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Grandmas bag of stories, p.5
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       Grandma's Bag of Stories, p.5

           Sudha Murty
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  The king and queen bowed low and said, ‘We wish to have a child.’

  ‘So be it, you will soon have a little girl,’ said the goddess, shimmering in the greenery. ‘But remember, though she will be a loving child, she will have one flaw. She will love new clothes too much and it will make life difficult for you. Do you still want such a child?’

  The king and queen wanted a baby so much they would have agreed to anything. So the goddess granted them their wish and vanished back among the trees.

  Soon, as had been said, the queen gave birth to a lovely baby girl. Oh, what a beauty the little thing was, with her jet-black hair and thick eyelashes and long toes and fingers. They named her Beena. The kingdom rejoiced in their king’s happiness and for a while there was complete joy everywhere.

  Beena grew up a child loved by everyone. She became prettier by the day, and with her charming manners and ready laughter, she filled everyone’s hearts with joy. But, as the goddess had said, she did have one flaw—she loved new clothes! She loved clothes so much she had to have a new outfit every day. She would refuse to wear the same clothes twice! Tailors from all over the kingdom and even outside created beautiful, extraordinary clothes for her. Silk, cotton, wool, you name it, and Beena had a dress or sari of that material. Blues, greens, reds, pinks, every colour in nature was present in her wardrobe.

  For a while the king and queen were happy to let her have new clothes every day. But soon they realized they were spending all their money and time in finding new tailors and clothes for their daughter! This had to stop.

  They coaxed and cajoled and pleaded and scolded, but Beena remained unmoved. Her parents understood this was the flaw the goddess had warned them about, and finally decided to send Beena to the goddess to find a solution.

  Beena entered the dark, green forest and waited for the goddess to appear. She came in a flash of green light, which lit up everything around her. Folding her hands, Beena told the goddess why she had come.

  ‘I know your problem, my child. I will send you a new outfit every day. It will be unique, its colours and design will delight you. But you should remember one thing: you cannot wear anything else, or exchange these clothes with anyone else. If you ever do that, your life will be miserable.’

  Happily Beena agreed to this. After all, why would she be unhappy if she got a new dress every day?

  From then on, Beena woke up each morning to find an extraordinary new sari or dress lying by her bed, ready to be worn. It was a dream come true for her! She enjoyed herself no end, choosing matching earrings and bangles and shoes, and everyone kept telling her how pretty she looked.

  Yet after some months the excitement died down. No one remarked when Beena sashayed in wearing another fantastic dress. ‘Oh, it’s the goddess’s gift,’ they all said. ‘It’s not something you or I can ever have,’ all her friends said and shrugged and went their way.

  Beena grew sad. Then one festival day, while walking near the river, she noticed a girl wearing a simple cotton sari. There was something about the way the girl walked and how attractive she looked which made everyone turn and stare. Beena noticed how the people were admiring the girl. She became jealous because no one noticed her beautiful clothes any longer, yet they had such praise for this simply dressed girl. She forgot all about the goddess’s warning and went up to the girl and said, ‘Will you take my dress and give me your sari in return? It is so lovely that people can’t take their eyes off it.’

  The girl was astonished. The famous Princess Beena was offering to take her sari, and was giving her a marvellous outfit in exchange! She could not believe her luck and happily gave her sari to Beena. She then wore Beena’s dress and went away. No sooner had Beena worn the girl’s sari than there was a flash and a bang. Her surroundings changed, and she found herself transported deep inside the forest, in front of the goddess.

  ‘Beena,’ the goddess called. ‘I had told you that you cannot give away or exchange the clothes I gave you. But you have done just that! I am afraid there is a punishment for not listening to me. I will have to take you away from the world of humans forever.’

  Beena looked down in sadness. She thought of her parents’ tear-stained faces, the grief of the people in her kingdom who had loved her dearly. Then she spoke aloud, ‘I will go away, but do grant me one last wish. Turn me into something that will remind everyone about their beloved princess, something they may even find useful.’

  The goddess smiled and turned Beena into a plant. Do you know what plant Beena became? An onion! Have you noticed how the onion has so many layers? Those are all the dresses that Beena once wore. And have you noticed your mother’s eyes water while she cuts onions? That is because unknown to ourselves, like all the people in Beena’s kingdom, we still shed tears the beautiful, kind-hearted princess!

  After listening to this story, Krishna wailed, ‘Ajji, I don’t want to be like Beena. I don’t want to get turned into an onion! I promise not to fuss over my clothes from now on!’

  The Story of Paan

  Vishnu Kaka had invited the entire family for dinner. It was a lavish meal with many courses. Everyone ate their fill, enjoying each dish. After it was over, the children gathered around Kaka as he brought out his big box of paan. They loved watching Kaka choose and mix his ingredients to make delicious paans which the grown-ups then ate with blissful looks on their faces.

  He explained to the children, ‘A paan contains betel leaf, betel nut and lime. But we should use only so much of each ingredient. Only then will it taste good.’ All seven children wanted to try this experiment on their own. Some of them chewed on only the leaf, some on the nut, and others on the nut and leaf, or the leaf and only lime. It was true, when the three were not put together, the paan tasted horrible! In fact, Sharan vomited when he added more lime than necessary! Everyone made a beeline for the mirror to check if their tongues were red or not.

  Ajji was sitting and chatting with Sharan’s mom and watching their antics. Then she called out to them and said, ‘Children, by this time you must all know that the leaf, nut or lime on their own taste very bad. Even if you put just two together it is no good. Only when you add the three in a perfect combination can a paan be eaten. And that’s when you get that red colour in the mouth!’

  ‘Why is that, Ajji? Is there any special meaning?’

  ‘Yes there is a special meaning and I’ll tell you the story, which I first heard from my grandmother.’

  Once upon a time, there were two brothers, Bhanu and Veer. Their parents died when they were young and Bhanu brought up his younger brother with a lot of love and care. When Bhanu was old enough, he married Bharati. She was a gentle, loving person and looked after Veer with as much love as her husband.

  When Veer was about twenty years of age, he heard that their king was looking for soldiers to join his army, as there was going to be a war. Veer decided to join the army. Oh, how much his brother and sister-in-law cried and pleaded, telling him to remain at home with them. They could not bear the thought of the boy they had brought up with so much affection going so far away from them. But Veer insisted on becoming a soldier, so they let him go away, with a heavy heart and tears in their eyes.

  For many days there was no news of Veer. The king went to war, vanquished his enemy and returned. The soldiers who went with him also came back home. But of Veer there was no sign. Day after day his brother and sister-in-law watched out for him, hoping to see him come walking down the road, back home. But there was no one. Then, one day, a group of soldiers passed through their village, returning home from the war. Bhanu called out to them and asked about his brother.

  ‘Veeru, oh yes, so sad, he died, you know, in the battlefield,’ said one, shaking his head.

  ‘No no. He was injured, and he recovered. Did he not come home?’ said another.

  ‘He was on his way home when he fell ill,’ informed a third.

  On hearing these awful tidings, Bhanu was deeply saddened. He decided he could not live
at home waiting for his dear little brother to return. He would go and look for him. When he told his wife, Bharati too decided to go with him. Together, they set off one day to look for the missing Veer and bring him home.

  They decided to go to the site of the king’s big battle, where Veer was last seen by his companions. This place was far away and they had to travel through forests and valleys and mountains and deserts. The two walked and walked, over many miles, but poor Bharati was not strong enough. One day, after travelling through a thick forest, they reached a little hamlet. Bharati sat down, exhausted. Then to Bhanu’s great horror she died out of sheer exhaustion. Unable to bear his grief, Bhanu too died immediately.

  Over many years at the place where the couple had died, two trees grew. One was a tall tree and the other a creeper that hugged the tree. It was as if Bharati and Bhanu were together even in death.

  Meanwhile, Veer, the brother they had loved so deeply, was not really dead. He had got terribly wounded in the war and spent many years recovering from his injuries in a little village far away from home. When he finally recovered, he came back as fast as he could to his old house, knowing how anxious his family would be for him.

  But imagine his surprise when he found the house locked and bolted, abandoned for many years. Slowly the neighbours gathered around and told him how Bhanu had decided to go looking for his lost brother.

  That night Veer cried many bitter tears. How would he find his beloved brother and sister-in-law now? Where were they? By the time morning dawned he had made up his mind. He would try and go the way they had travelled and find them. Immediately he set off.

  Veer was a soldier, but he had only lately recovered from many wounds and was not too strong. It took him many days to walk across the difficult land Bhanu and his wife had crossed. Then one day, near a forest, he came across a little shrine. The villagers told him the sad story of how the shrine came to be. Years ago a couple had arrived at the spot, tired from days of walking. Legend had it that they were on the way looking for a long-lost brother. When the two died without fulfilling this wish, two wonderful plants, unknown to anyone earlier, had grown at the spot. The leaves and nuts from the trees were so sweet and refreshing that the villagers decided to build a small temple for the man and the woman at the place.

  Veer listened to the story with growing sorrow. He realized the couple they talked about was none other than his brother and his wife. Unable to bear the news, he turned into a statue of limestone.

  Do you know how they have all been remembered ever since? The tall tree grew nuts called areca nuts, the creeper’s leaves were paan or betel leaves and from the statue came the lime paste that is added to preparations of paan. And this is how this loving family came together even after death. Together they taught people the values of love, unity and loyalty, and when people chew paan they remember this story.

  Sharan’s mom was surprised to hear this story. ‘Really, Ajji,’ she said, ‘even I was not aware why these three ingredients are always used to make a paan. I too will come to listen to your stories from now on!’

  Ajji nodded, then she added with that glint in her eyes, ‘Chewing paan is not good for your teeth. Everyone, off you go to brush your teeth!’

  Payasam for a Bear

  Ajja and Vishnu Kaka were planning something! They could be spotted grinning and nodding and whispering. The children were dying to know what it was. Then one evening, they finally broke the news. They were all going on a picnic! It would be a picnic at the nearby falls. These waterfalls were really beautiful, with the river meandering close by and the forest just across. The children got even more excited when the two grandpas revealed the rest of the plan. Tomorrow would be a rest day for Ajji and Sharan’s mother, because all the cooking would be done by them and the children! And they would do it the traditional way, by gathering firewood and then cooking the meal from scratch.

  The children were so excited they could hardly sleep that night. All they could talk about was the picnic and what they would cook. Before nodding off they had decided the menu—pulao and kheer! Payasam or kheer is so easy to make, and who doesn’t love it?

  The next day, even the usual late risers were up and about and ready to set out for the picnic by seven o’clock. Oh, what a beautiful spot it was! They all ran around exclaiming over everything and getting ready with their cricket bats and balls for a game. Ajji sat comfortably under a big tree. Then it was time to get lunch ready. Everyone started looking for twigs to use as firewood. Ajji spotted Divya straying towards the dense thicket of trees and called out, ‘Divya, come back, don’t go there. Who knows what animal is there, and on top of that you all are going to cook payasam . . .’

  Minu’s ears pricked up immediately. ‘Why, Ajji, what does payasam have to do with animals?’

  Ajji grinned, ‘But bears love payasam! Don’t you know?’

  Everyone declared they had never known this piece of information. So cooking and games forgotten, young and old gathered around her to hear the story of a bear who wanted to eat payasam.

  Did you know that you must never ever anger a bear? It is true; an angry bear can do some really awful things, so it is always safer to keep your word to him. Poor Mohan and Basanti did not know this, and tried to trick a bear, and see what happened to them!

  Mohan had a banana plantation, where he grew delicious bananas. He also had a huge mango tree that provided him with baskets of juicy mangoes every summer. He would sell these fruits in the market and lived happily enough with his wife, Basanti.

  Once, his trees yielded an exceptionally large crop of bananas and mangoes, and he decided to sell them in the market in the city, where he would get a higher price for them. So off he went with his sacks and baskets to the city. There he sat in the market, sold everything that he had brought, and made quite a bit of money. At the market, he ran into an old friend, Amar. Mohan and Amar were overjoyed to see each other after many years.

  ‘Come to my house, dear friend,’ insisted Amar. ‘Let us enjoy a good meal and talk about our childhood days.’

  Mohan thought this was a wonderful idea, and went with Amar to his house. There the two friends ate huge quantities of rice, dal, lovely vegetables and all kinds of sweets. Then, finally, out came the best part of the meal—the payasam!

  Payasam is known by many names all over India. Some call it kheer, some payesh, and others, payasam. It is made with milk, rice and jaggery and many other ingredients, and it is always yummy! So was the payasam that Amar served his friend. It was made with fragrant rice, creamy milk, sweet-as-sugar jaggery, and strewn with nuts, cardamoms, saffron and all kinds of wonderful, mouth-watering things. Mohan ate and ate bowl after bowl of this dessert, till he was ready to burst.

  Then the two friends chatted and rested, till it was time for Mohan to head back home. When he reached his house, he told his wife about the scrumptious meal, particularly the payasam he had eaten. Oh, how Basanti sighed and longed to have tasted this dish too! Seeing her face Mohan suggested, ‘See, I have earned plenty of money by selling the fruits. Why don’t I buy the things required to make payasam, which you can cook and both of us will enjoy it together?’

  Basanti thought this was a wonderful idea. But first Mohan needed to go to the forest to collect some firewood. Then he could go to the shop and get all that was required to make the dessert. So off Mohan went, swinging his axe and whistling a tune. Now who would be sitting dozing under a tree in the forest but a big black bear. He had just had some nice berries for lunch and was enjoying his snooze, when Mohan walked by. First the bear opened one eye, then another, and watched as Mohan cut a few branches of a nearby tree and collected twigs for firewood. Just as Mohan was tying it all up in a neat bundle, the bear spoke up.

  ‘Hi there, friend. Where are you off to in such a happy mood, and why are you collecting so much firewood? Tell me, are you cooking a feast tonight?’

  Mohan was astonished and a little scared to be addressed like this by a bear. ‘Y-ye
s, your honour, I mean, dear bear, ss-sir,’ he mumbled and stammered.

  The bear was happy after his meal, so he decided to chat some more with Mohan.

  ‘So tell me, what are you going to cook tonight?’ he asked, patting his tummy.

  ‘P-p-payasam,’ answered Mohan.

  ‘Paya . . . what?’ The bear was puzzled.

  ‘Pa-ya-sam,’ Mohan said slowly. ‘It’s a sweet dish.’

  ‘Tell me more!’ The bear was intrigued.

  So Mohan described payasam and how it was made. As he talked about milk and rice and nuts and jaggery, the bear’s eyes started gleaming, his stomach started rumbling, and he realized he absolutely, totally needed to taste this wonderful human food.

  ‘Oh Mohan, my friend, do let me come and share your payasam tonight,’ the bear begged.

  Mohan was astonished. A bear as a guest for dinner! Who knows how much he would eat! But neither could he say no—that seemed so rude, and the bear was looking at him hopefully.

  He sighed and replied, ‘All right. You can come. But to cook so much payasam I will need much more firewood. Can you bring that with you?’

  Cunning Mohan thought he would make the bear do his work for him, so he would not need to come to the forest for the next few days.

  ‘Yes, yes!’ The bear jumped up. ‘Just tell me how much firewood you need. Ten? Twenty? Thirty bundles?’

  ‘Umm, fifty would be enough,’ decided Mohan. Then he slung his bundle of firewood over his shoulder and went back home. On the way he bought lots of milk, rice and everything else they would need to make the payasam.

  When he reached home he told Basanti about the unusual guest who would come to share their dessert. So Basanti cooked a huge quantity of payasam. She added lovely nuts, aromatic saffron, sweet cardamoms and many wonderful things into it as she cooked. Oh, how marvellous the payasam smelt. Unable to wait any longer, the two started eating helping after helping of the dish, without waiting for their guest to turn up. They ate and ate and ate, till they realized they had eaten up everything! There was not a grain of rice, nor half a nut left for him!

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