Kathai kathaiyam karanamam, was how grandma began most bedtime stories when we were children. It roughly translates into – stories, stories and the reasons for them. When I grew up I learnt the phrase, “Cause and Effect.” Kathai kathaiyam karanamam means just that. Most of the stories revolved around some question answer sequence like – something happened, why? Because some thing else happened. We will come to that when we come to the stories.
When we were little, we did not have many picture story books, cds or videos. The only stories we heard were from the elders in the village during the day and from our grandparents or parents at bedtime.
There were all sorts of story tellers in the village. Some were experts in mythological stories, some in ghost stories, some told stories about real life happenings and yet others told us stories about other places. We children on our own would have story telling sessions or swapping sessions, when the more creative ones would come out with their own stories. Others would accuse them of making up stories. Little did we know that it was a great talent to make up one’s own stories. In our house, we had stories among us children like, “there is one patti and patta and one mami and 2 children in one house. The mama is in Madras, guess whose house it is”. At other times, one of our friends who had recently watched a movie at the nearby tent theatre would enthrall us with the story of the movie. This cinema story would go on and on as the narrator would go deep in detailing each shot in the movie, sometimes enacting it. And there would be many cross questions from the listeners like, “does this song come here?” Or, “do they show him actually falling from the train?” And so on.
By bedtime, we would all gather at the bedside of our Echiyamma who would entertain us with stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Thulapurana etc. There would be a big tussle as to who would nestle closer to her. For this reason, until I left home for college, I reserved my bed next to hers. On the days, when my cousin visited us, we both would sleep next to Echiyamma.
During my father’s visits, he would enthrall us with stories from all the books he read. He would ask us, “what story do you want?, Thiruvazhithan, Uppunda, Vikramadityan or something else?” He had a big volume of Kathasaritsagar in Tamil and many other story books in Malayalam and Tamil. When he was around, we would huddle around him and I got the prime seat as usual. He would have us in splits with his stories. He was a great story teller. In those days, he got us library cards so we could read more books. The only problem was that the library was so far away, we girls were not allowed to go there. He inculcated the reading habit in us. He also sent us subscriptions for various weeklies and that’s how we learnt to read Tamil at a very young age (may be 7 or 8) even though it was not taught in our school.
When my own children were growing up, apart from the stories that I read to them from the books, their beloved grandma would tell them many many stories. She was a great story teller and she could transform any commonplace event into a story. She also read stories for them from Tamil and Malayalam Chandamamas with their grandpa on hand to translate difficult (!) Tamil and Malayalam words to English for them. He would often comment, “Bhashayum theriyathu, onnum theriyathu” (you don’t even know the language) to vociferous protests from our younger son. Our son would immediately retort, “How then, am I reading so many English books and explaining to Patti?” Our son on his part used to read English Chandamama and tell stories to his grandma.
Most folktales were made more interesting because of the sing song way in which they were narrated. Translating them to English would take away half their charm, but they would be interesting all the same. Stories like “Aadi and Avani” were also meant to impart some common sense to children. After the children grew up and left home, there were no more story sessions and I had forgotten all these stories. Our younger son who was in the USA would ask me now and then, “Amma what is this story about – amman amman ooracha or Kozhakattai kozhakattai en vekalai.” Many a times I had to think about it for a couple of days, before I could recollect the full story. That’s when he suggested that I put them all in writing so that other children could also enjoy them. We have been planning for it for sometime now and finally have decided to venture into it. I am sure there will be some missing links and all my readers are welcome to add to or correct them so that we will have the full stories.