It's 2020 and children are stuck indoors as the novel coronavirus finds its way into India. A nationwide lockdown is announced and amidst the growing crisis, Ajja and Ajji welcome their grandchildren and Kamlu Ajji into their house in Shiggaon.
From stitching masks, sharing household chores, preparing food for workers to losing themselves in timeless tales, the lockdown turns into a memorable time for the children as they enter the enchanting world of goddesses, kings, princesses, serpents, magical beanstalks, thieves, kingdoms and palaces, among others. The myriad stories told by their grandparents become the biggest source of joy, making the children compassionate, worldly-wise and more resilient than ever.
Following the trail of the best-selling Grandma’s Bag of Stories, India’s favourite author Sudha Murty brings to you this collection of immortal tales that she fondly created during the lockdown period for readers to seek comfort and find the magic in sharing and caring for others. Wonderfully woven in her inimitable style, this book is unputdownable and perfect for every child’s bookshelf!
Excerpts from the chapter 'A world of wheat'
Raghu exclaimed, ‘What a nice story, Ajji! We all eat rice, but I had never heard the story of how it came to be on earth.’
Anoushka replied, ‘I don’t like rice at all, but I love rotis. When we were living in Delhi, our school’s canteen would have different types of rotis on offer.
How did wheat come to earth, Ajji?’
Ajji looked at the children, but her mind wandered elsewhere.
‘Ajji is a treasure trove of stories. I am sure she knows this story too,’ said Ajja, his face crinkling into a slight smile.
'Yes, of course I know. Kamlu Ajji knows the same one too. Kamlu, why don’t you tell them this story?’
'Maybe I will share it tomorrow, you must all be tired now,’ said Kamlu Ajji.
'No, Kamlu Ajji, we are never too tired to hear stories. Please tell us,’ insisted Meenu. And so, Kamlu Ajji began her story.
Arun was a young, brave and courageous lad. He loved adventures, so he decided to set out from his village. He took his bow and arrows and began walking aimlessly—he wanted to explore the world.
After trekking for a few hundred kilometres, he came across a beautiful lake with a bridge. As he got closer, he saw a huge serpent occupying the entire length of the bridge. He had two choices: he could either turn back or cross the bridge regardless of the serpent. If he chose the latter, he would have to step
on the serpent carefully until he reached the other end.
Since Arun didn’t want to go back, he began walking on the serpent’s body. After he took a few strides, he heard a voice say, ‘Hello, hello, stop right there!’
Arun turned around and to his astonishment, he saw that the serpent had vanished and in its place stood an old man. A little afraid, he asked the old man, ‘Are you calling out to me?’
‘Where is the serpent? It was here a moment ago,’ asked Arun.
‘I am the serpent. In fact, I am the king of serpents and have a fantastic palace below this lake,’ said the old man.
‘Then why were you sleeping here?’
‘To see if I could solve a problem. You see, there is a cruel and powerful eagle who lives on the other side of the mountain. Every day, she comes and eats one of my subjects. Besides my subjects, I have many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren too, and no matter how much I try, I have not been able to defeat the eagle. So, I wanted to test and find someone who is bold and courageous, and will agree to help us. That is why I changed my size and laid down on the bridge. Everybody who came here chose to turn back, except you. You have passed my test. Will you try and help us?’
Hearing the sincerity in the old man’s voice, Arun knew instantly that he was telling the truth. The desire to help save a kingdom and to fight a nasty eagle was too strong for Arun to refuse. He nodded.
The old man smiled, relieved to have found a ray of hope. ‘We have some time before the eagle comes again tomorrow. Would you like to visit my palace?’ he asked.
Arun agreed and they both jumped into the water.
Arun thought that he would hit bottom soon, but he didn’t. The two men passed through a tunnel and entered a beautiful, impressive city with plenty of plants, fruits and flowers. Many serpents walked around in the form of humans, but there was a stillness in the water. Despite the obvious prosperity, no one seemed happy.
The serpent king guided Arun to his palace. Soon, there was a huge feast laid out in his honour. There was more food than he had ever seen before! After a hearty meal, the king introduced him to his clan. The king thought, Poor Arun, this might be his last meal.
The next morning, the serpent king and Arun came back to the surface of the lake.
It wasn’t long before Arun heard a terrifying screech. An enormous and scary eagle was heading towards them, intent on breaking through the water and finding its next victim from the city that lay underneath.
Arun took out his bow and got ready to shoot at the eagle. He only had three arrows in his quiver. He shot the first arrow—it touched the left wing of the eagle, broke and fell down. The eagle continued flying without missing a beat. The serpent king grew concerned. Perhaps this boy will not be able to slay the eagle either, he thought.
He let loose the second arrow—it touched the right wing of the eagle, broke and fell down. The eagle continued to fly steadily towards them. The serpent king grew more and more concerned. There was only one arrow left now, and the eagle was going to reach them soon.
Arun looked down at the lake and saw the eagle's reflection in the water. There was a wound on the eagle’s neck. Arun took aim, said a prayer and launched an arrow directly at the eagle’s wound. The arrow hit its mark, and the eagle collapsed into the water and drowned.
The cruel eagle had finally been slain.
The serpent king was ecstatic. He embraced Arun, ‘My child, thank you for your kindness and bravery. I can never repay your favour, nor will my kingdom or my subjects ever forget you.’
The city and all the serpent folk celebrated the victory with gusto. The king took Arun on a personal tour of the kingdom. Arun noticed that in every home, people were cooking something he had never seen before—it was cream and beige in colour.
The serpents requested him to stay in the city for some time, but Arun wanted to go and explore more of the world. At the farewell lunch on the final day of his stay, Arun noticed that the same thing he had seen being cooked earlier was being served in different varieties.
‘What is this?’ he asked.
‘This is wheat, it originates from grass. We only eat the grain we obtain from it during festivals or on special occasions like today. We are honouring you by serving wheat,’ explained the king. The queen joined in and said, ‘We make a variety of dishes using wheat, it is a vital food and easy to eat and
digest. It also gives us lots of energy.’ Arun tried it and enjoyed it more than anything else that had been served.
When he was about to leave, the queen came and presented him with bags of gold nuggets, diamonds, rubies and emeralds. The king said, ‘This is our gift to you.’
However, Arun politely refused the gift. He said, ‘I don’t need these expensive stones or metals. If you really want to give me something, please give me a handful of wheat seeds that I can plant and help my
fellow men enjoy it too!’
The king and queen exchanged looks, they had never shared this with any human before. The serpent king said, ‘Gratitude is the highest representation of civilization. We will share some wheat seeds with you
and teach you how to grow it. Let your world also enjoy this. Whenever you eat wheat, remember that we shared our secret with you and that you helped us through a tough time.’
The king handed over a bag of wheat seeds and soon, Arun left the serpent kingdom and returned to land, bringing the secret of wheat along with him.
Excerpted from Grandparents' Bag of Stories by Sudha Murty, published by Penguin Random House India. Price Rs 250
(Edited by: By Jomy)
First Published: IST