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Grandmas bag of stories, p.4
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       Grandma's Bag of Stories, p.4

           Sudha Murty
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  ‘Ramu, Ramu, see what I found buried in our garden!’ she yelled.

  Ramu was writing up the accounts for the month, and for a while paid no attention to his wife. Only when she came up to him and did a happy jig around him did he look up. Imagine how his mouth fell open in surprise when he saw the box of jewels.

  Soon Ramu and Rani were the richest people in the village. They stopped going to work—after all, what was the need, they told each other. Why work in the hot sun when they had piles of money at home? They left their small cottage and moved into the biggest house in the village. They had servants who worked day and night doing every small job, so the two did not need to lift even a finger. There was a cook who cooked delicious meals, a person to serve it, another just to clean shoes and one person to even fan Ramu as he sat on his bed the whole day and gossiped with his newfound friends.

  Then Ramu decided village life was too boring and they moved to the big city. There they had another big house, more servants and lots of fun at various parties. Slowly they forgot the good things that had once made them a well-loved family. They forgot to work hard, to help others in their need, or to just be nice people. They thought that with money they could buy anything, including respect. They behaved rudely to others. They spent more and more money on clothes and parties, and as they did no work at all, the money started dwindling. They started borrowing from others which they soon could not pay back.

  One day, Ramu looked sadly at his account book. It was now filled with numbers that showed he only needed to pay others; there was hardly anything left for himself. In a heavy voice he called out to his wife, ‘Rani dear, the good days are over. I think we forgot to be the kind of people Goddess Lakshmi likes. She has gone elsewhere, and we are left with nothing.’

  Rani stood silently for a while, then replied, ‘Never mind, Ramu. We have learnt our lesson. I now think of the days when I would work all day long and go to sleep a tired person and sleep soundly. I would fall into a deep slumber as soon as I Iay down on the bed. Now I lie awake all night, wondering which sari to wear the next day and what to do with our money. I am too fat to even dig, like I did when I found the treasure!’

  Ramu smiled and hugged his wife. ‘We’ll go back to our village, and to our old ways. We will work hard like we did once, and we will help everyone around us. Maybe that will make Lakshmi come back to us one day. And even if she doesn’t, we will try and be happy with what we have.’

  So Ramu and his family went back to their old home. And do you know what? They did live happily ever after!

  The gods watched what was happening with Ramu and Rani from the heavens as Lakshmi entered and then left their house. They had to agree with her—if the people of the house she entered became nasty, then what could she do except leave, and hope they saw the error of their ways?

  The Donkey and the Stick

  Ajji was on an outing with her daughter and daughter-in-law, Sumati and Subhadra. One lived in Bangalore and the other in Mumbai. They were returning the next day as they had used up all the leaves their offices had given. The children would remain at Shiggaon though, with their grandparents. Everyone was looking forward to this stage of the holidays. The children because there would be no parents telling them what to do, to Ajji’s delicious food and to fun outings with Ajja. The grandparents, too, were looking forward to having the children to themselves. The rest of the year it was only the two of them in the house.

  As Ajji walked with the two younger women, they talked about how difficult it was for them to manage their office work and the children. Ajji listened silently. Then Sumati said, ‘But they are so good when they are with you, Amma. How do you manage them so well?’ Subhadra nodded. ‘I have read so many books and articles to find out about this, but nothing works the way it is written in books.’

  Now Ajji said, ‘Do not always go by what you read in books. Learn to use your life’s experiences, read between the lines.’ Then she grinned and said, ‘Otherwise you will become like the people in the story about the donkey and the stick!’

  Sumati and Subhadra forgot they were at the temple and clamoured together, ‘What is this story? Tell us!’ Ajji shook her head. ‘Now you are behaving like children. But you are my children after all. All right, come join us at night when I tell today’s story.’

  That night the two mothers were the first to appear to listen to the stories. The children were surprised to see their mums, and Ajji started her story.

  Aruna Marg was a busy road. It connected a number of villages to each other and many people, animals and carts used it every day. Walking along that road, a group of students discovered a rock which no one had bothered to look at in many years. ‘Look!’ they told each other in excitement, ‘there is something written on the rock. What can it mean?’

  They called out to their teacher. When they examined the rock carefully, they found the markings were actually little drawings. One showed a stick, and the other a donkey.

  By now a large crowd had gathered. Everyone was puzzled. What could these strange drawings mean, they asked, scratching their heads. They decided to go to the ashram of a wise sage nearby and ask him. But when they trooped into the ashram, they found to their disappointment that the sage had gone on a long pilgrimage. Only his young disciple was there, looking after the cows and calves.

  They asked the disciple if he could throw some light on the strange drawings. Now this young man was not very bright. But like many foolish people he loved to put on an air of learning and pretend to be very clever. He examined the drawings carefully and minutely. Then he proclaimed, ‘It is very simple. This is the drawing of a magic stick. The man with the stick is the hero of this place. He died protecting this village centuries back. Each person using this road must worship the rock and make an offering to it. The one who ignores it will become a donkey!’

  The villagers were astonished to hear this strange explanation. But they were devout people and on that very day they set up a shrine around the rock. They installed the foolish disciple as head priest in charge of taking offerings from passing travellers. The disciple was pleased with his brainwave. Of course he did not know what the silly drawings meant, but he no longer had to run after calves and get kicked by angry cows in the ashram! He could sit by the rock the whole day, taking his pick of the offerings to the rock and mutter a few mumbo-jumbo prayers.

  His happiness lasted a few months—till the wise old sage returned to the ashram. The old sage was annoyed to find his disciple missing and his beloved animals roaming around, uncared for. Then he looked into the distance and saw a large crowd gathered by the road. He went to investigate, and found his missing disciple there, looking happy and well fed, busy accepting offerings for a rock. He stood watching for a while. Then he walked up to the rock and closely examined the pictures. Without saying a word, he picked up a stout iron rod and, to the astonishment of the gathered crowd, started moving the rock. Many came forward to help him and when they had been able to move the rock, they found a pot of gold under it!

  The sage said to the people gathered around him: ‘The pictures meant you had to move the rock with an iron rod and find the hidden money. If you didn’t, you were all like donkeys. You should not follow rituals and the words of others blindly. Think for yourselves and understand why you are doing what you do. If you had given this some thought, you would have recovered this treasure many months ago. Instead, you wasted your time and money making offerings to a rock and helping this greedy disciple of mine become fat and make fools of you. This treasure belongs to all of us. Let’s use it to keep this road in good repair so everyone can use it and go about their work in peace.’

  The villagers hung their heads in shame for they realized how foolish they had been. As for the disciple, he had to clean the cowsheds for many months to atone for his greed.

  ‘What’s in It for Me?’

  Ajja told Anand, ‘Will you go fetch my clothes from the dhobi?’ Anand was reading a book, and said witho
ut looking up, ‘Then what will you give me?’ Ajja smiled and said, ‘I will give you nothing. Why should I give you anything? You are a part of the family.’ Anand looked up now. ‘Oh! But that is not true in our house,’ he declared. ‘Whenever my dad tells me to do some work, I ask for a reward and he gives it to me.’ Ajja was surprised. ‘Let me talk to your father. The joy of helping someone itself is a reward. This is not right.’

  ‘Dad is a big officer in a bank. Can he make mistakes?’ asked Krishna with great surprise.

  ‘He may be an officer in the bank but at home he is your father and my son, and I will talk to him. If you go on like this you will become like “Mushika”.’

  ‘What’s a “Mushika”?’ asked Sharan.

  Ajja looked around. There was no sign of Ajji. Probably churning out some last-minute masala powder for the mothers to take back with them. He looked pleased. ‘Today I will tell you a story. Of a Mushika and what happens if you want to be paid for every little thing.’

  Mushika the mouse walked jauntily down the road, whistling a happy tune to himself. There had been a storm earlier in the day which had got rid of the summer heat. He had just eaten a big, juicy mango that had fallen in the storm, so his tummy was full and he was as pleased as Punch. On the road, he saw a twig, also fallen from the tree above in the storm. Now a mouse will store and keep anything, hoping it will be of use one day. So Mushika picked up the twig in his mouth and set off.

  A little ahead he met a potter. The potter was sitting with his head in his hands. Why? Because his oven had been drenched in the rain and now he did not have enough dry wood to light it again. How would he bake his pots and sell them?

  As the potter sat wailing in front of his house, Mushika walked up and watched him for some time. ‘Wossh up, brother?’ he asked with the twig still clutched in his mouth.

  At first the potter paid no attention to the strange talking mouse. Then when Mushika asked him again and again, he told the little creature why he was crying. Mushika nodded, kept the twig aside and said, ‘See, this twig has dried in the wind and can be used to light your kiln. I’ll happily give it you, Brother Potter, but what’s in it for me?’

  The potter thought hard and, deciding that a little mouse could not ask for much, said, ‘I will give whatever you ask for.’

  In a flash Mushika replied, ‘Then give me that large pumpkin that is lying in the corner of the room.’

  The potter was astonished—how can a mouse carry a pumpkin? Besides, he had been looking forward to the lovely pumpkin curry his wife would make for him that night. ‘Choose something else, little mouse,’ he urged. But Mushika was stubborn—the pumpkin for the twig or nothing.

  So the potter gave Mushika the pumpkin. The mouse was delighted. He had made a mighty human do what he wanted! He left the pumpkin near the potter’s house saying he would collect it soon and set off down the road again.

  Further ahead, a milkman was sitting by his cows, shaking his head.

  ‘What’s up, Brother Milkman?’ asked a tiny voice. To his astonishment the man saw a mouse with bright eyes peeping up at him.

  Sadly he shook his head some more, then said, ‘The storm scared my cows and they are refusing to give me milk. What will I sell today and what will my family eat?’

  ‘Spicy pumpkin curry—if you want!’

  ‘Surely you are joking, my friend. I have ten people at home. Where will I get a pumpkin large enough to feed everyone?’

  ‘Just walk back the way I came. You will reach a potter’s house. Right beside that I have left a pumpkin. That’s mine, and you can have it. But what’s in it for me, Brother?’

  The milkman shrugged and said, ‘Whatever you want.’ Like the potter he thought, what can a mouse want?

  Mushika said, ‘Then give me a cow.’

  ‘Are you mad? A pumpkin for a cow? Whoever has heard such a thing?’

  ‘It’s that or nothing, my friend,’ replied Mushika firmly. So the milkman went and got the large pumpkin and gave one cow to the mouse.

  A big cow with large horns that listened to what he commanded! Mushika the mouse could not believe his luck. Off he went, seated on the cow, whistling another happy tune, when he stopped in front of a marriage hall. Why were people standing around looking sad and worried? They should be busy preparing for the marriage feast! Even the bride and groom were standing, with long faces.

  ‘What’s up, Brother Groom?’ called Mushika, sitting atop his cow.

  The groom replied gloomily, ‘There’s no milk to prepare the wedding kheer. How will the wedding feast be complete without the dessert?’

  Mushika grinned. ‘Worry not. Here, take this cow, she is now happy and will give you milk. But what’s in it for me, Brother?’

  The groom was very happy and said, ‘Why, you can have whatever you want! You can eat your fill of the feast—sweets, pulao, fruits, whatever your heart desires.’ The mouse kept quiet and gave the cow to the wedding party. They milked the cow and had plenty of milk. There was a great wedding feast. After the party was over, the mouse replied in a flash, ‘Give me your bride!’

  The groom and everyone in the marriage party were astonished at the mouse’s cheek. The groom was about to give him a good whack, when his newly wedded bride stopped him. ‘You had given him your word that he could have whatever he wants. Let me go with him. I’ll teach him such a lesson that he will never try to carry off another human bride again!’

  Her husband agreed, so off she went with the mouse.

  Mushika scampered ahead, eager to show the bride his home. But what was this, why was she walking so slowly?

  ‘Hurry up, Bride,’ he called. ‘It’s about to rain again.’

  The bride replied, ‘I am a human, I can’t run as fast as you.’

  So Mushika had to slow down. By the time they reached his home, which was a little hole under a tree, he was very hungry.

  ‘Cook me a nice meal with lots of grain,’ he commanded.

  The bride nodded and said, ‘Of course, but where is the kitchen, the spices, the oil and the vessels? I am a human after all. I can’t cook only grains.’

  The mouse realized he was in a real fix having got this useless human back with him. ‘Never mind,’ he sighed. ‘At least come inside the house.’

  ‘Oh, but how will I do that?’ wailed the bride. ‘I cannot set even a toe inside that hole, it is so small. Where will I sleep tonight?’

  ‘Err, how about under that tree?’ Mushika suggested, pointing to another big tree nearby.

  ‘No way,’ sniffed the bride. ‘It will rain and I will get wet and I will catch a cold, then a fever, and I will need a doctor, who will give me bitter medicines . . .’ Now she started wailing even louder.

  ‘Shush shush,’ Mushika comforted her, thinking he should have agreed to eat his fill of the wedding feast instead of bringing this strange whiny woman back home with him. ‘How about you stay in that temple veranda for the night?’ he suggested, pointing to a big temple across the road.

  ‘Oh, but thieves and robbers will come there, and try to snatch away my lovely jewels,’ cried the woman. Then suddenly she dried her tears and said, ‘What if I call my friends Ram and Shyam to protect me?’

  Before Mushika could say anything, she whistled loudly and called, ‘Ramu, Shyamu!’

  From nowhere a big dog and cat appeared next to her and made as if to eat up Mushika. Oh, how he ran and saved his life by jumping into the safety of his hole.

  The bride grinned and went back to her wedding feast with her faithful pets. As for Mushika, he had to go to sleep on an empty stomach that night. ‘Tomorrow,’ he sighed, ‘perhaps there will be another storm,’ and went off to sleep.

  The Princess’s New Clothes

  After their mothers went back, Ajji took all the children on a shopping spree. They went to the biggest clothes store in the town. Ajji had filled her purse with notes and told all the seven children, ‘Each of you can buy one dress. It is our gift to you. Remember, I have Rs
500 for each of you to buy one dress.’

  At the store she chose a nice comfortable chair. The children were allowed to decide which clothes they wanted and in which colour. They could go into the trial room and try them out before buying. After an hour, everybody had whatever they wanted, except Krishna. She had tried on many many dresses but found fault with all of them. She told Ajii, ‘This store does not have anything nice for me. Shall we go to another one?’

  ‘What is wrong with this one? It is a well-known store,’ Ajji remarked. But Krishna pouted and complained that she already had the colours and cuts available here, so everyone trooped off to the next shop. There, too, after a lot of thought, finally, Krishna chose her dress. Ajji had been watching all this with her typical soft smile. On the way back, as they piled into the taxi, she whispered to Krishna, ‘It’s good you chose a dress finally. But beware, or else you may turn out to be like that princess . . .’

  ‘Which princess, Ajji?’ the children asked.

  ‘The one in the story.’ Ajji was now looking out of the window.

  ‘Tell us, oh tell us!’

  So Ajji told them the story of the princess who never liked any of her clothes.

  The king and queen of Ullas were very sad. No one was attacking them, the subjects were happy, the farmers had grown a bumper crop . . . then why were they so sad? Because they longed for a child and did not have one.

  One day, they learnt of a place in the forests in the kingdom, where if you prayed hard and well, you were granted your wish. They went there and for many days prayed to the goddess of the forest. Finally their prayers were heard and the goddess appeared before them and asked what they wished for.

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