How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and other Stories, p.6Sudha Murty
I used to really like these two boys for their enthusiasm. Once in a while I took snacks and some old shirts for them. They took the clothes with great joy, as if they were made of silk. But I never saw them wear those clothes. If I asked, they said, ‘Madam, we always wear dirty clothes to work, because at the station they become greasy.’
Once I took some storybooks for them, thinking they could read them at night. After all, while other children of their age were studying in schools and attending hockey matches and chess tournaments, these boys were slogging to make both ends meet. But when I gave them the story books, their faces became pale and for the first time ever I saw a trace of unhappiness on their faces. They said, ‘Madam, it takes a lot of time for us to read as we are not used to reading. Will you tell us the story?’
‘How can I tell the story here, when you are working all the time?’
‘We get some free time at about four o’clock. If you come to service your car then we can sit with you and listen to the story.’ Their two pairs of eyes were begging me for the stories and I could not say no. I remembered how my own children always insisted I tell them stories in the night. I agreed.
So it became a routine for me to tell stories on Saturday evenings. I went there even if my car did not need to be serviced. They were very attentive when I told my stories and waited eagerly for more. This went on for many months. Then I decided to get a driver and stopped driving myself. My driver took the car for servicing after that and I did not meet Ram and Gopal for a long time.
Time flows like water. After almost a decade, one day my driver was complaining about some problem the car was giving him. I told him to get it repaired. My old car had outlived its life but was still working. When my driver came back from the garage he said, ‘After looking at the car, the car mechanic asked about you. Do you know the owner of the Good Luck Garage?’
‘I have not heard this name. Is it a new garage?’
‘It is relatively new. I always prefer to go to garages owned by youngsters. This young man is very sincere. It seems he has known you for a long time. He asked if you are still teaching in the college.’
I could not think of anyone I knew who could be owning a garage now. Since my driver did not even know his name, I was unable to place him and assumed it was some old student of mine, though since I teach computer science, I could not figure out how this person had shifted to Automobile Engineering. When my driver told me a second time that the owner of the garage had asked about me, I felt I should go and meet this man who was so concerned about me.
The next day, I went to the Good Luck Garage. It was a fairly modern garage and well equipped. There was a glass cabin where I assumed the owner was sitting. As soon as I entered, a handsome young man in blue overalls greeted me. He was holding a spanner and a screwdriver in his hand.
‘Madam, please come and sit down in the cabin. I will wash my hands and come in a minute.’
I sat on the sofa in his office. It was a nice functional office. The young man looked vaguely familiar to me. I knew I had met him somewhere but could not place where. I wondered, did I teach this boy in pre-university? That time, boys are sixteen or seventeen years old, adolescents with a lot of energy. When I meet them after they have grown up, I often fail to recognize them. They look so different and mature. By that time the man had returned with a coffee mug and a glass of water.
‘Madam, you have changed a lot. You look old and tired.’
‘I am sorry, I am unable to recollect your name. You should excuse me and tell me your name. As you said, I am growing old.’
He smiled at me. There was a dimple on his cheek. And then I knew who he was. He was one of those kids who used to work in the garage a decade back. Was he Ram or Gopal? Even in those days I used to get confused. I asked him, ‘Are you Ram or Gopal?’
‘I am Ram, Madam.’
‘Please sit down. I am very happy to see you like this.’
Now I could understand why Ram had enquired about me after recognizing the car.
‘Madam, I am very grateful to you for your help in those days.’
‘What help did I give? I used to give some old shirts and eatables and told some stories.’
‘Madam, you do not know how your stories changed my life. Do you remember the stories you told us?’
I didn’t. From the ocean of stories in my head I had told them a few.
‘No, I don’t remember.’
He sat down opposite me, closed his eyes and started telling his own story.
‘Madam, our life was very difficult. You were aware of it. The only thing we looked forward to was your visit every Saturday when we listened to your stories. We used to stay with our uncle, and whatever we earned he would take. The stories you told us were our only escape from the drudgery of our lives. Our working hours were long. I felt I should go to school and continue my studies. But the night schools were all quite far from where we stayed. With no financial help or support from home, it seemed studying would always remain a dream, till we heard one of your stories. It made a big difference in our lives.’
Now I was keen to know what happened next.
‘Tell me which story that was?’ The roles had got reversed. I was the listener and he, the storyteller.
‘Once, in a village there were many poor people. They all wanted to cross a desert to go to the next village where life was better and the future more promising.
‘Many boys wanted to go. The elders in the village had said to them, “If you want to do something in life you must go to that town. You pick up stones from the desert and carry to that town. Some buyer will pay money for those rare stones.”
‘One morning, two boys started their journey. They carried food and water with them. In the beginning, the sand was still cold and the sun not yet hot. Their journey was great. They did not feel tired and strode on. After sometime the sun rose over their heads and the sand started getting hot. After walking for a long time they thought they must have reached the edge of the desert. So they ate all their food and drank the water. But soon they realized they had walked only half the way.
‘They also started collecting stones to sell in the town. After some time their bags were full of stones and very heavy. One boy felt it was too much to carry so he threw the stones and decided to go back. The other boy said, “Let us listen to our elders. Come what may, let us cross this desert and go to the next town.”
‘The first boy did not listen and went back. The second boy continued to walk towards the other town. It was a difficult journey, collecting the stones and travelling all alone, with no water to drink. Sometimes he felt his friend was right. There was no guarantee what was in that town. It was better to stop and go back to the village. But faith and hope kept him going. After walking for a long, long time he reached the town. Much to his disappointment, he saw it was like any other town. There was a dharamshala near by. It was getting dark and he was tired. So he decided to spend the night there.
‘Next morning, when he got up he wanted to throw away the heavy stones he had collected and return to his village. He opened his bag. What he saw surprised him. All the stones had become big diamonds! In a minute’s time he had become a millionaire.
‘Do you remember Madam, you also told us the meaning of the story? A student’s life is like the desert, examinations are the hot sun, difficulties are like the warm sand and study is like hunger and thirst. As a student, you have to travel all alone, collecting knowledge and skill the way the boy in the story collected stones. The more you collect, the better is the life you lead later.
‘After hearing the story, I decided to study in spite of all the odds I had to face. With a lot of determination and after facing many difficulties, I managed to finish school. The service station owner was also helpful. When I got good marks, he helped me pay my fees for an Automobile Diploma. I continued to work while I learnt. Later, I took a loan from the bank and started this work. By the grace of God, I am successful and have re
‘Madam, rich people are usually scared to start a new venture. They feel if the venture fails they will lose their money. I never had anything to lose.’
I had learnt this from my own experience too.
‘Where is Gopal now?’
‘He followed another story of yours.’
Ram looked sad.
‘Gopal’s state can also be explained by another story you told us. It seems there was a jackal in the desert. One morning he walked out and faced the sun. He saw his shadow was larger than him. It was so huge that he decided he would hunt a camel for his afternoon meal. He spent the whole day searching for a camel and did not pay attention to the smaller animals he could have caught. He did not find one till the evening. By then his shadow was even smaller than him. So he started hunting for a mouse.
‘Gopal was the same. He always tried to do things beyond his capacity and failed miserably. He doesn’t even want to work with me. Now, he is a peon in an office.’
I was dumbstruck to hear how a small story I had told brought about so much of change. I had never imagined while telling them that such a thing was possible. I am not even the original writer of these stories. I could only silently salute the person who thought of these stories first. Did he or she realize the effect they would have on two children after so many years?
Dead Man’s Riddle
Often, when there are two or more brothers in a family, they want to divide their parents’ property between them and get into arguments and court cases over this.
In the villages, the panchayat decides how the property should be divided. In my childhood, I used to attend meetings of the panchayat with my grandfather where the division of some villager’s property would be discussed. The elders would assemble and call the brothers who were fighting over the property. If there were three brothers, they would make three divisions of the property, each of approximately the same value. For example, each part would contain a little bit of gold, some silver and vessels. The values of all the articles in each group would be approximately fixed by the elders of the villages. It was difficult to always make the value of each part equal to the others. In such a situation, the youngest brother would get to choose his part first. The logic behind it was that he had stayed the least number of days with his parents. In those days, in villages, staying with parents was also considered an asset.
The village elders were all well-respected and everyone knew they were impartial. Their decisions were final and no one went to court against them. Going to court for such matters was considered a waste of time and energy. There is a saying in the village that if two feuding parties approach the court, both parties lose money, only the advocate becomes rich.
Once, there was such a disagreement in the division of property of a certain family. The Sarpanch tried his best to make the brothers agree to a certain division but they just would not accept the decision. Finally, Sarpanch Som Gowda told a story which everyone listened to carefully.
It seems, a long time back, in our village itself, there lived a rich man. He had three sons who never agreed with their father about anything. The rich man had a friend called Sumanth, who was well-educated and very wise. He would say, time will teach them everything, don’t be in a hurry.
One day, the old man died. He left seventeen horses, lots of gold and land for his sons. He wrote a will which was very strange. He divided the land and gold into three parts but for the division of horses there was a riddle. Nobody could understand the riddle. It said, ‘The half of the total horses should be given to the elder son, in the remaining half two-third should be given to the second son and what remains out of that two-third should be given to the third son.’
Seventeen was the total number of horses. Half of it meant eight and a half horses to the elder son. That meant one had to kill a horse to divide it. Subsequently, two-thirds of eight would mean one more horse had to be killed. The old man loved his horses immensely and would never have wanted any of them killed. So what did he mean? The brothers scratched their heads for a few days over the will. When they could not come up with a solution, they showed the will to their father’s friend. Sumanth read it and smiled.
He replied, ‘It is very easy. Tomorrow morning I will come and divide the horses.’
The next day, everybody assembled in the ground. All seventeen horses were standing in a row. Sumanth came on his own horse. He made his horse stand along with the other horses.
He said, ‘Now there are eighteen horses. I am as good as your father. Let us divide the horses as per the will.’
But the sons objected. ‘You have added your horse to our horses, that was not our father’s wish.’
Sumanth said, ‘Don’t worry, wait until the division is over. I will take my horse back. Out of these eighteen horses as per the will, half will go the elder son. Half of eighteen is nine, so the elder one gets nine horses. Now there are nine remaining, out of nine two-thirds means six horses will go to the second son. Now there are three remaining. Two-thirds of three means two horses out of three, will go to the third son. One horse is left, which was any way not yours. It is mine and I am taking it and going home.’
All the people who had assembled were puzzled. The three sons did not know how the division took place without killing a horse. They went to Sumanth and asked, ‘Uncle, how did you manage without killing any horse?’
Sumanth smiled and said, ‘Experience has taught me many things in life. Your father also knew it. Many a times, a work may look impossible. But if someone gives the smallest suggestion, you can work on it. That is the reason your father wrote his will in such a way that you were forced to take somebody’s advice. You may think you know everything, but please remember you are still a student. Life is an eternal teacher, provided you have an open mind.’
Som Gowda concluded, ‘That’s the way elders have taught us lessons. Experience is the best teacher in life. Elders have seen many ups and downs in their lives and interacted with many people. During the process they have acquired knowledge which can’t be taught in a school or college. It has to be learnt over a period of time. Now it is left to you people to make the decision.’
The three brothers, after listening to the story, agreed to the panchayat’s division of their property.
‘I Will Do It’
He was short. He was sharp. He was the brightest boy in his class. His seniors used to ask him to solve their difficulties in science. He could have gone unnoticed in a crowd, but once you asked him a question related to physics or maths, there was a spark in his eyes. He could grasp theories of science faster than the speed of light.
He came from a poor but educated family. His father was a high-school teacher and an avid reader of English literature. He, like all the boys in his class, was trying to get admission into some engineering college. The brighter ones wanted to study in the Indian Institutes of Technology, or the IITs. There was an entrance test for IIT. This boy, along with his friends, applied to appear for the test. They did not have any special books or coaching. All these IIT aspirants would sit below the shade of a stone mandap close to Chamundi Hills in the sleepy town of Mysore. He was the guide for the others. While the others struggled to solve the problems in the question paper, he would smile shyly and solve them in no time. He sat alone below a tree and dreamt of studying at IIT. It was the ultimate aim for any bright boy at that age, as it still is today. He was then only sixteen years old.
D-Day came. He came to Bangalore, stayed with some relatives and appeared for the entrance test. He did very well but would only say ‘ok’ when asked. It was the opposite when it came to food. When he said ‘ok’ it implied ‘bad’, when he said ‘good’ it implied ‘ok’, when he said ‘excellent’ it implied ‘good’. His principle was never to hurt anyone.
The IIT entrance results came. He had passed with a high rank. What a delight for any student! He was thrilled. He went to his fat
‘Anna, I passed the exam.’
‘Well done, my boy.’
‘I want to join IIT.’
His father stopped reading the paper. He lifted his head, looked at the boy and said with a heavy voice, ‘My son, you are a bright boy. You know our financial position. I have five daughters to be married off and three sons to educate. I am a salaried person. I cannot afford your expenses at IIT. You can stay in Mysore and study as much as you want.’
Indeed it was a difficult situation for any father to say ‘no’ to his bright son. But circumstances were like that. It was common then for the man to be the single earning member with a large family dependent on him.
His father was sad that he had to tell the bitter truth to his son. But it could not be helped. The boy had to understand reality.
The teenager was disappointed. It seemed his dreams had burnt to ashes. He was so near to fulfilling his fondest hope, yet so far. His heart sank in sorrow.
He did not reply. He never shared his unhappiness or helplessness with anybody. He was an introvert by nature. His heart was bleeding but he did not get angry with anybody.
The day came. His classmates were leaving for Madras, (now Chennai). They were taking a train from Mysore to Madras. They had shared good years in school and college together. He went to the station to say goodbye and good luck to them for their future life.
At the station, his friends were already there. They were excited and talking loudly. The noise was like the chirping of birds. They were all excited and discussing their new hostels, new courses etc. He was not part of it. So he stood there silently. One of them noticed and said, ‘You should have made it.’
He did not reply. He only wished all of them. They waved at him as the train slowly left the platform.
He stood there even after he could no longer see the train or the waving hands. It was the June of 1962 in Mysore city. Monsoon had set in and it was getting dark. It had started to drizzle. Yet he stood there motionless.
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