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Grandmas bag of stories, p.6
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       Grandma's Bag of Stories, p.6

           Sudha Murty
 
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  They sat around wondering what to do. What would they say to the bear when he came expecting to eat payasam? Then, a devious plan entered Mohan’s head. What if they made payasam with all kinds of other ingredients? After all, it was only a bear, and he had never tasted this dish earlier, so how would he know what it really tasted like?

  The cunning man and his wife then took a little bit of milk, added lots of water to it, threw in a handful of rice, and instead of jaggery and nuts and spices they added pebbles and sand and cardamom husks and stirred and stirred the mixture till it looked somewhat like payasam. They placed the brass pot filled with this in front of the house and went and hid in the bushes somewhere at the back.

  As soon as night fell, a huge dark figure appeared down the road. On its back it carried fifty bundles of firewood. It was the bear, come to dinner!

  He reached Mohan’s house and looked around. There was no one. Then, right in front of the house, he spotted the pot full of payasam. Unable to wait any longer, he flung down the bundles he had carried and fell upon the payasam. Only after he had eaten more than half the potful did he realize something was wrong. The milk was watery, the rice was half cooked and there was horrible grit and pebbles between his teeth! Ugh!

  Oh, how angry he was now! Furious, he shouted out for Mohan. But Mohan was cowering behind the bushes and did not reply. Now angrier than ever, the bear spotted the mango tree and rubbed his back against it. The mangoes came raining down, he shook the tree so hard. The bear continued to stamp and shake the tree, till it fell with a huge crash right on to the banana field and crushed the best banana plants. Seeing the firewood he had carried all the way from the forest lying around, the bear started throwing them around. One fell into the oven in the kitchen and set fire to the house. Soon Mohan and Basanti’s house was in flames, his field in ruins and his prized mango tree destroyed.

  Finally satisfied that he had taken his revenge the bear stormed back into the forest. When Mohan and his wife crawled out of their hiding place and came back home they saw everything was in ruins. How they wailed and wept and wished they hadn’t been so greedy and left the bear his share of payasam.

  But what was the use of lamenting now? The damage was done, and the greedy couple had learnt what I told you earlier—never anger a bear! And if you make a promise to one, keep it!

  Fire on the Beard

  What a grand picnic everyone had! They played and ate and splashed in the water till late evening. Ajja and Ajji had to drag them back home. That night the children tumbled into bed and were fast asleep even before Ajji switched off the lights. Quietly she tucked them in. The next morning there was no sign of anyone waking up. Ajja and Ajji went about their work, not waking the children. But when it was ten o’clock, Ajji decided they had to wake up now. So she came into the room and found all four were up and chatting in bed. She looked at them for a while with her hands on the hips. Then she said, ‘So, I think you’ve had enough rest. Now up all of you. Wash up and get ready. I’ll give you your lunch by noon.’

  All the others jumped up except Anand. He grinned at Ajji and said, ‘You know, I can live without food if I get to lie in bed all day.’

  ‘Really?’ Ajji said. ‘So be it. Everyone else, lunch will be ready at twelve, so be there on time. Oh, and those who lie around in bed will also miss the afternoon story.’ Then she walked off trying to hide a smile. Anand and miss a meal! He was the one who loved his food the most!

  Anand was quiet. The rest sprang out of their beds and went to brush their teeth and have a bath. Soon the aroma of onion dosa wafted through the house. It was too delicious to resist. Everyone gathered in the kitchen to help grind the dosa batter.

  By now Anand was bored and hungry, lying alone in bed. He quietly went and took his bath. He was worried—what if Ajji had taken him seriously and not kept a share of the dosa for him? And what if he had to miss that day’s story? When Ajji saw him appear at the kitchen and join in, she laughed and said, ‘You have become like Brij.’

  ‘Who is Brij, Ajji?’

  So Ajji started the story while the children ate the dosas.

  Yaaawwnnn! Brij stretched out in the sun, yawned loud and long, and went back to sleep. Is Brij a rich man on a holiday; or has he worked hard all day and just resting for a while? Neither! Brij was the laziest, most good-for-nothing fellow you’ll ever meet. He would spend entire days just lying around on his bed doing nothing. He was too lazy to even trim his beard and it had grown right down to his knees. All day he sat around combing it and admiring it, doing nothing else. His mother would call him, his wife would scold him, but Brij was not one to mend his ways.

  This is how most conversations with his wife, Shanti, would go:

  ‘Can you get some water from the well? There is no water in the house.’

  ‘The well is dry. There’s no water there.’

  ‘Can you fetch water from the pond, at least?’

  ‘The pond is too far. I can’t walk so much for a pot of water.’

  ‘Then pluck those coconuts from the tree.’

  ‘Oh, those coconuts are still tender. Let’s pluck them next month.’

  ‘What about getting some areca nuts from the tree then?’

  ‘Don’t you know, areca nuts are not good for health?’

  ‘Help me plough the field then.’

  ‘It is too hot. The sun will burn my skin. It’s better if you too did not go there.’

  ‘Can you at least look after the house when I am in the field?’

  ‘There is nothing to look after in the house.’

  And so on and on Brij would make excuses for not doing any work that was asked of him. Of course he was never too tired to eat! As soon as his wife would lay out the meal, he would jump out of bed saying, ‘Oh you have prepared food for me with such love, it is my duty to eat it.’ And then he would gobble down all that was given.

  When evening fell, Brij would roll out of bed, comb his hair and beard and set off to meet his gang of friends. Seeing how he managed to get out of doing any work, many others in the village had decided to do the same. All these people had formed a club, The Idlers’ Club. They would meet every evening and sit around and talk about all kinds of things. They claimed this way they were improving their general knowledge, but all they were really doing was gossip and boast.

  Brij, as the leader of the club, would get to boast the loudest and longest. One day, the topic was who was the laziest of all.

  ‘Bathing every day is such a waste of time and precious water. I take a bath once in two days. That way I even save water!’ said Manoj, the environmentalist.

  ‘I never make my bed,’ boasted Suresh, the innkeeper. ‘Why bother when you have to lie down in it once again at the end of the day?’

  ‘I eat my food out of the vessel in which it is cooked,’ claimed Raju, the cook. ‘Putting the food in the plate only increases the work for you will need to wash it too.’

  Now Brij thought he should say something that would beat all these other tall tales. So he said, ‘I am always cool and calm. Why, even if my beard were to catch fire I would start digging a well at that time, and never store water close at hand!’

  As these discussions were happening, a real fire broke out in the village! It burned down buildings and roofs and sheds, crackling and throwing up sparks, making villagers run helter-skelter looking for water to douse the flames.

  The Idlers’ Club heard all the commotion but no one bothered to step out to see what was happening. ‘What is going on?’ they only asked each other.

  ‘Oh nothing,’ Brij dismissed the topic. ‘Must be some circus or the other. So, what were we talking about?’

  By now the fire had spread to their road. It was fast making its way to the house where the idlers were sitting. It got hotter and hotter. Brij’s friends started sweating and getting nervous now. Soon the roof of the house caught fire. Still Brij kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry. It will rain now and put this out.’ Then ‘The
wind is blowing in the opposite direction and will blow it down. We are really cool people, we should not be afraid of a fire!’

  Finally his friends could stand it no longer and rushed screaming out of the house. But Brij was too stubborn, and refused to move. Finally the fire caught up with him and his beard started getting singed. Now even Brij was scared. ‘Heellp!’ he shouted.

  ‘Now you can start digging the well,’ his friends suggested.

  ‘Oh, get me some water from the pond,’ Brij begged.

  ‘That’s too far away,’ the others shouted from outside. ‘Maybe it will rain,’ they added.

  By now the beard was burning away merrily, and all Brij could do was leap and dance away from the flames. Till suddenly there were splashes and splashes of water! Someone was emptying cool, cool water on the fire and putting it out!

  Brij could not believe his luck. Who had saved him? Why, it was Shanti and many other women of the village who had worked hard and drawn water from wells and ponds to save their homes.

  Finally Brij learnt his lesson. Being lazy and pretending to be cool had certainly not helped him in his hour of need. So he shaved off his half-burnt beard, woke up early each morning and did all that Shanti told him to do, and more!

  The Way You Look at It

  On a sleepy afternoon, while the sun continued to shine, the clouds opened up and it started to rain. Sharan had fallen asleep after eating at least fifteen pooris for lunch. When he woke up, he saw a rainbow in the sky. There was a mild drizzle and the bright sunshine of summer. In the sky was a bold, bright, clear rainbow. Sharan ran to Ajji’s house and started calling out to his friends.

  Suma and Krishna were playing in the garden. Raghu and Divya were reading. Anand was sleeping. Sharan was so excited he called out to each one, ‘Ajja, Ajji, Suma, Krishna, Raghu, Anand, Divya, come and see this!’ Everyone rushed out to see what was up. The children gazed in amazement at the rainbow. Living in the city, none of them ever got to see such a vast expanse of the sky, unhindered by tall buildings. Ajja and Ajji were used to it and went back to their work.

  That evening, while having their milk, the children were talking about rainbows. ‘The colours of the rainbow are known as VIBGYOR,’ said Raghu.

  ‘A rainbow is called Indra Dhanush in Sanskrit,’ said Suma.

  ‘It is known as Kamanabillu in Kannada—the bow of Lord Kamadeva,’ said Sharan’s mother.

  ‘In the olden days if the sun and rain came together, we used to say it is the fox’s wedding and all of us have to go on the rainbow to reach the wedding,’ said Ajji.

  ‘Ultimately it is the same thing, seven colours that appear in the sky when the sun’s rays are reflected by the rainwater,’ said Ajja. ‘It depends upon the way you look at it.’

  Ajji nodded. ‘The same thing appears different, depending on the way you look at it, and today I can tell you a story about that.’ Immediately everyone turned their attention from the sky to Ajji.

  During one monsoon season, it rained and rained in Chitpur, a little village by a mighty river. It rained so hard that the river swelled up. Huge waves lashed against the riverbanks and carried away trees, houses and big chunks of earth. The villagers were really scared and prayed hard for the rains to stop.

  When finally the skies cleared, one by one people emerged from their homes. One of them was Raju. He walked down to the riverside. There he saw something that made him rub his eyes in disbelief. Why, a huge black rock had appeared there out of nowhere! And what was more, the rock looked exactly like the head of Ganesha, the god with the elephant head. Raju immediately prostrated himself in front of the rock. ‘Ganesha not only heard our prayers and made the rains go away, he has come himself to protect us!’ Raju shouted to no one in particular. ‘I must tell everyone about this!’ he yelled and ran back to the village to shape the news.

  Next came Chetan, the sculptor. He had spent so many days cooped up in his house waiting for the rains to stop. Now he was glad to be out in the open, and was thinking of his next piece of work. Suddenly he caught sight of the new rock by the river. It was just the right colour, worn smooth with age and river water. It was perfect for the scene he wanted to carve! Giving a whoop of joy, he ran home to gather his carving tools.

  Just as he turned the corner, a merchant came by on his horse. The animal was thirsty and he stopped there for it to have a drink of water from the river. He too spotted the stone. ‘What a big stone!’ he remarked. ‘And it is nice and smooth and flat. Let me sit for a while on it and rest.’ After enjoying a nice rest on the rock, the merchant decided he would tell his friends about it. They were travelling together and all of them would be thrilled to be able to sit there for some time, by the river.

  He went off to find his friends.

  Just then, Ajit, a soldier, came on his horse. He got down and washed his face. While his horse was drinking water, he was looking around and the same stone caught his attention. He was surprised and said to himself, ‘What a huge stone on the riverbed! Maybe I should get it removed so that in an emergency it should not become a hindrance on the road. Our army can march better if such obstacles are not there. I must inform my commander.’ Thinking so, he rushed back to his camp to talk to his commander.

  Later in the day Bholu, the village washerman, appeared by the river with his big bundle of clothes. To his astonishment, he found a crowd right around his favourite washing spot. They were all arguing over a rock! Pushing his way into the crowd, Bholu spoke in a loud voice, ‘Hey! What do you think you all are doing?’

  Raju now burst out, ‘This rock is a sign from Lord Ganesha, I want to worship it.’

  Chetan raised his voice even louder and said, ‘No no, this rock is going to be used for my next sculpture.’

  The merchant shouted, ‘I have invited all my friends to rest on it! It is ours!’

  Ajit was giving orders to his soldiers to remove the stone.

  Bholu now grinned and said, ‘But this rock has been here for years and years! Earlier half of it was submerged in the mud. Now with the rains the mud has got washed off, and you are seeing more of it. The washermen of Chitpur have been using this rock to do our washing for many, many years! There’s nothing miraculous about it. Now off with all of you, I have work to do.’

  So saying Bholu emptied his bundle of clothes and set to work. What could the others do? They had to go away grumbling quietly to themselves.

  Roopa’s Great Escape

  Ajja’s and Vishnu Kaka’s houses were teeming with people! There was a village festival, and friends and relatives from near and far had come to Shiggaon. There were people the children had not seen or even heard about before. Some said, ‘I am your father’s fourth cousin.’ Someone else said, ‘I am your grandmother’s second cousin.’ The houses were full and there was a lot of fun and laughter everywhere. Nobody expected a separate bedroom or a special dish at the dining table. They all ate together and talked to everybody and slept on the floor on mattresses. The city children were surprised at the ease with which the guests made themselves at home. The women helped out in the kitchen in the morning and in the evening they dressed in shining silk sarees and went to the fair. In fact everyone dressed in their best, put the two hundred rupees Ajja gave in their pockets and purses and made for the fair.

  The fair itself was quite astonishing. The children from Mumbai said, ‘It is just like Chowpati on Juhu beach.’ The Delhi kids said, ‘It is similar to Janpath.’ Others said, ‘It is like Karaga or Kallekai Parishe in Bangalore.’ Vishnu Kaka explained, ‘In every village there is a village god or goddess and once a year we worship them in a grand way. At the festival and fair it is not just about selling and buying, it is also about meeting people, exchanging gifts, having a feast and a good time.’

  The group moved from shop to shop, peeping into the photo studios, examining bangles, waiting for a turn on the merry-go-round and clapping along to the dances, when someone noticed Suma was missing! Somewhere in the crowd she had got separat
ed from the rest, and now there was no sign of her. Immediately her mother started wailing, and Ajji consoled her. Vishnu Kaka too looked really worried. The children were scared and thrilled too. This was just like Home Alone! As Vishnu Kaka was about to make his way to the police assistance booth, they heard Suma’s voice on the mike! ‘I am at the police station, Vishnu Ajja please come and fetch me.’ When Suma had been traced, her mother started scolding her. But Suma was not bothered. ‘I was not worried,’ she said. ‘In the crowd when I realized I was not with you people, I straightaway went to the police station and told them to make an announcement.’

  Everyone declared she was a very brave and sensible girl, and for a change that day Vishnu Kaka said, ‘Today I will tell a story about a young girl like Suma who had a lot of courage. I read this story in a book when I was young.’

  Once, there lived a very clever young girl called Roopa. She was an orphan and had been taken care of all her life by the people of the village in which she lived. She was very hard-working and once she became old enough, she lived all by herself and looked after herself. But she always missed having a family of her own, even though her neighbours were such loving and caring people.

  One day, when Roopa was about sixteen years old, she went down to the river along with some other women and girls to wash clothes and fetch water. Diwali was around the corner and everyone was excited. They were discussing what new clothes they would get. Some were expecting their husbands and fathers to return to the village with lovely gifts for them and were looking forward to all the merrymaking that would happen over the next few days.

 
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