Recently a friend of mine asked me why I write only for kids and I was dumbstruck to give a convincing answer. My friend probably forgot our conversation but I did not. I tossed the question around in my head until I came up with this as a plausible explanation for my interest in yarns for kids.
I think one gets more creative when writing for young readers. It is heady to see innocence, trust and unquestioning acceptance in their wide, sparkling eyes as they sit by your side and listen to all your silly fabrications, which would and rightly so, be scorned at by jaded adults.
I recall having had a glimpse of this spontaneous outpouring of creativity in an old woman who sold “tha-ir” (curd) in our ancestral village. Every summer, our family made a long and arduous journey from Delhi to Tiruvalangadu in Tamil Nadu by steam-engine trains. However, after a bath in the open by the well, under the disinterested gaze of a rhesus monkey atop the tiled roof of my granny’s house, my travel weariness vanished. I looked forward to the summer in the village on the banks of the River Kaveri. Among many exciting things that happened around us, the tha-ir-kari or the curd-seller’s visit was one that I looked forward to every day. Early each morning, she would come with in a big earthen pot filled with thick curd, carefully balanced on her head. It was my duty to call her as patti (grandma) needed more curd than she could make at home.
At first I was shy as any four-year old would be with strangers. But with every passing day, I grew more comfortable with her as she talked to me about exciting things in her life. She elaborated on how to milk cows, on how to make perfectly round cow-dung cakes and much more. I guess she enjoyed my total acceptance of her tales and perhaps, that spurred her on to spin stories more fascinating than the ones she had created the previous day. For a kid from a city, her life in the village was fantasy enough but when she turned into a story-teller, the sky was the limit for her imagination.
When did she metamorphose into a creative story-spinner? I guess it happened when I asked her where the curd in the pot came from. I remember the look she gave me when I asked her this. Then she gave a big grin, her decaying yellow teeth making her look like the rhesus on the roof. As words came tumbling out, our village, our home monkey and the old woman faded away; and what stood before me was a big pot-bellied rakshasa (demon) as tall as the coconut tree and as big as our house. His hair was as long as coconut fronds; his eyes as big as unshelled green coconuts and his teeth as long as mango leaves. When he laughed, tiles from our roof came loose and fell to the ground and broke. When he sneezed, coconuts fell from trees and when he coughed waves rose and fell in the Kaveri. This mountain-sized man drank pails of fresh milk and rubbed his big belly with his over-sized hands; and then with a big burp brought forth thick white curd. He filled earthen pots with the curd and when they were all full, he rolled his round belly till white butter gushed out of his ears. Even hours after she had gone, her story for the day over, I never could come out of the wonderland she took me to.