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Deepa Balakrishnan
Tuesday , January 29, 2013 at 12 : 14

Bed-time stories, with a twist


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The Hungry Crow. The Hare and the Tortoise. The Cunning Fox. The Lion and the Mouse.

The Stones and the Animals. The Grandfather and the Waterfalls. The Tiger-man and the Monkeys.

When the shift happened, is quite blurred. I think it was probably one day when I returned from a day-long shoot in Mandya to cover protests over the Cauvery water release. I had worked from 6 am and was just about ready to fall into bed when I reached home. My two-year-old son, though, had taken his three-hour nap that afternoon and was in no mood to settle down for the day... He wanted a bedtime story. The hares and tortoises were now passé, though... he was bored of them. That's when I vaguely remembered reading some pre-school-advisory of his that sharing a bit of what the parents do at work can bring a child closer to them. I decided to tell him the story of the Grandfather who wouldn't "let his waterfalls go."

(A bit of background here - my son loves playing in a waterfall... or a river). So I thought he may be interested in the story of the 'thatha' from near Mysore.

When, in a week, I had already told him the story about eight times, and then went on to the story of the stones and the animals in the forest - which too got many encores, 'the tiger-man and the monkeys' was a cakewalk. Often, I've questioned myself on whether I'm forcing my profession on an innocent child. Or am I giving him wrong rebellious thoughts at a tender age about protests, sitting on railway tracks, and other such activism. But the guilt-ridden parent in me gives me two answers - for all the time that I spend away from him, at least I make up for it a bit by bringing him a story he enjoys. And at the end of the day, he realises what the importance of nature, of environment, is.

Call it the attempts of a desperate mother if you will. But it's now become an almost daily routine to share my stories tailored to a child's point of view. So here are tales from my life. For a pre-schooler.

The Grandfather and the Waterfalls.

Once there was a 'thatha,' a grandfather, who was taking a walk near his home in Mysore... when he saw that the waterfalls in his hometown was being sent away to Chennai. The thatha got angry.. he called up the prime minister and said - but if you send away all our waterfalls, where will you take a bath? And the prime minister told him - but if we don't send it to Chennai, what will other babies there do - particularly my son's cousins -- if they want a waterfall-bath? So thatha got angry. He called all the villagers and said - let's do a bandh. Let's not allow our waterfalls to go away to other places.

And one uncle said - I have an idea. Let's all go sit on the railway tracks and sit there, not allowing any train to pass by. So a 100 of them went and sat on the track with a huge red bed-sheet. When a train came down, the engine driver uncle got scared and put on the brakes. And called up his boss and said, well, he can't take the train any further, what if all these people got injured?

So the villagers had won. And then an old lady in the village said - but what of the road traffic? So they said - let's all go and sit on the road just as on the tracks. So this time 200 of them went and sat on the highway. All the traffic piled up - autos, trucks, buses, vans, cars. No vehicle went past the people. They sat there for two hours, then three hours. But slowly, one anna got hungry. A few minutes later, other annas and akkas too got hungry. The anna got up and said - I'm going home to eat. I'm really hungry. So the others told him - but if you go away, how will the bandh succeed. And the ajji came up with an idea. She said - all of you who live close by, go bring in things we can use to cook. And she herself got up, went to her house and brought her gas stove on to the road. Other uncles went home to bring some large vessels. Some aunties brought in the vegetables that they had at home. They all got together and cooked a hearty meal, right there on the road. And they all sat in a line along the highway and ate as a group what they'd cooked as a group. And the bandh they'd united for, was still on.

(And someday I hope to add on some elements into this story about sharing our waters. And, at the back of my mind, also hoping that all the cooking-together, eating-together will add to the sharing-together bit.)

The Stones and the Animals

So there is this big forest with lots of trees and stones. One day, an uncle from the village nearby went into the forest and found large beautiful stones. There were pink stones, grey stones, black stones, green stones, coffee-colour stones and multi-coloured stones.

He thought - why not take one stone back to my village and build a house with it? So he took his favourite coloured stone - the pink one - and went back and built a house with it. His friends came to see the house and thought - wow, what a beautiful house is this! So they ask him where he got the stones for it - and he told one friend about how he found some large stones in the forest. The next day he takes his friend to go in, they bring a big green stone back and his friend too builds a house.

Soon they become greedy uncles. They decide to go to the forest everyday and bring back stones, start a stone-shop and sell it. So they cut away many trees to make a road, take a crane and a truck inside the forest - and bring back lots of large stones and start selling them.

One day in the forest, a jackal was on a running race in the forest... while running he suddenly fell into this deep, deep pit - and broke his leg.

The next day, an elephant went looking for some sugarcane it had hid behind a green stone... And found that both sugarcane and the stone had vanished.

The next day, monkeys went to play hide and seek in the branches - but found there were no trees... and a lion that went looking for its den just got lost - the lion knew its den was behind the pink stone but couldn't find the pink stone. Or the den.

The lion got very angry.. and roared out an order to call a forest meeting.. So when all the animals came together, he asked - who has been taking away our stones?

The bear said it had seen some people from the nearby village coming in huge trucks to take away the forest stones. This left the animals puzzled. Why would villagers want to take away the forest stones? The cunning fox came up with an idea: If villagers come to our forest, we should go to their village and see how they react.

So the next day, a bunch of monkeys went into the village. People got scared, took their children away from the streets. On the second day, a bear came to the village ... children were taken away from the streets again but the bear found its way into some homes through the windows. People were even more scared. On the third day, two elephants went to the fields in the village and took away sugarcane. People were by now wondering why so many animals came in from the forest. On the fourth day, a lion came in from the forest... by now people were petrified. They ran from their village to the next village along with their children.

One village elder though decided to ask the lion - you're the king of the jungle, why are you coming to our village? So the lion told him - if you all come into our forest and take away our things, we're left with nowhere to go, but come to villages too.

The elder understood what was going on... he promised the lion - if you keep to the forests, we'll keep to our villages.

The lion agreed. And the animals and the people lived happily ever after.

(This is a story on granite quarrying that wasn't telecast for some reason. It's aimed at trying to tell my son what man-animal habitat conflicts affect us.)

The Tiger-man and the Monkeys

Far away, there's a college that has lots of big boys and girls who come there to learn ABC, 123 and words. They used to have lots of fun learning and playing together.

One day, a monkey came to the college and found that they all brought good food in their lunch boxes. Some boys had curd rice (ok, my son's favourite), some had noodles, some had dosas and some had chapattis. The monkey jumped on the box, snatched it and ran away. And of course, feasted on it.

The next day, the monkey brought many of its friends. And when lunch boxes were kept on a ledge near the window, these monkeys would grab whatever they could and run away with it.

The boys and girls soon became irritated. They wondered how to safeguard their tiffin boxes from the monkeys. One akka had an idea. She said - monkeys are scared of tigers. What if we bring a tiger to the college?

Others stared at her - are you mad? Who'll catch a tiger and bring it?

She said - but we don't need an actual tiger. We just need someone dressing up as a tiger and going around to scare the monkeys.

Soon everyone was thrilled about the idea of driving away all the monkeys. One person brought a big piece of yellow cloth. Another person painted it with black stripes. A third got it stitches like a shirt and pant that can completely cover you.

The next day they had the tiger dress ready and waited in their class-room. One monkey peeped in through the window to see if lunch boxes were in the usual place. He went back and called all his friends... the gang of monkeys came trooping into the class-room when they heard a roar. A boy dressed as a tiger was sitting in a corner and looked ready to pounce.

The monkeys did an about-turn and ran from the scene. After that no monkey dared to come into the class-room ... and the boys and girls went to their classes to learn new things happily, without any fear.


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