Fairy Tales

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Fairy Tales (photo credit: rak12ela10.wikispaces.com)

Children have a wonderful imagination. They are also very quick learners. In our way of educating them and also to develop their sense of wonder, we introduce them to stories and rhymes; verses and delightful prose.

My little one regularly has storytelling sessions at school. The children also get books that are full of illustrations and a few words, to pique their interest and introduce them to the written word. I myself love to look through these books, to hold the stiff board pages, and turn them awkwardly as any adult would do, used to the thin pages of paperbacks. I pore over the wonderful illustrations, the bright colours, the glitter and the cutouts. I try to imagine myself a little child with a fertile mind, soaking in the colors, the shapes and the textures of the world around him.

Every little thing is magic, from morning till night. Right from the sunlight filtering through the curtains, the bright day, the shining orb called the sun, the blue of the sky, the red of the cereal bowl, the crunchy breakfast, the sweetness of milk, through the day, on and on till it is time for bed and a restful slumber. Ah, what a wonderful world the children live in. Their minds are ready to believe anything and everything. To recreate that lovely world, I like to read fantasy books. Nonsensical verses. Outrageously amazing worlds.

I also sometimes pick up the so called fairy tales. Populated by dragons, stepmothers, ogres, talking animals, wide-eyed children, cruel adults, princes handsome and strong, princesses beautiful and helpless, waiting for a magic spell to be broken, to be rescued by someone. More often than not, I find stories that reinforce stereotypes. And then, I feel afraid of what ideas they give to young minds. Also, more often than not, when I talk to my children and their friends about these stories, I encounter questions about the unjust and unethical behaviour of characters. Why are people cruel? Or why do they steal? Or why do they spy on others? Or why are they greedy?

Give me a tale with imagination any day. Of fantastic characters, strange lands, exciting discoveries. Talking trees, animals and toys. Walking pack of cards. Time travel. Space mysteries. I just want to avoid giving negativity to my children so I sift through the tales that show immorality and falsehood, and by being ready with answers that they can relate to, to explain the behaviour of adults and the real world.

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The Writing Challenge

Yesterday, I wrote. And with a twist. I wrote a few lines in my mother tongue Punjabi. It has been years since I picked my pen to write the language that has shaped my subconscious. This was in response to my blogger friend Jithin’s challenge to write something in our mother tongue on World Handwriting day.

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Poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi

I wrote the first few lines of a beautiful poem by the noted Punjabi Poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936-1973), well known for his romantic poetry full of passion and pathos. He was the youngest recipient of the Sahitya Academy Award in 1967. Batalvi’s poetry lives on in every Punjabi’s mind. I remember seeing his works among my father’s books. My mother often hummed his poetry. His verses have been immortalised by many Punjabi singers- Hans Raj Hans, Rabbi Shergill, Mahendra Kapoor, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Jagjit Singh-Chitra Singh, Surinder Kaur, Asa Singh Mastana…

Here is a rough English translation of this poem.

Ek Kudi Jehda Naam Mohabbat

A girl whose name is LOVE, is lost, is lost, is lost………
simple, beautiful, she is lost…..An angel by face, like Mary by virtue,
flowers blossom when she laughs, seems a poem when she walks….
tall like cypress, age barely alight…
yet she understands the language of a glance, she is lost…
its been ages since she is lost, yet it feels yesterday…
feels like today, feels like now…
she was standing beside me just now, now she is beside me no more…
what this deception is, what trickery, my mind is amazed….
A girl whose name is LOVE, is lost, is lost, is lost………

Thanks to the reminder, I am now tempted to explore his poetry. The next time I go home, I shall pick ‘Luna’ and ‘Mainu Vida Karo’.

P.S. So much so for my enthusiasm, here is the correction made on my script by my husband.

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Correction!

Tin Trunk Chronicles

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My Grandmother has had a tin trunk for as long as I remember. It never attracted much thought or curiosity for it was not the only trunk in the house. My mother had one and it was part of her trousseau. That again was commonplace in her generation and culture; every household I had access to as a child had one. The large tin trunk or ‘peti’ held all bedding required for the house, the heavier quilts that were packed away once summer arrived, with naphthalene balls inserted in layers, so that everything else that was stored in the trunk was infused with this smell. Yet, this smell was deemed special and we usually buried our noses in the clothes to breathe it in.

There were other things in the peti, put away, for these were used infrequently. The peti was usually put in the storeroom of the house because of its large size. But here too it was used as an ironing board. A thick ‘khes‘- a kind of cotton blanket was used to provide cushioning and spread on top of the peti. Then, bedsheets were added to make it a clean and comfortable alternative to an ironing table. The peti was usually locked, with a huge iron padlock (I think, those were the only ones available then) which made a loud noise as we brushed past it. When opened, it was an occasion to savour for something mysterious would appear from the trunk. Children were usually asked to help an adult in holding the heavy lid while they dug about in the layers. Then a triumphant look and the item required was tugged out. The metal loop was closed and fit into place with a loud clang that I can identify even today in my sleep.

After my parents settled down in their retirement house, they decided to sell the peti. It was large and required too much space. The children of the house, grown up by now were sad but we could not even fathom what our mother felt. It was almost as if the family heirloom was given away. People do not buy those tin trunks now, at least not in the urban areas and I did not get one as a wedding gift.

Mother does have a number of smaller trunks in the house, and they are simply called trunks. They are also used for storage and they too have a metallic clang and their opening is also occasional. All those trunks are in the store still, except the one that my grandmother deems hers. It was not a wedding gift and it is not as old as it seems with bits of newspaper stuck to its base and sides from the moist cupboard it is kept in.

My grandmother is in her nineties. Back when she walked with a spring in her step, draped in green polka dotted white sarees, her ample bosom heaving as she crushed us children to her, her room was full of idols she worshipped twice a day, tinkling a little brass bell in front of the Gods, singing bhajans lustily. Some days, I still wake up to the sound of the bell but the ritual is now intermittent and half hearted. The photos of her Gods are neglected, old and fading. The cloth covers of the photos are frayed and as children we would sit by her when she sewed new ones for her Gods every August before Janamashtami-the birthday of Lord Krishna. There was a glint in her eyes and a song on her lips as she did her work. Now, her Gods sit in a corner of her cupboard.

My Grandmother lives with my parents. I am no longer young and spirited. I sometimes feel the middle aged heaviness upon me. I think I am turning into my parents. Does my father think he is getting to be more like his mother? At what point do we realise that we are bound together inextricably by heredity and familiarity of the years and decades spent together.

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My Grandmother with my children

Last year, when I went to spend a few days with my parents, my grandmother seemed happy to see her grandchild and great grandchildren. I had never stopped to wonder whether she saw herself in the innocence of these little children. She asked me after a couple of days to help her open her tin trunk. I pulled the heavy trunk out of the cupboard; it made a sickening sound as it scraped against the marble floor. With trembling hands she handed me the heavy keys to the padlock. After fumbling around for a minute or so, I inserted the right key in the lock. A twist and it was open. The lid creaked when I lifted it and the sight of clothes greeted me. Silk clothes for special occasions, her petticoats that she no longer wore, her chiffon sarees that she asks us to take and wear but something we girls-women, politely decline each time, embroidered handkerchiefs, used to wrap a black and white faded photo of her brother, who crossed the seas to settle in far off Africa when she was a young bride and never met him again. Her rosaries were nearly tucked in a corner.

My grandmother patiently asked me to arrange her clothes. Take a few out and put a few others in. Here, I was, rearranging and looking at a lifetime. A life characterised by hopes, dreams, desires, disappointments. Of witnessing births and deaths. Of making sense of the life that was given to her. Of her spirituality and her ritualistic love for the Gods. Of the people she had lived and known, the bits of her memories of her own parents, grandparents, siblings, husband, children who were with her and the children she had lost a long time back. Of people whose lives she had touched. Of her understanding of the world and God’s will. Of her love for her favourite dishes and her inability to eat them now. Of the seclusion of old age which is not penetrated by the young. Of her infirmity, her failing limbs, her arthritic, twisted fingers. Her toothless grin that was once characterised by white pearlies. Her thinning white hair, that she still likes to get braided.

I was looking at the contents of the tin trunk and looking at her life, as it had been and as it was now. A lifetime of moments, memories and worldly possessions, all of which can fit into a tin trunk. At that moment, I saw myself in her, as I would be in a few decades. I resolved to treasure only that which I could carry in my mind and that I could give to others. Could I be understanding the measure of a life?

Serenity

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Serenity in the lap of nature

This little cluster of houses is in a remote region of the hills I live in. I had to trek on precarious slopes (no trails) to reach the house of a local godman.Running water? From the stream. Food and groceries? Cultivated from the land. Milk? From the domestic goats. TV? What is that? Cell phones? Yes, why not? After all, India is in the thralls of a telecom revolution.

Posted in response to Weekly Photo Challenge.

When the library closes…I pick up my pen

It sounds funny in today’s world, when we have kindle, ebooks, online reading material, bookstores and print reading material in plenitude, that the temporary closing of the local library would cause a lot of angst-to me. But, yes, it does, incredibly so. I am the kind of person who reads everything and anything. Fiction, non-fiction, travel, anthropology, animal behaviour, philosophy, mythology, comics, newspapers, tabloids, news weeklies, women’s magazines, pamphlets enclosed with pharmaceutical products, labels on food items… I cannot resist reading the newspaper pages that are used to wrap up my groceries. I can happily munch a carrot while smoothing out the creases in the paper bag that carried my vegetables so that I can read the latest data about what is causing the most pollution around the Taj Mahal.

Coming back to the library. They’ve closed it for a month. Is it snowing? No. Is the cold severe? No. I am enjoying the excellent sunshine everyday, cracking open and eating peanuts by the trayful. Is there a security issue? No. Being a small and peaceful place, the library has a few dedicated members only, the number you can count on your fingers. They just need a break! The people running the library, that is. So, I am left dreaming of the list of books I wanted to read.

Those rough and broad spines, the smell of the ink, the sharp edges of paper, the rustle of the pages, the weight of the books all add to an amazing sensory delight not to be found elsewhere. The hush of the library room, the footsteps sounding loud on the stone floor and the timelessness into which everything is suspended! Ah! how much do I miss all these! I start ticking the days off on the calendar to the day Paradise would open its doors to me once again.

In the meanwhile, out of desperation, I pick up my pen again. Typing and sending out my own written word has become easy on the electronic devices available. Yet, feeling the grooves of the pen, the smell of the ink and the large blots it leaves on paper is oddly comforting. Vaguely, I think back to all the long letters I used to write to my friends, relatives, editors of papers and magazines… I doodle, put a few punctuation marks here and there on the sheet of paper (I have stacks of them stashed away for just such an emergency) and write. Magic! Words flow, ideas take wings and my thoughts coalesce in a strangely coherent manner-something I had not felt for quite some time.

Thanks to the dearth of reading material, I decided to really write and it is a lot of fun.

The Tiny Soldier-Part 2

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The following story is part of Flash Fiction Chain # 5 hosted at the wonderful Photrablogger. The chain is inspired by the photograph above which is just one of the bunch of amazing photos and posts about travel, photography and life on the blog.

Part 1 has been written by Abirami. Please read it to understand how the story progresses.

The characters are

Rick- a not so ordinary ten year old

Jenna- a social service employee

Mrs. Montgomery- the foster mom

Jake- Mrs. Montgomery’s only son

Rick was a surprised boy. The monkey sat on one of the low branches. Rick looked up curiously, cautiously. Mrs. Montgomery never did mention any monkeys around here. Macaws, yes and mockingbirds. This was good, this was fun. Rick swung his arm with the banana in his hand. The monkey chattered for a while and in one swoop took the banana from his hand. Rick nearly cried out for the touch was as if an electric current had passed into his body.

Now, how did he know electric currents? Jake, ma’s (for that was what all the children called Mrs. Montgomery) real son, had once set up some wires across the field. Two boys tripped over them-and there were such a hell lot of them in the house ma kept- and got some nasty burns. Rick was one of those boys and it made him swear revenge. Jenna saw his burn on one of her visits and her eyes were oh so round! But Rick lied about it. Jenna had been a rock in his short and troubled life. Going beyond the duties of a social worker, she was maternal and caring. Rick almost lied about ma too. He did not want Jenna to know how much he had come to like ma. “Wouldn’t Jenna be jealous?”, mused Rick as he practiced skipping stones on the surface of the muddy still pond behind the dingy house.

Soon, the sun was overhead and Rick felt drowsy. He sat in the shade of one of the nearly bare trees. To get the scanty shade, he twisted his legs around a dried, fallen branch. Sometime, this piece of wood too would be taken away for burning in the kitchen. The memory of the kitchen smoke started his eyes smarting. His eyes were always red these days. And watery. One of the boys in his room-there were only two rooms for the boys-hit him with the enamel jug used for washing themselves in the basin and called him a devil. Rick had felt the anger rising in him but he stayed quiet for he saw Jake looking on. He could not risk a fight and be ratted upon.

Under the tree, Rick felt a soft touch on his head. He stirred sleepily. He felt something moist put into his hand. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and squinted against the afternoon sun. A banana peel! He bolted upright. As the leaves rustled overhead, Rick shouted. For there was the monkey again! Returning the banana peel! The monkey playfully swung from one branch to another and perched on one of the higher branches on the tree across. Rick looked at the monkey for some time. For a boy who was only interested in books and the make believe world, Rick spent a long time peeping at the monkey through his half closed eyes.

Ma rounded up all the children soon after. They were to wash up before the evening meal. As the boys sat down on the hard floor in rows, Jake and Ben took turns to pour the thin gruel into the boys’ soup bowls. Rick sloshed about the gruel in his bowl. There was a loud screech from the yard and a flurry of screams from the boys sitting near the window. A hazy brown shape came in and kicked over Jake’s bowl. And then it was gone.

“Just a wild monkey, children”, ma tried to soothe the boys. But Rick smirked. The monkey was an ally. It had taken his revenge on Jake.

Before getting in the bed that night, Rick crept to the barn outside where fruit and vegetables were kept. He hid a small bunch of bananas under his shirt. Rick then walked in to ma’s room to kiss her goodnight and to get an eyeful of the whimpering Jake. He got in the bed with the bulging bunch under his shirt. “Tomorrow, the monkey shall be given good food. What a soldier! Coming to my rescue”.

The moon was as bright as a round, clean tin plate. It peeped in the open window of Rick’s room. Shadows of the leaves danced on his face. He rubbed at his itchy eyes in his sleep. He felt, rather than heard the booming voice. “Give me the bananas”. Rick’s red eyes flew open and there was a rounded shape at the end of his bed. A soft furry hand reached under his shirt and pulled out his bunch! Rick screamed but no voice came from his dry throat! He watched in amazement as his soldier peeled the fruit one by one and devoured it. “It gets mighty difficult to get something to eat in this dry bush. Too little water in the rivers to make the land green and fertile”, said the booming voice.

“Fertile?”, croaked Rick. “What does that mean?”

“You don’t read many books, do you?”, said the monkey.

“Oh, I do. Nobody can read as well as I can here. Ma makes us study for two hours in the morning but I alone read for four, five hours”, said Rick proudly.

“Hmm.. but you still do not know enough. I shall have to teach you myself”, said the monkey in that booming voice of his. Rick looked around nervously to see if anybody else was awake by their conversation but amazingly, everybody slept on.

“A talking monkey“, thought Rick incredulously. Was he really talking to a monkey? Was he going bonkers or was this just a dream??

Part 3 by Yinglan