh stop! Stop!’ Pratap shouted. ‘Stop this boring story at once!’
The man now stood up and said, ‘Fine, if you are ordering me to stop, I have won the prize. Give me half your kingdom!’
The king was in a dilemma now. He had announced a competition and prize no doubt, but could he honestly give away half the kingdom to this crazy-looking storyteller with his boring tales?
As he sat pondering, the man grinned even wider, and took off his dirty robe, rubbed off the dirt from his face and shook back his shaggy white hair. Everyone was astonished. Why, this was the chief minister himself!
‘Don’t worry, Your Majesty,’ the minister told his overjoyed king. ‘I did not want half your kingdom. I only wanted to show you how you were wrong to neglect your work and listen to stories night and day. Your people deserve a good king, someone who will work hard to look after them; someone who will think of his own happiness only once his people are happy. That’s what good kings do, you know. Not just giving orders and enjoying yourself.’
Poor Pratap looked ashamed at this. Yes, he had been an extremely selfish king. From now on, story time was only at night, after all his work was done.
So that was how the summer holidays ended. Everyone packed their bags and reached the station. Their mothers had come to take them back home. Ajja, Ajji, Vishnu Kaka, Damu, Rehmat Chacha—everyone had come to see them off. No one felt like leaving Ajji’s side and Meenu kept hugging her till she had to board the train.
Soon the train puffed out of the station. The children leaned out to wave their goodbyes. Slowly Shiggaon got left behind. But the children would continue to remember their Ajja and Ajji and everyone else, and all the stories, which would remain with them forever. And they would be back, during the next summer holidays, when they would hear so many more . . .
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First published in Puffin by Penguin Books India 2012
Text copyright © Sudha Murty 2012
Illustration copyright © Priya Kuriyan 2015
Cover illustration by Priya Kuriyan
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This digital edition published in 2015.
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Sudha Murty, Grandma's Bag of Stories
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