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Grandmas bag of stories, p.9
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       Grandma's Bag of Stories, p.9

           Sudha Murty
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  But Mahesh would not turn the key. He just stood there laughing. Then he coolly picked up the key and walked out of the shop. The carpenter could only shout at Mahesh’s retreating back. ‘You villain! Come back! Set me free!’ But it was in vain. Mahesh had fooled him.

  Later that evening the king came to know of this other stranger who had duped his clever carpenter. He was worried. Who were these men, making the brightest people of his kingdom look stupid? He decided to go around the city in disguise to try and catch them.

  As he walked near the city gates, he found a man sitting there with a heap of mangoes, waiting for someone to buy them. The fruit seller had chosen the loneliest spot, so the king was suspicious.

  ‘Why are you selling your fruits here?’ he asked.

  The fruit seller was actually Umesh. He pretended to look nervously around and answered in a whisper, ‘Sir, I have heard there are some clever cheats roaming around the kingdom wanting to cheat us and our clever king. I have heard one will be walking by this way soon, so I am waiting here hoping to catch him and deliver him to the king.’

  The king was surprised that this person knew all about the clever gang of cheats.

  ‘Have you seen him before?’

  ‘Yes, sir. I know the gang. The person who is coming today is the chief.’

  ‘What does he look like?’

  ‘He is tall, hefty and very cruel.’

  ‘Is there any way I can see him?’ the king asked excitedly.

  ‘Sir, the best way is to hide. As soon as he comes, I will whistle, and you can see him.’

  But at that spot there was neither a tree nor any rock behind which the king could hide. Then the fruit seller held out a sack. ‘Hide in this, sir,’ he suggested. ‘I will keep you next to me, and anyone will think it is a sack of mangoes.’

  The king agreed and hopped into the sack. Quickly Umesh tied it and walked away, laughing. The king soon realized he had been tricked. But he was tied in the sack and could do nothing. Many hours later, when his soldiers came looking for him, he managed to wriggle around in the sack and attract their attention. How embarrassed he was, to be set free by them! He also knew now that he and the people of his kingdom were not as clever as he loved to boast. He realized his mistake.

  The king’s old teacher came to the court and explained how his three students had tricked everyone. Harish, Mahesh and Umesh apologized for their actions. And the king promised to rule his kingdom with wisdom and humility.

  The Story of Silk

  No sooner had the children gotten over their excitement of the visit to Rehmat Chacha’s house than Ajji sprung another surprise. There was a wedding in the village! Having attended some village weddings earlier, the children knew what to expect. Here, it was not like the city where you went at a certain time printed on the card, gave your present, ate and came back. In the village, everyone was invited, whether your name was on a card or not. And not only were you expected to come as early as possible, you were also expected to pitch in and help the host! So Damu was seen rushing off in the jeep to pick up guests from the railway station. Rehmat Chacha was in charge of providing fresh vegetables from his farm. Ajji was herding a group of women into the kitchen and telling them what to do. Ajja was supervising the cleanliness and had stocked up on big bottles of phenyl and other cleansers. And Vishnu Kaka was dressed in his best, most spotless dhoti and kurta and was looking after the guests.

  Ajji told the children to wear their nicest clothes and come to the venue. Krishna, always careful of the way she looked, wore her pretty blue silk frock. Ajji noticed and said, ‘Krishna, remember to be careful. There will be a lot of people and food there. Don’t get your clothes dirty.’

  Krishna promised to be careful. Soon Ajji disappeared into the kitchen which was lined with people chopping and stirring and cooking. Outside, guests were pouring in and Vishnu Kaka was making sure everyone was served breakfast. Ajja was seen hurrying about with a bottle of phenyl in his hand. Rehmat Chacha was taking care of the flower decorations while Peerambhi Chachi was stringing piles of garlands. Children were playing all over the place, film songs played on the mike and there was a happy chaos everywhere.

  After the wedding, during lunch time, while eating sweet pancakes of chiroti with badam milk, someone jostled Krishna and a big puddle of milk fell on her dress. She was grief-striken. Ajji consoled her. ‘Don’t cry. Silk can be washed and made to look just like new. That is the wonderful thing about it.’ Seeing Krishna’s tear-stained face she said, ‘Today when we go home I will tell you the story of how silk was made for the first time.’ That made Krishna happy. That night, though Ajji was tired, she still told the children the story of silk.

  Did you know that silk was discovered in China?

  A long time ago, in a tiny village in China, there lived a poor girl belonging to a weaver’s family. One day, the emperor was passing through the village and saw her working in the fields. He noticed her red cheeks and rosebud-like mouth, her proud bearing and her rough, work-worn hands, which meant she worked very hard through the year. He immediately fell in love with her and though he was much older, decided to marry her.

  The girl married the ruler of the land and went to live in his palace as his beloved queen. But she was unhappy. She had grown up in the wide open spaces of the countryside, and now she was confined to a palace, magnificent though it was. She was used to working from dawn to night without a moment’s rest, but now she had many servants to take care of her needs and did not know how to fill her time. In the village she had been surrounded by family and friends who exchanged news and gossip as they worked, but in the palace it was quiet and no one spoke out of turn. The emperor noticed his new wife was sad and tried his best to make her happy. He bought her grand clothes, jewels and artefacts, threw elaborate parties, hired the best musicians of the land to amuse her. Yet she was sad.

  One afternoon, the empress sat under a mulberry bush in her garden, lost in her thoughts about her village. She slowly sipped hot water from a cup. Staring up at the blue sky, the girl remembered the birds that flew over her village. Then, sighing softly to herself, she picked up her cup to take another sip. But what was this! A cocoon from the mulberry bush had dropped into the hot water! Her first thought was to throw away the water and the cocoon. But then she took a closer look, and she saw some threads peeping out from the cocoon. Where had they come from? She pulled the threads. They were thin, strong and shiny. She kept pulling and a long line of thread came out. Now the empress had a great idea. She would take the thread from many cocoons and weave soft, strong cloth from it!

  She called her servants and everyone got to work. They took cocoons out of the mulberry tree, dropped them in hot water, and removed the thread. They gathered a fair amount of yarn. Then the queen ordered a special weaving machine and wove the first piece of cloth using this new thread. Thus silk, the best and brightest form of cloth, was weaved.

  The manufacture of silk spread throughout China. It was the cloth that only royalty could wear, and was much in demand in lands as far away as Rome. The route through which silk was traded between China and Europe through Asia was called the Silk Route.

  Now that the Chinese had learnt how to make silk cloth, they did not want to share this knowledge with anyone in the world. Generations of Chinese royalty were sworn never to reveal the secret to anyone. When princesses got married and went away to far-off lands, they were not allowed to tell anyone in their new home how silk was made.

  Many, many years later, when a clever princess was leaving her house on getting married, as was the custom, her bags were searched carefully to check that she did not carry anything that would help her make silk. This princess had been weaving silk from a young age and wanted to continue to do so wherever she went. She had hidden the cocoons in her long, elaborate hairdo. No one thought of looking there! When she went to her husband’s house, she took out these cocoons from her hair and started gathering silk thread! In this way, legend goes, th
e knowledge of how to make silk left China.

  When Yama Called

  One day, Ajji was sitting and stitching a tear in an old sari. The children came and sat around her. The holidays were finishing and they did not want to be away from her for even a minute. Meenu and Krishna affectionately put their arms around Ajji’s neck and said, ‘Ajji, why do you have so many wrinkles on your hand?’

  ‘Because I am old,’ said Ajji.

  ‘Why do old people have wrinkles?’ asked Meenu.

  Ajji took off her glasses, which she wore only when sewing or reading, and said, ‘Once upon a time I was also young like you. My skin was smooth and shiny. My hair was long and black. I had very sharp eyes and an excellent memory. But as I grew older, everything changed slowly.’

  ‘We will all grow old like this one day, shan’t we?’ asked Divya.

  ‘Yes, every living being gets old. It is a part of life. Come, I will tell you a story about old age.’

  Many, many years ago, there lived, in a little town, a man named Arun. He was a merchant and though not very rich, he lived comfortably enough. He had a large family of brothers, sisters, wife and children. He looked after them well, and in whatever way he could, he also helped out the poor people in the town. He built rest houses for travellers, and in these there were dining halls where anyone could come and have a good, wholesome meal for very little money.

  One day, while returning home from work, he happened to pass by one such rest house. It had a veranda where people stopped and rested. Sitting there, looking tired and hungry, was a stranger. He was a tall man. His clothes were travel-stained and showed that he had come from afar. With him was his horse, looking as tired and hungry as its master.

  Seeing them, Arun’s kind heart melted, and he went up to speak to the man.

  ‘Where have you come from, my brother?’ he asked. ‘Why don’t you step inside for a hot meal and some rest?’

  The man looked up, gave a smile and said, ‘The rest house is very popular. There is no room for me, and the dining hall is full too. I will wait here for a while, then be on my way. I’m sure I will find another place to serve me some food down the road.’

  Arun would not hear of this. The thought that someone was going away without food and rest was too much for him. He insisted on the man coming back to his house with him. There he invited the traveller to share a meal with his family. The man was served lovingly and ate his fill.

  While he sat eating, the man noticed that Arun was sometimes a bit absent-minded. It was as if something was on his mind, and he was worried. Once they had finished eating and had washed up, the traveller rose to leave. He thanked Arun for his kindness, then said, ‘If you don’t mind me asking, sir, I could not help but notice that you were a bit worried. I know I am a stranger to you, but perhaps it would help lighten your burden if you shared your worries with me.’

  But Arun only smiled and shook his head. He did not want to share his thoughts with the stranger.

  Then the man said, ‘Perhaps if I show you who I really am you will confide in me.’

  And in a trice the man changed. He was no longer a tired traveller, but a god, resplendent in shimmering clothes with a crown on his head. His horse changed into a buffalo, and the man introduced himself, ‘I am Yama, the lord of death. Now will you tell me what’s wrong?’

  Seeing this Arun nearly fainted. The lord of death had just shared a meal with him! ‘Wh-what are you doing on earth, my lord?’ he gasped.

  Yama smiled and said, ‘Oh, I like coming here once in a while, and seeing what everyone is doing. So, what’s bothering you?’

  Arun replied, ‘You see, I need to grow my business more, but today I was not feeling very well. If anything happened to me, who would look after my large family?’

  Yama nodded seriously. ‘Don’t worry, child,’ he comforted. ‘I have seen what a hard-working, kind- hearted person you are. You invited me home and let me have a meal with you, knowing me only to be a tired and weary traveller. I will do one thing. when it is time for you to leave the earth and come with me, like all living things have to do one day, I will not come all of a sudden. I will let you know many days in advance, so you can prepare yourself and your affairs for the time you have to go away with me.’

  Arun bowed to the lord in gratitude when he heard this and Yama vanished.

  Years went by. Arun became an old man. His business had grown many times over, his children and brothers and sisters were all well looked after. He had few worries left.

  One night, he went to bed and had a dream. He saw Yama standing in front of him. Yama was holding out a hand towards him and saying, ‘Come, it is time for you to go away with me.’

  Arun was terrified. ‘But lord, you had promised you would tell me days in advance before I would die. How can I come away right now?’

  A small smile appeared on Yama’s lips. ‘But child, I did give you a warning. I made your hair turn white, I made your back stoop with age, I made your teeth fall out one by one. These were all indications that your time on earth is coming to an end.’

  ‘But these things happen to every man and woman! How could these be a warning only for me!’

  Yama nodded, ‘Yes, they do happen to everyone. And when they do, men and women should start getting ready to meet me. Life has to come to an end, there is no escape.’

  Arun now understood. He looked back on his days and realized that even without meaning to, he had been preparing for this. His children looked after his business, all his work was done. There was nothing stopping him from going away with his old friend Yama.

  He climbed on the buffalo behind Yama. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. And off Yama went away with him.

  The Unending Story

  Today Ajja, Ajji and Vishnu Kaka were all feeling sad. The children’s holidays were nearly over, and it was nearing the time when they would go back to their homes. For three weeks the houses had echoed with their laughter, games and quarrels. Now all would be quiet once again, till they returned for the next holiday. The children too were feeling sad, and had gathered around their grandparents in a tight little group. Raghu the eldest said, ‘We had more fun this holiday then we’ve ever had. Even more than when we visited Disneyland. And it was all because of the stories.’

  Ajja said, ‘When I was still working as a schoolteacher, I always found it was so much easier to get my students’ attention when I told the lessons in the form of stories.’

  Anand said, ‘I find it really boring to read history from a book. But if you tell us the stories from history I’m sure we will remember everything!’

  Everyone now turned their bright eyes on Ajji. ‘How can you tell us only one story even on this last day, Ajji! We want more!’ they clamoured.

  But Ajji shook her head. ‘If you eat only pickles and laddoos will you be healthy? Stories are like that. You can’t spend all your time listening to stories. Then it will be boring. Like the unending story that a king once had to hear.’

  ‘I want a story! And that’s an order!’ shouted King Pratap Singh of Mayanagar. King Pratap was only fifteen years old, and still a boy at heart. He didn’t like being a king much, because he was supposed to be doing serious things like keeping the law, listening to his people’s problems and all kinds of dreary things like that. The only part he liked about being a ruler was that everyone had to obey him! How he loved giving orders and making all kinds of demands. And what he loved the most was listening to stories! Every day, he insisted on listening to at least ten stories. All the storytellers in his kingdom lined up at his court. They told him funny stories, scary stories, magical stories and anything else that came to their mind. King Pratap listened to all with rapt attention.

  He loved stories and storytellers so much that whenever he heard a good tale he would shower the teller with gold, silver and all kinds of wonderful presents. His ministers sighed and shook their heads and tried to explain, ‘Your Majesty, stories are all very well, but you should be listening to the
m after your work is done! Your people need you to do so many things for them. If you spend all your time wrapped up in fantasies, how will the land prosper?’

  But King Pratap paid no attention. It was stories he wanted, and stories he would get. But how long could the people provide him with stories? Soon the tales began to dry out. Some tried to cleverly tell him ones they had related long back, but Pratap was sharp as a needle. ‘I’ve heard that one! Off with his head for repeating a story!’

  Oh, how his ministers had to plead with him to pardon the culprits!

  Finally, disgusted with all the storytellers in his land, the king announced, ‘I want someone to tell me a story that will go on and on, till I ask him to stop. Anyone who can do this will get half my kingdom as a prize!’

  His ministers were even more horrified at this. Half the kingdom to some woolly-headed writer and teller of stories! How horrible! They all tried to show the king the foolishness of his ways, but he was adamant. A story that lasted for days, even weeks, was what he wanted and that was that!

  Soon a long line of men and women appeared at his court. Each one wanted to win the big prize. But none of their stories were good enough for King Pratap.

  ‘Boring!’ he shouted at some.

  ‘Rubbish!’ he yelled at others.

  ‘Cock and bull!’ he bellowed at yet others.

  Meanwhile work on the kingdom’s affairs had come to a stop. All the ministers were sitting wringing their hands and wondering how to bring back their king to solving all the important issues. Finally the chief minister, who was wise and clever, had an idea.

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