Like any other child, I grew up listening to stories. My mother would sing me lullabies whenever I’d try to sleep. That’s cliché!? Well! Yeah! How about – ‘my grandmother used to narrate stories to make me sleep’? That too is cliché? Maybe. But that is true.
So, repeating my first statement here, I grew up listening to stories, like any other child. My grandmother would always have a story or two, to tell. The best part was that I never got tired of pleading her for a new story every day, and she never tired of narrating one. Although, initially she would always refuse, saying that she didn’t know any new story, but I think it was more of a formal tradition.
It’s like I’m at a party and my favourite song is playing. Someone just asked me to dance and even ‘I’ want to; but I refuse and try to shy away. For how long? Till the chorus is reached! Boom! And then I’m like the best dancer on the floor!
Such was the refusal of my grandmother. The time she took in arguing with me, was basically meant to think of some story. The moment she’d agree to tell me one, implied that she just recalled a good one. When we were little kids and when grandmother wasn’t too old, she’d often visit us and stay. Now, she has to avoid climbing stairs so we have to go see her at the village; she can’t come visit us. The thing about me is that I never let these problems become an obstacle. Just this past summer I had visited her and learnt about our family history and ancestry. She is such a storyteller!
She would always tell me stories that had some morals, although I don’t even remember one. More often than not, she narrated about a character called Sheikh Chilli. I had heard many stories about him from my grandmother, over and over again (that would happen when no new story could be found). Even if she would repeat his story, I would still listen, just because I loved to. No wonders, he became my favourite character.
From the stories, I could perceive Sheikh Chilli as being a thin tall boy with a not-so-fair complexion and mischievous yet dull eyes; eyelids drooping over, most of the time. Google shows him like a fat man; maybe times have changed, and so has Sheikh Chilli! He would wear a big turban and have a moustache rounded downward near the edges of the lips. This, even Google agrees with! He would wear brightly coloured ‘angrakhas’; pink with green, yellow and red, or even red and green at times; the turban coloured in a stark contrast. Also, there’d be a feather in front of the turban, adding to the grace (if any)! He was a boy with no understanding of the world. He was naïve and gullible. Now, that I am foolish no more, I can use better and more polite words to describe him, but back then he was just utterly ‘foolish’ for me, and nothing else!
The best part about hearing the ‘Sheikh Chilli’ stories was that I could think of myself as being so wise, and my parents so blessed (to have ‘me’, and not him as their child)!
Apart from these stories, I would often be told about ‘fairies’. I still remember a story. It went something like this:
Once upon a time, there lived a poor couple in a village. The wife always tried to convince her man to work and earn some livelihood, but he was too lazy to move. One day, they ran out of money and even the ration left, wasn’t sufficient. So, the man finally decided to walk to the town and search for a job. He got ready and his wife packed for him, seven chapattis in a thin piece of cloth. Wishing him luck, she bid farewell to him. After walking a couple of miles in the summer sun, he decided to sit under a big shady tree off the road. As soon as he sat down and opened up the cloth to eat his chapattis, seven lovely fairies appeared in front of him. They were all dressed up in one of the seven translucent shades of the rainbow, each. In fact, together, they looked like one! The man was astonished to see them and in sheer bewilderment, he asked, “Who are you? Where have you come from?” The fairy in red, replied, “We are the ‘seven sisters’, the fairies inhabiting this tree.” The man was way too curious now, so he continued with his questions, “What do you want from me? Why have you come?” To this, the fairies replied in unison, “Dear old man, under the tree; give us the food, and you’ll be free!” The man was very hungry, so he decided not to give in. He made up his mind and got up to move ahead to rest under some other tree, but the fairies encircled him and insisted that he stay. Fairies are an epitome of goodness so he didn’t want to be rude with them. He thought to negotiate their terms. He asked them if they could give him some gold in lieu of the chapattis. After a little reluctance, the fairies agreed to give him gold in the same cloth! The man gave away the chapattis and went back to his wife with a fortune enough for a comfortable life for years ahead!
Isn’t this amazing? It’s like I can carry seven chapattis to that tree every day! I’d soon be in good competition with Mr. Gates! Ha!
I would also hear about ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ and their large states; at times, even about ‘emperors’ and their huge empires! Those used to be the most fascinating stories. They were more realistic than the fairy tales and as far as Sheikh Chilli is considered, I never thought of myself as being so stupid, hence no comparisons made! The only stories I could relate with, were those of the royalties. Mostly, I’d imagine myself as either the ‘princess’ or as one of the common girls! Well! I didn’t really have any other choices! The stories would often start with a description of how lavish their palaces used to be. In most of the stories, the kingdom would be so prosperous, the people so happy that you could envy those times! Roads would be all metalled, with big shady trees along the sides. Probably the ‘seven fairy sisters’ lived on one of them only! To add to this, my imagination did run wild and I would never imagine the weather to be very sunny and hot or humid or too rainy. In my mind, I would just see the perfect weather; pleasant and slightly windy at times, mostly cloudy! I wonder at times, how I am even surviving today! Considering my dream world, the reality has come like a not-so-pretty “gift”!
But the empires are long gone now. We have only monuments as memories; memories of the great past that we had; memories of the beautiful heritage we belong to; memories of our present day fantasies!
Let us preserve them! (That’s basically for the lovers to stop inscribing their names on those lovely walls!)
I truly wish to make this world a fairyland again, where love would be in the air; a fantasy!