Modern bedtime stories

Modern bedtime stories

Growing up in a large joint family has its charm. I was the youngest among five brothers, living in our large ancestral house. Listening to bedtime stories from my brothers was part of my routine. 

One of my brothers was very imaginative. His favourite story was ‘Farmer Duliya and his bullock’. ‘Duliya was sowing wheat with his plough’, he began. ‘Since it was very hot, he gave himself a break and lay down in the cool shade of a neem tree. After an hour or so, when he awoke, he discovered that his bullock was missing. Assuming it might have strayed into the neighbouring fields for grazing, he went in search of it. He searched everywhere but just could not find the bullock’, my brother would narrate, wearing an appropriately sad face.
‘When his search bore no fruit, Duliya gave up, borrowed a bullock from a neighbour and finished sowing his wheat.

The seed soon sprouted, grew into a healthy stalk and in time the crop was harvested. After thrashing and winnowing, the grain was brought home. Duliya’s wife one day took a bucketful of the grains and ground it on a grindstone’.

The story teller moved both his hands to describe the grinding action. Growing up in a village I had no difficulty in following the terminology and trend of the story. ‘Then she mixed water with the flour and made dough. A portion was flattened out into a round chapati and was laid on a hot tawa. Thereafter, when the chapati was put on burning cow dung cinders, it fluffed up. Suddenly, with a hissing sound, the fluffy crust got punctured and you know what? Out walked the missing bullock!’ my brother would end the story on a dramatic note.

The tale always fascinated me. I distinctly recall the most prominent emotion it aroused was of sympathy for the animal, for having suffered the excessive heat inside the chapati. 

During a recent visit to our daughter, my six-year-old granddaughter wanted me to tell her a story. I dusted off my seventy-year-old memory and repeated my childhood favourite Duliya farmer’s tale. But it wasn’t a smooth going. 

“What is a bullock?” she asked right at the start. I tried to explain but she soon interjected enthusiastically, “Yes, yes I know. It is ‘B’ for bullock.” I silently thanked her English primer. But we got stuck at the ‘plough’, the ‘neem tree’, the ‘grindstone’ and many more.
It is not easy telling a village story to a city-bred child. Too many explanations jar the flow. But I managed somehow to complete the story. In the end, I could not gauge what impression the story created as the child betrayed no visible emotion. But I got some hint the next evening. 

“Nana”, Rysa said, snuggling into my bed, “Tell me a story. But not as scary as yesterday.”

Going by recent trends, it occurs to me that if the age bar were removed, my brother, now 83, would make a good vice-chancellor.

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