Tenali Raman Shines Again – A Folk Tale For Kids

Once, Tenali Raman was permitted by his king Krishna Deva Raya ruling the renowned Vijayanagar Empire (VE) to visit the kingdom of Gajapati’s of Odisha at the request of the latter. On his way back, he broke his journey at Rampur, a small state with friendly relations with the VE.

After reaching the palace, he realized his visit was a little mistimed on learning about the recen happenings in the state.

*

The chieftain of the state was, for a month now, unfortunately down with an ailment – a painful stomach ache – that proved incurable till date. The prime minister of the state had organized experts in various different systems of medicine from all over the state and outside to come down and treat his master. With all efforts to no avail he was at his wit’s end on the next steps. It was then he heard about the arrival of a yogi from deep south on his way to Kashi. The yogi was reputed to have performed some incredible feats through his yogic powers. Where formal medicines have failed, maybe he could help. So the minister with the consent of his chief went ahead and made arrangements for the yogi to visit the palace and examine the patient.

The yogi on arrival was received with due honour and taken to the living quarters of the chieftain.  In the presence of the prime minister, the royal priest and the royal vaidya (doctor) he thoroughly examined the patient. When he was done, he turned to the vaidya and asked for some common herbs to be brought. Mixing honey, he pestled the ingredients into a gooey paste. Gesturing the two to silence, he sat down and for some good ten minutes chanted some esoteric mantra’s invoking Agni, the god of fire, keeping the paste in a shallow dish in front. Done, he handed over the dish to the vaidya for use.

And taking the prime minister aside he asked in a low voice:

‘Sir, speak truthfully, just between us when did you utter a lie, a lie of any kind, last?’

The minister was taken aback at the question so suddenly sprung on him. Recovering his poise, he said a little abashedly, ‘Yesterday, night, to my lady…before we went to sleep.’

The yogi wanted him to continue.

‘My wife has been pestering me for quite some time to get her a necklace like the one worn by our queen during last Dussehra (festival). I bought peace with a promise I’ll get one before the next Dussehra though I’ve no idea or the means on how to; and yesterday night I had to repeat myself when she brought it up.’

The yogi smiled.

Moving on to the vaidya he asked the same question. The vaidya too unprepared. He collected himself and confessed many a time he had given placebos to patients in the name of medicines though it did prove beneficial in number of cases. Would that be considered as lying?

The priest admitted to not being truthful when in his zeal he blessed devotees with aayush (longevity of life), arogyam (health) and aishwaryam (wealth) though it was in no way within his means to deliver or ensure the same, instead of praying for the same to the almighty on their behalf. Misrepresentation, right, was he lying?

Addressing them, he said: ‘this medicine is now invested with the power of agni to burn his ailment; giving three spoonful’s at one shot would cure him of the illness. Next morning he should up and about. But for now let it stand under the hot sun for a couple of hours before using it.’

In just three spoonful’s the stubborn ache gone? So potent? Incredible! They were visibly overjoyed.

The yogi continued: ‘Not so soon…there’s a condition, not easy to satisfy. It must be given to the chieftain only by someone who doesn’t speak a lie at all for any reason, good or bad. Anyone who does not qualify and yet tries to administer the medicine, would face intense heat of agni first and if he persists he would be burnt alive. So be very careful who you chose. Also remember the medicine would lose its potency in about three days from today- ah, wear this kappu (amulet) around your wrist and you’ll not come to any harm handling the medicine. Of course it won’t still let you…’

Nothing more to do, the Yogi took leave to continue his journey.

*

The inner council got down to the job immediately – they knew it was not going to be easy to find such a soul if there was one at all in mere three days. They brainstormed on how to go about. All kinds of ideas were thrown up, nothing appeared promising. Drawing a blank, they finally decided to broadcast a message right away covering all parts of the state inviting anyone who thought he qualified with a promise of a rich reward for the right man.  

So criers were dispatched expeditiously in all directions with the message however without disclosing the details of the sickness their chieftain was suffering from for the fear of demoralizing the entire populace.

In the following two days about fifty people, young and old, men and women turned up. There was no way the officials could check on their claims except lead them directly to handle the medicine set on a table a few feet away from the patient’s bed. No surprise not one of them could go near the table without getting badly singed.

Third day morning, the priest, the prime minister and the vaidya got together to contemplate their next move; and there was no next move they could think of. End of road. It was precisely at this moment of utter despondency, Raman landed at the palace.

*

Raman heard intently as they narrated to him all about the stricken chieftain, their efforts and finally the yogi’s prescription and the impossible challenge for them.

They were disappointed when all Raman said was he wanted to rest for a while and come back to join them.  His reputation had led them to expect much more.

Anyway, they sent an attendant to take Raman to his quarters, make him comfortable and stay with him to attend to his needs.

It was after lunch. They had resigned to the inevitable. The attendant came running.

‘Why, what happened?’ the minister inquired listlessly.

‘Sirs, an hour ago, sahib came out and spent time talking to the palace guards – about six or seven – one at a time in the gardens. He finally settled on our Ratna, the tall guy with a handlebar moustache, you know. When he finally parted, I overheard him tell Ratna to go home and get his son within the next hour without fail. When the latter hesitated about leaving his post without permission, sahib assured him it was alright, it was for the good of his master and the state and he would personally vouch for him. Don’t know what had transpired between them. Couldn’t talk to Ratna either as he had left for home to fetch his son.’

‘Intriguing! He has asked for Ratna’s son, and he assured him it is for the good of his master…at this time, I’m sure he’s as serious and concerned as we are and not engaged in any frivolous caper, so what’s going on here?’ the minister thought loudly.

‘I agree,’ the vaidya chimed in.

‘I think I got it,’ suddenly the priest jumped in excitement and ran to the gardens at the back.  In a few minutes he returned.

‘I have spoken to Ananta, the short stocky guy, and asked him to get his son here right away. He’ll be here anytime now.’

‘Care to tell us what’s happening? A children’s party for god sake?’ the tired minister shook his head.

Arre ram, don’t you see, we were stupid to go through all that…’

The other two were not amused by that bit of inclusive self-deprecation.

‘You know, Ananta’s son is about four years old. Would he know what lying is?’

The ‘penny’ dropped.

‘Great, simply brilliant,’ exclaimed the minister. ‘We’ve cracked it.’

The priest let go – this wasn’t the time to contest the collective ownership and credit for the solution.

Shortly Ananta came in with Veeru, his son. The child looked a little scared at all the attention he was getting suddenly.

The priest explained to the father what needed to be done and the father made it easy for the child. All the child had to do is to take the dish on the table, walk up to the bed and feed the willing man a spoonful of the paste. Just like his mom fed him over dinner. Likewise two more spoonful’s. As simple as that. Ananta made it a fun thing for the child – imagine a child feeding a grownup. Yes, it would be fun – Veeru perked up.

No sooner the child neared the patient with the dish carefully held in his hands, he shrieked and stepped back in horror. What had happened? It was like getting too close to fire, intolerably uncomfortable.

With great difficulty they coaxed the child to try once again. The second round was even shorter.

The four of them could not figure out what was happening. There was no question of a third round.

*

Just then Raman walked in with Ratna and his kid Sambu. One look at them, the unhappy Veeru almost in tears and his own crest-fallen attendant told him everything. Disregarding it for the present, he explained to Sambu what needed to be done.

With no fuss, the child did just as instructed within a couple of minutes! The chieftain took the spoonful’s and almost immediately fell into deep sleep, his snoring could be heard from where they stood.

They were nonplussed except for Raman.

The children were sent away with their father packets of candies for their efforts.

The looked at Raman.

Raman explained: ‘So this guy,’ pointing to the attendant, ‘was snooping on me, eh? Anyway, don’t you worry, no harm done. Well, it is right no child at that age knows what is truth and what is not. Whatever he sees or hears is the truth, the reality for him. There is a ‘but’ to it. If the child comes from an unhappy home, suffering at the hands of parents who are strict, impatient or even given to violence, the child begins to speak lies simply to escape from punishment. You should have checked like I did before bringing the child in.’

Next morning, Raman was seen off with generous gifts by a grateful and fit chieftain though a little sad his guest did not extend his stay despite his request.

End

Image from goodreads.com

A Fisherman’s Net And Wit – A (Very) Short Story For Children

King Khusro of Persia was very fond of fish. One morning he was sitting on a terrace with his wife Shirin when a fisherman came in and presented a fish to him. It was large and of a rare kind. The king was quite pleased. He summoned his servants and ordered them to pay a hundred silver pieces to the fisherman.

Shirin was annoyed that the king was gifting away so lavishly. As soon as the man went out of sight and hearing, she said, ‘Look, a hundred silver coins for a fish? Ridiculous. You’re setting up a precedent – you’ll be expected to pay on this scale for all time to come. Now call this man and return the fish to him on some pretext and take the money back.’

‘But dear, it doesn’t become of a king to ask for the money back. Let this pass for now.’

‘This shall not pass. There’s a way to deal with it without appearing to be mean. Call him and ask if this fish is a male or a female. If he says it’s a male, ask for a female and if it’s a female, ask for a male, and cancel the payment.’

Not wanting to displease his dear lady, the king acting upon her counsel called the fisherman back and asked him the question.

The fisherman bowed before the king and said, ‘This fish, my lord, is both male and female, lays eggs all by itself.’

The king burst out laughing. And quite instinctively ordered another hundred silver coins to be given to the fisherman.

As he walked out with the bounty, the man dropped a silver coin that fell and rolled out of sight.

The man stooped down searching high and low for the missing coin. Quite a while later, he managed to find it which he put away safely with great care.

All this happened in full view of the royalty reposing on the terrace.

‘What a mean guy? See how he goes down looking for one measly coin instead of letting it go for some poor man to find it!’ Shirin observed.

The king called the fisherman back and berated him for his meanness:’…with all those coins from me, yet you were not generous enough to let some miserable chap find one…’

The man bowed before the king: ’My lord, if my king picks up from dust a fisherman like me worth nothing, is it any wonder I pick up a coin fallen to the ground? Also, the coin on one side has my king’s image engraved and his name inscribed on another.  How could I abandon the coin to be found god know when if ever. And what is to prevent someone carelessly step on it?’

Amused by his cleverness and wit, the king offered him another hundred silver coins!

The lady had no further counsel to offer in the matter.

End

Source: A story in Chandamama, August, 1955, lightly edited. Image from financialexpress.com

When The Gold Went On A Trip – A Children’s Story

Part 1

In a village off Ujjain, there lived a merchant Sukhdev. He had a shop in the town selling fabric and garments. He did brisk business and built up his wealth over the years.

Presently, a spate of robberies took place in his and neighbouring villages targeting the community of merchants and traders. When the King’s soldiers were brought in, the robbers would lie low; and resume their nefarious activities once the soldiers withdrew.

It made Sukhdev nervous; he knew for sure sooner or later he would be visited too.  A mitigating factor in his favour was: being a miser by nature, his Spartan household and life-style gave no hint of his affluence or the gold he had hoarded.  Nevertheless he decided to act.

One day, his son and he loaded the casks with his gold on a couple of donkeys, threw some clothes over to make it appear he was taking merchandise to the market. They marched off to a jungle just beyond the village. Keeping their eyes peeled for any observer or follower, they reached an abandoned temple inside the jungle, a place no one ventured to. Holes were dug in the ground with the help of the tools they carried. Carefully, without making noise, they carried the casks and lowered them one by one into the hole. Half-way through the job, the son paused.

‘Father, I think there’s someone out there. Let me go and look,’ he said, pointing to a thicket at some distance.

‘Take these with you, there could be some wild creatures,’ the father gave him some small tools.

After a while the son returned: ‘Just as I suspected, there’s a man lying there. Looks to be a beggar. Not to worry, he’s dead. Probably starved without food. Just to be sure, I nicked his ear. No sound or motion, dead as stone.’

They moved more casks.

This time it was the father: ‘Let me also go and check. It’s better to be doubly certain – this is my life-savings.’

He too returned in a few minutes, ‘You’re right, Son, the poor guy is gone. Like you did, just to be sure, I nicked his other ear. He won’t be needing them anymore.’

They finished their job, all the casks lowered into the hole. The hole was filled back with the dug-out earth, the surface flattened, dead leaves spread over, all to leave no signs of the spot having been dug up.

That night and the following, they slept peacefully.

Part 2

The man was not dead yet. A destitute who had hit the end of road and did not even have the energy to carry out what he contemplated – suicide. Starving for several days, he had fainted near the bush.

The sharp pain on his ear-lobe woke him up to see someone attack him with a sharp tool. Fearing worse, he simply played dead biting the pain somehow.

His attacker withdrew to a spot ahead where an elderly man was burying in the ground some urns.

Ignoring the pain he watched the proceedings.

After a while he saw the elderly man heading in his direction.

Quickly he resumed his posture.

He felt being kicked a couple of times and then a sharp pain this time on his other ear.

With great difficulty, he once again played dead.

Luckily for him, the elderly man went back to the spot without inflicting anymore damage.

And in a short while he saw them both leave all the time looking around for any prying eyes.

He waited. They could come back looking for something they had forgotten.

Once the coast was clear, he mustered his last ounce of energy, not minding the throbbing pain, made it to the spot, clawed away the soil with bare hands to reveal close to the surface the lid of a cask.

He took the lid off and peered into the cask. Thrust his hand in and grabbed a fist full of coins in gold and silver. That would set him up nicely to begin with, he thought.

Part 3

Monsoon arrived with a bang in Ujjain and the surrounding villages. Torrential rain caused streams of water to wash away anything in their way.

Sukhdev was worried. It would be calamitous if the top soil was carried away and the casks were exposed.

At the first instance of the rains letting up he son and he went back to check if the casks were safe in their place.

To their shock they found the hole uncovered and the casks missing. They looked around for any clues and found none.

They returned home devastated.

His son gathered his wits and said: ‘Father, we’ll find him and recover our treasure.’

‘How? We don’t know who took it.’

‘Did you notice one thing – we never got any news at any time of a dead-body being found in these parts? Because he was not dead. He saw us burying the casks…took them away after we were gone. That’s him, the guy we saw.’

’‘Be it so, how do we find him? We know nothing about him.’

‘Nothing? Father, don’t forget we nicked his both ears.’

‘How do we still find him in the multitude? Do we go around entire Avanti looking at people’s ears? You’re forgetting one more thing. Even if this guy walks right past us, we won’t figure out.’

‘Why so?’

‘Simple, because he is head would be encased in a turban. Notched ears are no badge of heroism to flaunt about.’

The old man had a point…in fact, several points, the son thought.

Part 4

Days, months passed. The son was no nearer to figuring out a way.

Two years later,

It was a Sunday. It was a once-a-month ritual: The old man was sitting there in the back-yard getting his hair cut by a barber. To be followed by an oil bath.

The man was not his usual self looking woebegone.

Sensing it, the barber tried to perk him up by engaging him in small talk and some village gossip: ‘I shouldn’t be saying this…but you know your neighbour’s son is losing hair at his young age…’

Suddenly an ‘Ah’ moment. Who would know but the personal barber?

He checked if the barbers networked among their kind.

They did, it turned out, directly or indirectly.

That’s it – he tasked the barber to find out through his network, for a handsome fee, the whereabouts of a man in thirties, possibly quite rich, with both his ears nicked.

Part 5

It was about one long month before they struck pay dirt.

On the far side of the city, he was spotted. His ex-barber whom he had dismissed recently spilled the beans. The man was a top jeweller in the city claiming several royal families among his clients.

The father and son rushed to meet the dismissed barber. They assured themselves the jeweller was indeed their man. It was easy to find out where he lived. It was a huge mansion guarded like a fortress by armed staff.  All their attempts to gain an entry or even get a message through to him failed.

They thought enough about the options and decided to approach the King. Though the King himself could be one of the clients for the jeweller.

The King holding a public court was easier to reach; he heard them out and summoned the jeweller to appear before him.

When he arrived, the father and son recognized him despite his opulence. But he could not; for, he had only seen them from a distance and when they stood close on that occasion his eyes were shut playing dead.

The King briefed him on why he was summoned to the court.

The jeweller looked at the complainants for a few moments. And then he readily admitted:

‘Yes, I did take those casks away from where you had buried. I used part of the gold in one of the casks as capital to start and build my business in gems and jewels. And whatever I’m today, it is the fruit of my labour. The remaining stuff, in fact, remains in a safe room even today untouched. Was planning to…’

The father and son breathed a sigh of relief. At least good part of their hoard still remained intact.

The jeweller further offered: ‘…it is okay by me for you to cart away your stuff anytime you wish as long as I’m adequately compensated for what you did to me.’

The son countered: ‘What you took from one of our casks – wasn’t that already an adequate compensation? We thought you were dead – why didn’t you scream when you were hurt?’

’I feared for my life. You were two, ready with tools and here I was sprawled on the ground…’

The wrangle was cut short by the King.

‘Listen, folks, here’s what I think,’ the King turned to the jeweller: ‘Thankfully you admitted to it without any run-around. Knowing you to be an upright person of ethical practices, I want to be fair to you. There’s a choice for you: Either you similarly nick the ears of these two and return all the casks, making good what you took from them or simply let them go with their casks as they are now.’  

The jeweller thought for a moment like a businessman he was. Was notching the two worth the gold he had taken? He decided against and opted to return the casks as-was.

When they received the casks, the father and son checked: five carried their original seals.  The sixth with its seal opened…

…too was full to its brim.

It was his ‘Thank You’ for starting him off to a meteoric success.

End

Source: Inspired by a story in Chandamama (1955), Images from Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin’s, Inc. and shutterstock.com

Indifference, Embarassment And Astonishment – All In One Pix!!

End

Source: Bambi Bambina  in The Idealist

The Story Of Lost Gold, Wild-Cucumber And A Wise King – For Children

Part 1

He was a marginal farmer tilling a small piece of land, never getting enough for living off it. One day he decided enough was enough, he must try something else. So he set out on the road to the capital city of the kingdom.  

In the city he picked up the job of a helper with an old grocer. Over the years he impressed the owner with his hard work, honesty and helpful disposition. So much so, the childless grocer was happy to will the shop to him on his death.

Before long he took over as the shop, expanded his business and made more money.

With the money he had, he would buy gold. He thought it was unsafe to keep the gold at home. From time to time he would go to a near-by forest. Ensuring no one followed him or watched him, he would go to a certain spot amidst the trees, dig up a pot. He would carefully check if the contents were intact and then top it with the newly brought gold, put the pot back in its place and cover it with earth and dried leaves above so well no one would ever give the spot a second look.

He followed the practice for years without any hitch adding more pots over time.

And then

On one of his visits, the unexpected happenedhe found the ground disturbed at that spot. Frantically he dug up; and as he had feared there were no pots and no gold.

At one shot he had lost all his life’s earnings. And there was little he could do. He was absolutely positive no one ever followed him to this place or watched him dig up. It left him with no suspects to chase down.

He sank to the depths of despair. The only course now available to him, he thought, was to end his life.

He went up to the near-by river, waded to its deeper parts and then jumped head-long into its waters, looking neither to the right nor to the left.

It so happened the king of the land was also taking his bath at the same place. He observed what had happened and signalled his men to rescue the man immediately and bring him up.

The king asked him why did he want to end his life.

The man between his sobs narrated the story to the king.

The king was pensive for a while and then asked him how did he mark the place where the pots were hidden.

He said a lone wild-cucumber plant grew on the soil over the pots – he always dug out the pots taking care the plant was not harmed. He added the plant also went missing along with the gold.

A hint of a smile appeared on the king’s face. He assured the grocer he would try his utmost to recover his lost gold. If he did not succeed in his efforts, he would give him some gold from his treasury!

The king’s assurance did not do much to lift up his spirits. How in the world was the king going to find out who took the gold? There were no clues at all. Did the king have some magic mirror that revealed whereabouts of missing things? What would it amount to – the gold to be given by the king, if he did? Would it cover all that he had lost?

He returned home feeling not too sanguine about what was in store for him.

Kids, pause here before you read further. Would you believe if I tell you, all the facts are with you at this point to crack the case open! So think…what would be your tip to the king?

Part 2

Next day, the king complained to his minister about a certain vague tummy ache he felt. And asked him to get all the medical practioners (doctors) in the city to meet up with him. He would like to personally verify if they had treated anyone with symptoms like his.

The doctors were quickly rounded up and sent one by one to meet the king.

To each, the king would ask about the patients they had treated recently, what were their ailments and what were the medicines given as part of the treatment.

After several hours with numerous doctors, the king finally hit pay dirt. This doctor had a patient recently suffering from stomach related problems accompanied by general weakness, just like the king claimed to be going through. And how did he treat him? With the juice made from wild-cucumber, a vine/weed rarely seen in the land. So how did he get it? Well, his servant brought it for him from somewhere.

The servant was summoned. Upon questioning, he admitted to finding pots of gold in the forest. He defended himself – he did not think he was thieving someone else’s gold. It was not in anyone’s possession. He just found it and he took it.

He was persuaded to return the gold to its rightful owner. And was compensated adequately by the king.

Everyone was impressed with the king’s smart sleuthing.

What made the king follow this line of investigation, the minister asked him privately.

The king explained: Since the victim was very confident no one had ever seen him go to the spot or watched him dig, it was clear finder of the gold had not gone to the spot specifically in search for gold. He had no way of knowing gold being hidden there. So the only reason that brought him to the spot was the wild-cucumber plant. The plant is often used by medical practioners to treat stomach related ailments. While fetching the plant, by sheer chance the servant discovered the pots! And you know how he found the servant!

The grocer gave part of the gold to the king’s treasury and some to the servant as a gesture of appreciation.

Did you see it coming?

End

Source: Adapted from a story in Chandamama (July, 1955)

Images: Daily Mail, Toutube, Free Press Journal, facebook and eBay

A Story And A Fun Game For Children…

and for us too, I think.

Next in the series (the first one here): The scene, not very unusual, put to a group of children was:

“The lady of the house set on the table a bowl of freshly baked cookies.

And when she was not around, Chotu, all of eight years, got to it and picked one that was the largest. Bade, elder by a couple of years, instructed by his mom to keep a watch – use of any force or raising one’s voice disallowed, took his job seriously.  Trying his best (or worst?) to persuade Chotu to put it down, at the same time removing the remaining cookies to safety, he said, “Chotu

The children were given time to develop the story from here on.

At the end of the allotted time, they were called in turn to present their conclusion. Here’s a selection from the many stories presented:

**

“Chotu, you took that one from the bottom of the heap, right? That was the first one Amma was figuring out the settings for baking them right. See, she even made them smaller for them to come out alright. Am sure this oneit would be faintly smelling of the dough and taste a little raw in the mouth

**

“Chotu, you took that one from the top of the heap, right? That was the last one – Amma scraped hard all the dough sticking to the bottom and also from the sides of the mixing bowl, lumped them together and baked as one large piece. You will find it a little flaky, crumbling in your hand and tasting a little uneven in your mouthAnd who knows what else got into it from the bowl, ugh”

**

“Chotu, what are you doing? What will mom do then? That piece was specially done by mom for your teacher. I even saw her sending a pic of it to her. You know, she has invited your teacher for a cup of tea here at our place and she’s on her way.”

**

“Chotu, you shouldn’t. That was from the batch she cooked specially for Bruno. Don’t know how it got mixed up with this pile.”

**

Not known if Chotu succeeded!

End

Source: 123rf.com

A Story And A Fun Game For Children…

and for us too I think.

A group of children were given an exercise. A scene, not very unusual, was put to them. And they were asked to take the story forward.

The scene: A house-owner hears noise coming from the back of his house. When he opens a creaky door and walks to the spot, he finds a girl standing under the mango tree frantically signalling to her friend atop to come down quickly. On the ground there were here and there a few half-eaten ripe mangoes taken from the tree.  The man, tall and hefty, looks menacingly at the boy trapped visibly up in the tree at a height too risky to jump down and flee.

After a while they were called in turn to present their conclusion. Here’s a selection from the many stories presented:

**

The boy on the tree said to the owner: Sir, we were not stealing your mangoes. See, we aren’t carrying any in our hands or bags. You know between us we had argument before coming here on who is the biggest land-owner around here. I was saying it was you. And I knew I was right. My friend here was not agreeing to it. I decided there was a way to convince her. I climbed up this tree and was showing her how far the lands owned by you stretched on all sides – like the palm tree seen there in the distance stands on the eastern corner of your property and so on. That’s when you came here. If you allow me, I’ll show her the rest.

**

The trapped boy gathered his wits quickly and said to the owner standing below: Dear Sir, we were passing by your yard talking among ourselves about an upcoming outing on Sunday. That’s when heard a racketmade by a bunch of squirrels feasting on the mangoes.  And if the fruit they bit into was a little less than ripe, it was discarded and they moved on to try another. Look at all these fruits half-eaten lying on the ground – it’s all their doing. We could not bear to see those luscious fruits so dear to you being ruined by these pests. So I said to het I would climb up the tree and drive them off. And that I did and as I was coming down, you came here, Sir. We were anyway planning to come in to tell you about all this. Surely you, a large-hearted person, wouldn’t be sending us back empty handed?

**

The boy said to the owner: Sir, we’ve no idea why you look upset. We were passing by minding our business when your man standing over there called us in. He said his master would pay if we could pick off the tree a bag full of mangoes, waving a cloth bag at us. We accepted the assignment. I went up, plucked the fruits one by one and dropped them down for him to catch and put away in his bag.  When the bag was full, he signalled me to stop. Taking the bag, he went this way promising to be back in a jiffy with our payment.  I was climbing down when you came inwe were expecting your man with the money as promised. Don’t know who you are. If you’re the owner, kindly pay us what you owe and we’ll be gone before you turn your back. You wouldn’t gyp a couple of kids of their legit earnings, would you?

**

Interesting?

End

Source: Based on a short piece read in Dhina Thandhi, a Tamizh daily, several years ago. Image from Elango Velur Thiruturaipoondi Tiruvarurஇயற்கை மற்றும் பசுமை and artstation.com

Vikram And Betaal – A Story For Children

Vikram Aur Betaal or Vedalam stories are well known and the staple of many a story teller, grandma’s included.

It is originally based on ‘Betaal Pachisi’, written nearly 2,500 years ago by Mahakavi Somdev Bhatt. These are spellbinding stories told to the wise King Vikramaditya by the witty ghost Betaal.

The fabled King ruled over a prosperous kingdom from his capital at Ujjain. He had immense love for learning as well as for adventure. He was brave, fearless and with a strong will. Everyday he received many visitors who always brought gifts for him. Among such visitors was a mendicant who presented the King with a fruit on every visit. The king would hand over the fruit to the royal storekeeper. One day while handling the fruit, it broke and from the pop came out a ball of brilliant ruby. The surprised King ordered checking all the fruits, and, yes, from all of them yielded a fine ruby. He decided to meet the mendicant. However, the mendicant set a condition that the King must meet him under a Banyan tree in the center of a cremation ground beyond the city, at night, on the 14th day of the dark half of the month.

The King met him as decided. Asked the mendicant why he was doing this. There upon the mendicant said there was a task that only a King like Vikramaditya could accomplish. The King had to visit the northern-most corner of this ground where he would find a tree immeasurably old. There would be a corpse hanging from one of its branches. He must fetch it for the mendicant; for, the mendicant was seeking certain occult powers he would get only if a King brought down this specific corpse to him and if he practiced certain rites sitting on it.

Vikramaditya, obliged the mendicant. He would remove the corpse from a treetop and carry it on his shoulder. En route, the spirit in the corpse (Betaal) would narrate a story to the laboring King and on completing the story Betaal would pose a query. If he (the King) knew the answer, was bound to respond lest his head exploded into a thousand pieces. But if he did speak out, he would break the vow of silence and Betaal (in the corpse) would fly back to the treetop, leaving the King short of his destination! The King would go after the ghost and start all over again. And so on and on.

As the name ‘Betaal Pachisi’ suggests the Betaal told the King twenty-five stories. However, looking at the determination of Vikramaditya, Betaal finally disclosed the true motive of the mendicant. The mendicant’s plan was to practice certain rites sitting on Betaal (in the corpse) but he would also kill the King to get all powers to rule over the world. This put the King on the alert. In the end Betaal proved to be right and the mendicant tried to kill the King. However, Vikramaditya outwitted the mendicant and killed him.

Over a period of time many more episodes were added by imaginative story tellers that it grew into a big collection it is today. The stories piqued the young minds with those questions coming up at the end and the King’s intelligent responses.

Here’s one based on a vague recollection of the plot-line of a story I had read many decades ago in, yes, where else but Ambulimama (Chandamama):

**

Part 1

Once again, Betaal spoke up from the shoulders of Vikramaditya: ‘Hey, King, why are you engaged in this infructuous and risky enterprise?’ Eliciting no response from the King, Betaal continued: Looks like you are not going to be dissuaded. Okay, let me once more tell a story to take your mind off this tiresome task you wouldn’t give up. And, as always, ending with a question for you. You know well you answer it wrong and lose your head or you answer it right and you’re right back where you started. Here you go, listen carefully.

Once upon a time the kingdom of Kasigarh in the northwest was ruled by King Jayachandra.

The land was fertile fed by a perennial Himalayan river coursing through, the harvests bountiful. The subjects were content and happy under the fair and just rule of their King.

No surprise the neighboring kingdoms cast their covetous eyes on Kasigarh though no one made any moves.

All this changed when the evil Ugrasena came to power in the neighboring kingdom of Sooryadhara. It all began with sporadic incidents of their villagers, emboldened by the support of its soldiers, stepping over the borders and stealing cattle. Soon it became more frequent and escalated to harvesting standing crops on this side of the border. Resisting villagers were beaten up blue and chased away.

The news of these incidents of transgression reached Jayachandra along with a plea for protection from the affected.

Independently the King also received news from his sources in Sooryadhara of Ugrasena secretly mobilizing his forces for action against an enemy unspecified.

He was alarmed at these developments. The pacific minded King did not command a large army of soldiers to confront in conflict the much larger and powerful neighbor. He immediately sought the counsel of his ministers. It was decided to send out without delay an emissary to talk peace, even concessions, and restore normalcy on the borders.

The emissary returned snubbed – he didn’t even get an audience with Ugrasena.

By now the intentions became clear. Jayachandra had no option but to gather his forces together for a possible action, fully realizing they were far fewer and no match for their foes-to-be.

Not satisfied with the arrangements he had made, the King called for a session with his ministers on what else could be done to strengthen their defenses.

Many ideas were put forth. Of them, the ones deserving more serious attention were:

Could they buy peace? But then at what price? Also Ugrasena did not seem to be in a conciliatory mood. May be they should reach out to those advisors if any who had his ears.

Did Ugrasena make any powerful enemies they could tie up with? After all an enemy’s enemy is a friend.

Could they hire mercenaries to bolster their numbers? Were there any other force multipliers they could bring to bear upon the offender?

These were pursued with haste only to draw a blank at the road’s end. All, categorical no-go’s. They were not able to identify such advisors with access to Ugrasena who was rearing for some bare-faced aggression and nothing less. The kingdoms around Sooryadhara were all small like Kasigarh and would not dare to get into a confrontation. And, there were not many mercenaries around available for hire to make a difference to the numbers.     

Luckily this was when monsoon broke out over the land providing them some respite. For another couple of months, the river – a natural line of defense – swollen with stiff currents would be almost impossible to cross, the land would be rendered too boggy under their feet for men and horses.

But to what avail? While the gods for their part had done their job, the men still hadn’t a clue on how to save themselves from a certain defeat and depredation lying in wait.

The days rolled by.

With the rains showing signs of weakening, clearly time was running out for them.

Meanwhile, the subjects, becoming aware of their looming misery, began packing up and moving to safer places. The deserted streets – only making it easy for the enemy to march to the palace for the denouement.

And then one morning

Part 2

A commoner stood before the palace wanting to meet the King, claiming he could save the kingdom!

His clotheswere not of an itinerant.

He was taken to the court where the King and his ministers had assembled to ‘stir up a pot that had no stew.’

Asked to explain, he said he had a cousin, Shailendra, a great sculptor, taught, according to family sources, by none other than Vishwakarma himself up in the Himalayashis stone-works were so life-like.

Wait, is this the time to talk abouthis audience stopped him in irritation.

But he had not finished yet. Known only to the family, Vishwakarma had also blessed him with the siddhi – art, science and mantra – of breathing life into his pieces in stone!

Truly incredible! Was this possible? But what was it to their current predicament? His audience silent, incredulous and unclear yet where he was heading with this…

Thinking for his audience he said: ‘Just imagine, he makes a few fearsome monsters like fire breathing dragons and then

Suddenly the fog lifted. They gasped in comprehension. That’s itif that was possible, good heavens, it would completely turn, nay, overturn the table on Ugrasena and his forces. They couldn’t but smile seeing visions of the invaders fleeing in fear, death in their eyes like the proverbial bats out of hell.

Without further ado, at the King’s bidding, the man took them to Shailendra’s workshop.

Shailendra was taken aback to see the royalty suddenly appearing at his doorstep.

When he learnt about the purpose of their visit, he was even more aghast. He had never talked about it to anyone – of course the family knew about it – and, worse, he had never put it into practice even once before.

When he so expressed himself, the King pleaded with him to do it for the sake of the kingdom and all its subjects. And if he failed in his efforts, no harm would come to him, he was reassured.

Needless to say Shailendra finally agreed to undertake the exercise for the larger good of the people. 

On the following day, the plan was discussed in detail: What kind of monsters? How many? Where to position them? Etc.

And, Shailendra was left alone to chip away without any distraction.   

When done to perfection, his wards (in stone) were moved to their appointed station.

They waited for the assault to commence.

The rains had ceased, the river tame and the ground dry – just right for the invaders.

And then it happened

Part 3

To cut the long story short, the plan worked flawlessly exceeding their expectations.

The invaders ran for their lives and did not stop until they were far back into their land – for long after, they were in a daze muttering incoherently, their eyes fixed in fear and disbelief.

The job done within a few hours of action, the monsters now stood at their station lifelessly serving as a permanent and nightmarish reminder for the aggressors to stay away for now and ever.

The King showered Shailendra and his kin with lavish gifts. Made him a minister in his court. Allotted him living quarters within the palace.

It took a week or so for normalcy to return, people coming back to their abandoned homes, etc.

And then, Shailendrawent missing! Nowhere to be seen, neither in his new quarters nor in his old workshop. Nor anywhere in the kingdom.

All attempts to trace him failed.

It was rumored he was sighted by some, sneaking away on a horse-back heading for the hills under the cover of darkness.

So, my friend, that’s the story, concluded Betaal.

Now the question for you: Why did Shailendra walk away from all that one could dream of achieving in one’s career and life – recognition, honor, awards, wealth, royal patronage, etc. etc.? Think well before you respond. You well know it’s either your head or a repeat of a burdensome task for you. Over to you, Sir.

Vikramaditya broke his silence: The lesser of the reasons was he worried about being unceremoniously sacked very soon for non-performance as a minister – he was never equipped for it, but the King wouldn’t listen. The main reason however was: Though the King himself was fair and just presently, Shailendra wasn’t sure if the next request for his siddhi would necessarily be for public good. Power – more so, this kind of power – was very likely to corrupt. The sculptor may not have the choice to refuse – that’s why, he took the easy way out.’

Betaal lauded the astute King for his intelligence and flew back to his abode leaving the King short of his destination.

End

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikram_Aur_Betaal, merisaheli.com and Cambodian lions.

We Did It….Well, Almost

Not many days to go.

When the contractor doing the interiors handed over, it was a flat, small at some 600 to 700 square feet, with nothing but bare walls, smelling of fresh paint.  

Got down to work right away – it was a race against time.

We began with an AC for the bedroom.

Should we get it from Satya at Luz or from Ratna at Panangal Park, both highly recommended.  Brand: Blue Star, Samsung, LG, Whirlpool or…? Capacity: Would one ton suffice or to be safe….Type: Split or window mounted? Power consumption: Two-star rated or three? Color: Would purple go with the rest of the decor?

And then followed, with choices galore, Washing Machine, Fridge, Double Bed with accessories, Couch for guests, Water Purifier, Food Processor and Rice Cooker.

With a kind S-I-L helpfully loaning a few essentials, you can well see, many items were still left out like a second AC, Dining Table, TV, Chairs, Curtains, Ironing Table, kitchen utensils….for want of time, money and energy.

Then came the ‘C’ items: mops, brooms, wash-room accessories and supplies, door mats and a few other zillion things (oxymoron? don’t mind it, pls) one could not live without.

All ordered in suitable models and options after visiting multiple shops for choice, suppliers chased for delivery and installation, by a couple of slow-moving, energy-strapped and flightless old birds, largely relying on public transport in an unfamiliar geography!

If this wasn’t DECISION FATIGUE in all glory…all to get that small space up and live-able with a few basic amenities. If I’m may be allowed a bit of exaggeration, it seemed I made more decisions in those few days than in all my years of professional career. Though there was one important mitigating factor: My experience with systems had taught me not to try optimizing to the fullest a design/plan along all its dimensions at once. In this instance it helped us not pushing hard the price ‘needle’, of course within reasonable limits.

We moved in, all set to receive them at the new place:

Day -3: All packing material, cartons carted away. Food and milk supply services arranged.

Day -1: Everything in its appointed place, working and checked. The bedroom attached toilet was a designated ‘dry’ zone for their use. The wet and paperless second toilet was for us. The mosquitoes were denied entry mercifully by the nets on the windows. The fridge stocked up.

All items on the check-list ticked. We slept peacefully.

Day 1: Daybreak.  No problems there.

10 am: The Moment – the kids arrived.

11 am: Everything going swimmingly. Nothing amiss. Deservedly congratulating ourselves.

02-35 pm: Some commotion in front of the bedroom toilet door

02-36 am: I reach the spot. My daughter seen here, there, everywhere.

02-37 am: She to me: ‘Appa, I can’t find – where have you kept it? S is in there. Need the toilet tissue.’

02-38 am: Oh sh#t, am out thru the front door.

…After all is done and said, I haven’t thrown out of the window as yet the sneaky thought of offering it all as a packaged service to many others out there similarly placed and needing help, this time tissue paper thrown in good measure:-)

End

Tenali Raman Turns To Sleuthing (A Story For Children)

Part 1

It was another day in the royal court of Krishna Deva Raya.

And a ‘knotty’ case had come up.

It was between a much-harried diminutive woman and a confident statuesque looking dame towering over the former by a foot and a half at least.

A gist of what the court heard:

The woman’s complaint: When her husband was alive and his business thriving, a couple of years ago, he had bought from the defendant this house in the middle of a sparsely inhabited neighborhood  quite away from the town for them to spend some days in peace removed from the daily hustle and bustle.  Which they did though not as often as they wished, after carrying out some adaptations and changes for their convenience.  

After her husband’s untimely demise, she sold off her house in the town where they lived to settle her husband’s business debts and had gone off on a pilgrimage to the north importantly to immerse his ashes in the river Ganga at Gaya followed by visits to various holy places like Badrinath, Hardwar, Rishikesh…And when she returned some nine months later – no motorized rapid transport in those days – she found this house occupied by the defendant claiming it to be hers. She was turned back at the gate itself, rendering her homeless.   

The defendant asserted that indeed was the fact and the woman was needlessly harassing her. She had always stayed in the house, it was always hers.

Those were the days when registration of property transactions was not rigorously followed. So no records could be adduced by either party to support its claim.

As things stood, it meant some detailed field investigation. The officers of the court looked at each other until one of them spoke up:

‘Your Highness, this is just the kind of matter our Raman is best suited for its resolution. My suggestion is… (mumbling inaudibly) It’s time he goes out under the sun and sweats a bit.’

Raya looked at Raman.

Usually a practitioner of his ready wit, Raman had no choice but to accept the investigative assignment.

Part 2

Next day, a none-too-eager Raman rode to the distant part of the town where the house stood.

There were a few small houses in the vicinity, none close by, where he made discreet inquiries. There seemed hardly any interaction with the big house and its occupants. Though, they confirmed seeing the dame on occasions going in or coming out.  Strike one for the diminutive woman.

He then decided to enter the disputed house to see things for himself, accompanied by the plaintiff. The dame had no objection to their visit.

On the inside the house was a compact single stored structure, everything looking like new. As the dame showed them around, the plaintiff followed like she was in a daze – there was not one piece in the house she could positively identify as hers. Even on the outside no flowering plants she claimed to have planted were to be found. Strike two for the plaintiff.

The tour of the house concluded, the host seated them and went in to bring some buttermilk for them.

Shortly afterwards Raman thanked the host for her cooperation and got up to leave, when the woman suddenly got up, coming to life: ‘Sir, there’s a niche we had not seen. It’s mine…I would like to…if you don’t mind.’ Were her eyes tearing up?

The host obligingly took them to the part of the house where the niche was. Yes, they had missed it on their earlier tour. It was a low-ceilinged ‘secret tunnel’ running behind and parallel to the wall on the far side of the kitchen for a third of its length with an opening for air and light – just big enough for a person and a half to pass. Its no-door entrance placed at the near-corner was cleverly concealed by a piece of ornamental tapestry – easily missed in a first glance unless one went looking for it. Set apart for a good reason, it was a place for a woman to dress and to keep her knick-knacks.

Now it was mostly empty but for a few discarded clothes in a small pile at the deep end. The plaintiff went in first, chin up, coming out dejected after a while unable to find anything in there she could recognize. Strike three for the plaintiff.

Ouch! Raman went in next and received a painful knock on his head from the low ceiling. Bowing down a little, he diligently took in the contents of the narrow ‘tunnel’.  On his way out, suddenly before him he caught the sight of a woman’s red garment flowing from waist down to silver anklets adorning a pair of legs. Startled for a moment, he realized he was seeing on a mirror on the wall before him, the host standing in the kitchen. A gentleman he was, Raman blushed and quickly looked away.

It was a pensive Raman returning to the kitchen, proceeding to look again at things in the house.  

Announcing his task was finished and instructing both the women to appear before the royal court on the following day, he thanked and took leave of the host, dropped the homeless woman at a dharamshala and went home.  

Part 3

At about noon on the flowing day, the matter came up before the royal court in the presence of both the plaintiff and the defendant.

Raya set the ball rolling:

‘Rama, have you been able to ascertain the truth and come to a conclusion?’

‘Your Highness, I’ve.’

‘Then let’s hear of it.’

Appraising the court of the happenings and findings of the day before,

‘In conclusion, the plaintiff herself would agree with me, there was nothing evident to show she ever occupied the house.’

For a brief moment the plaintiff received from the court glances filled with sympathy and derision in an equal split.

Raman continued: ‘On occasions, the neighbors had seen the defendant go in and come out of the house, never the plaintiff. There were no articles inside the house recognized by the plaintiff as hers. In face of these facts, if we still have to believe the plaintiff, the defendant must have completely refurnished the fixtures and furniture in the house leaving nothing behind as a link to the plaintiff…’

‘Which I believe the defendant had done…’

There was a furore in the court.

‘That’s not right,’ screamed the defendant.

 The court was called to order for Raman to continue.

‘There were two lapses she had committed…one was a careless omission and another…she didn’t think of its significance.’

Raman went on to explain how she had somehow overlooked fitting or replacing the one piece that proved to be her undoing – the mirror in the ‘tunnel’ was left in its original low mounting to suit the diminutive plaintiff. He recalled how it showed only a waist-down image of the host standing behind him which had triggered his thinking. Everywhere else the fittings and fixtures and shelves in the kitchen were shifted up and placed at a height suited for the statuesque defendant. 

Yes, there was something else too, Raman recalled…the low ceiling of the ‘tunnel’ brought home by the painful knock on his head. Its import had not occurred to the defendant and hence on occupation did not trouble herself altering it in any manner – the ‘tunnel’ was a space added after purchase by the plaintiff’s late husband for his diminutive wife’s exclusive use!

‘If we hold the defendant in custody and interrogate her more thoroughly, I’m sure, she would…’

Tenali Raman took a bow and sat down, his stature in the court further enhanced. Moments later the court broke into a resounding cheer, his detractors reluctantly joining in.

End