Sudha Murty digs into the stories of her childhood in “Grandma’s Bag of Stories”

Did you know how the seasons stopped fighting and made peace for the sake of their mortal brethren on earth? Or what the lazy man whose beard caught fire learnt? What happens when you trick a bear? Do you know the story of the paan you chew? And why do people shed tears while chopping onions? Grandma does, and she’s got a whole load of stories to answer all questions (and throw in a lesson for you as well). In Grandma’s Bag of Stories (Puffin Books), author Sudha Murty revisits the folk tales she heard from her grandmother while growing up in a small town in North Karnataka. Oral tradition brought to print, in a way.

Narrated in the form of tales that ‘Ajji’ is narrating to a bunch of grandchildren visiting over the holidays, the conversations between her and the children form the prelude and conclusion to each of the 21 stories the book comprises. Apart from stories drawn from local folklore, there are also those from far away — ‘The Horse Trap’ set in England, and ‘The Story of Silk’ in China, for instance.

Speaking on the phone from Bengaluru, Sudha Murty, who heads Infosys Foundation, says the stories are what have been in her mind a long, long time, penned down whenever time permitted. “There’s so much Foundation work. That’s the main food, this is the pickle,” she says.

Like in Panchatantra tradition, most stories in Grandma’s Bag of Stories end with a moral — instances of greed, thievery, laziness, foolishness, jealousy, trickery and absentmindedness are promptly punished, while hard work, intelligence and contentment rewarded. A magic pitcher stops refilling itself when its owner starts to expect profits in ‘Doctor, Doctor’, while in the story ‘What’s in it for me?’, Mushika, the naughty mouse, comes quite close to becoming somebody’s dinner.

But do children care for morals in stories, or are, for them, stories but an end in themselves? “If you tell children, ‘You should always tell the truth,’ they’ll tell you, ‘Oh! Forget it.’ Make a story out of it. The story of Gita in ‘Five Spoons of Salt’ is of a girl who never did anything on time. Don’t tell children, ‘You should always tell the truth.’ Tell them the story of someone who lied and suffered for it,” the author reasons.

This is Murty’s fourth outing in children’s stories, previous ones being How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories, The Magic Drum and Other Favourite Stories, and The Bird with Golden Wings: Stories of Wit and Magic.

Children, she says, need to be treated as children, a view quite in contrast to Sendak-ian theory that children don’t need sugar-coating or kid gloves. “Because children are of an impressionable age,” she says. “You cannot make them live in their imagination; children have to ultimately grow up into adults and learn the reality. They should know about death, they should know about sorrow. But when they’re young, don’t inject into them all this. They will accept them as they grow older. You should be nice to children, you should be careful about the language you use with them. Adults can accept many things in life looking at their surroundings. Children are not like that. Slowly that sugar will wean away and reality will seep in.”

(Grandma’s Bag of Stories is priced Rs. 199.)

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