This is a piece that I wrote some 4 years back and it is special because it was my first published work. It was published in Woman's Era in 2005. It was saved in my computer and I was looking for something else and this one popped up. The kids in the story are my brother's daughters who have now grown up into responsible young girls with the older one doing her Dentistry in Coimbatore and the younger one planning to follow her soon. They are both trained in Bharatanatyam and re reading this piece makes me wish to go back in time and enjoy the days when they were kids in their pre - teens. i dedicate this post to their bright future.
As a fresh graduate I often entertained my younger siblings and their friends to a story session whenever there was a power cut in the locality. We would light a candle and form a circle around it and I would narrate to them stories selected from a wide and variable range. I was an avid reader so there was never a dearth of good fiction. These stories would be narrated with such fervor that my young wide-eyed audience would laugh or weep as the situation demanded. The hero, the villain, the step- mother, and all other characters in the story were real people and were critically analyzed during dinner -time. They would go on to suggest a different conclusion or a better treatment of the plot and feel thrilled when their idea was accepted. Those were days before the television made its entry into rural homes and this was a means of healthy entertainment.
My own children never came to me for stories. My father in law was a well-read man and he took charge of supervising their study time and home work each evening and would reward them with a story while I prepared dinner. The children looked forward to their story time and since it was conditional and subject to their finishing the given assignments, their studies were also simultaneously taken care of. For this purpose he would religiously read children’s fiction and fairy tales while I took it easy and thanked god for small mercies.
My earlier success as a story -teller encouraged me to try the same with the next generation and not realizing their potential I offered to tell them a story. The next generation comprised of my brother’s daughters Shruti and Shweta who were smart young girls studying in the primary section of a reputed school in Mumbai. They belonged to the digital age and had grown up watching TV! The story was from a movie I had watched as a schoolgirl and was the vernacular version of an English movie The parent trap. It was also one that I had earlier narrated to my younger brothers including the father of the two girls.
“A long time ago there were two sisters who were twins” I began.
“But how can sisters be TWINS?” Shweta asked.
“Be quiet! She means twin sisters.” Shruti the older one explained. I could not understand the difference however much I tried. Anyway I was grateful for her timely help and continued the story. “The older one was called….”
“But aunty you said they were twins” this was Shruti.
“She was older by a few minutes” I explained.
“By how many minutes?” interrupted Shweta.
“May be ten or twelve” I replied. “The sisters were called Lalli and Pappi.”
“I don’t like their names. They’re too old fashioned. I’ll suggest new names for them,” said Shruti.
“Me too” said Shweta.
After this I lost track of who was saying what. I just sat through the discussion that followed.
“I’ll call them Riya and Rini”
“Never ever! They’ll be called Anu and Vinu”
“Those are not real names. They’re only nicknames. Any way they sound stupid”
“They sound stupid to you because you’re stupid”
“Aunty! She’s calling me names”
“You started it silly!”
“Why don’t you get lost?”
“Why not YOU? You’re not wanted here any way.”
“Who are you to say it? This is my house and I’ll stay here as much as I want and as long as I wish to.”
“This is daddy’s house not yours”.
The debate continued for what seemed to me an eternity.
I felt lost and inept to arbitrate. My head started reeling and I had to call for their mother’s intervention. My own children had grown up and I had lost touch with children in their pre – teens. The mother knew exactly how to tackle them. She made them suggest a name each and solved their dispute in a minute. I felt like a fool.
The naming ceremony was over but I had no energy to continue. I seemed to have forgotten half the story and needed a cup of coffee to revive my spirits. I did not have the heart to let the children down so I continued with the story. I tried to impress upon them the efforts taken by the children in the story to bring their estranged parents together. The story did not seem to provoke emotions and perhaps the plot, to their minds, sounded outdated. This was a generation of SUPERMEN and SPIDERMEN and the world could be accessed at the press of a button. They may not have found the escapades of characters in the story interesting. I felt a little dejected over my failure as a storyteller. I left home to visit a friend planning to give up story telling for life. After a pleasant evening, spent at my friend’s place recalling our childhood days, I returned home at ten in the evening. To my greatest surprise the two little girls were waiting for me in the front room waiting to hear the next story! They had invited their cousin to sleep over and their beaming father told me that the girls were superb narrators and had since afternoon kept their friends entertained with a modified modern version of my story without destroying its essence. They had animated discussions about the plot and characters, found alternative methods to deal with the villain of the story. Their heroine for instance abandoned the old-fashioned post office route and communicated via e-mail and the villain did not bother to threaten the postman or snatch letters from the servant. He simply hacked passwords and deleted mails. My brothers who had a pleasant reminder of yester years joined their children to listen to yet another of my stories!
The experience however was an eye opener. Children would remain children and they had enjoyed the experience. I had worried in vain. I am now a grandmother and soon my grand daughter will be asking me for bedtime stories. Keeping pace with changing times I’ve asked Shruti and Shweta to update me with stories that the new additions to the family would prefer!