Sudha Murthy’s Grandma’s Bag of Stories is an interesting set of stories for the young reader. The stories are mostly set in medieval India, has a parallel narrative of children visting their grand-parents.
Ajja and Ajji (Grandfather and grandmother in Kannada) eagerly await their grandchildren rather than their own during the holidays. The city-bred grand-children thoroughly enjoy their company and life in the village.
Each of the stories start in the present. Sometimes it is with Grandpa in the farm, learning that rice comes from a grass and not a packet! The next story begins after the large extended family rests with betel leaf or paan after food. Yet another story, we see Ajja’s friend Rehmat taking the brood overnight for a stay. Another story finds us visiting the santhe or weekly market with Ajja.
The stories that the children’s grand children share are full of events and wisdom.
The Island of Statues is the story of a sculptor whose rule it was to instruct students to bring their own material from their kingdom, was foolishly overlooked by the young king Rajdip. The king instructed materials be sought within the kingdom and statues of his likeliness be put up all over the land. Trees were indiscriminately cut and the land dug up for stones. Soon there were no trees and only statues. The water ran dry and the people had nothing to fall back on.
The story is told in simple format that drives home the point that precious resources must be preserved without sounding preachy. The consequence of bad action is an even worse result is explained.
Rajdip’s wishes of lining his capital city and palace with giant sculptures were fulfilled. Each student in the art school made a beautiful huge statue and gifted it to him.Soon the statues filled up the entire kingdom. Where once there were deep forests and blue rivers and streams, the island was a barren land now.The forests were gone. The rivers had turned into dirty trickles of water. The climate had become hot and dusty as the rains no longer came on time. People started leaving the island. The houses, schools and palaces slowly fell silent as they were abandoned. With time,everyone forgot about this island. Many many years later when explorers landed here, they found hundreds of statues strewn all over a bare island: a land destroyed by the king’s greed.
The black and white drawings by Priya Kuriyan add to the appeal of Grandma’s Bag of Stories.
Another beautiful story is The Story of Paan. The origin of paan is explained through the beautiful but sad tale of Bhanu,Bharati and Veer. The tale is very engaging, and takes the readers through filial love and the sorrow of separation.
The tradition of stories being passed from generation to generation in the background of hurried times can be seen clearly. The grandparents pass their knowledge in the best way possible, through stories. Sudha Murthy kindly shares these stories with today’s children not unlike a village elder.