Having a conversation with a child is undoubtedly one of my favourite pastimes. Children are naturally innocent and artless, and listening to their views as they try to connect things that they see and hear around themselves to their limited knowledge of the world, is illuminating and unwittingly funny.
A few months ago, my mother was unwell, and had to be hospitalized. Her doctors thought that she might have a small stone in one of her kidneys that would have to be surgically removed. When I relayed this information to my daughter, her eight year old daughter, Apsara, was nearby, and the little girl overheard the conversation. It was quite clear that my grand-daughter had thought about this unusual piece of information long and hard, because she later had a few questions for her mother.
She asked her mother, “Who threw those stones that went into gaminny’s (that’s what she calls my mother who is her great –grandmother) tummy? Was it one of her friends who did it? What kind of friends does she have, anyway?”
My daughter was nonplussed by these questions. This intriguing matter, however, did not end there. Apsara told her classmates at school about the stone in her great grandmother’s tummy. It was evident that this was a very newsworthy event indeed, because one little boy came back the next day, having gathered some additional information on the matter from discussions in his own home. His grandfather, who was a doctor, had informed him that the stone in Apsara’s great grandmother’s tummy had not been thrown at her by anyone – it had actually grown in her belly! Apsara did not seem at all convinced by this rather unbelievable statement. When my mother was recovering and Apsara spoke to her on the phone, her first question, asked in a conspiratorial whisper was, “So, did you find out who did it? Who threw the stone that went into your tummy?”
One day, just before Diwali, when Apsara came from school, she ran straight to the puppy’s dog bed, and lifted the bedding, and peered under the puppy’s little pink blanket.
“What are you doing?” her mother asked curiously.
“I’m making sure that Phoebe’s bed is neat and tidy,” she said seriously, well aware of Phoebe’s habit of storing half chewed up things, spirited away from various corners of the house, under her bed.
“My friend told me that the goddess will not come to our house during Diwali if it’s not clean.” (Her friend must have referred to the common belief that Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and fortune, visits only clean and well decorated homes during Diwali) “I want to make sure that Phoebe’s bed is neat so that the Goddess will not forget to bless her.”
At the recently concluded Bangalore Literature Festival, (27th -28th October, 2018) one of my story-telling and activity sessions, for children aged 4-9 years was called ‘Fun with the Clouds.’ I read from one of my picture books ‘The Anger of Apsu’* which tells the story of a baby dragon, Apsu, who lived with his mother atop a tall mountain. One day, Apsu climbed onto a fluffy white cloud, and when the cloud floated away, Apsu was separated from his mother forever. Eventually, Apsu grew up to be a big, fire breathing dragon by eating starlight and moon beams, but as he wanders through the clouds in the sky to this very day, he still remembers his mother sometimes. Then he roars, and cries, and that is the sound of thunder that we hear sometimes rumbling in the sky. When I read this story out to the children, I explained that the next time they hear a clap of thunder, they should not be afraid, because they know that it’s only the sound of a lonely dragon called Apsu, remembering the mother he lost when he floated away on a cloud! The children in my audience immediately connected with my story, and seemed deeply sympathetic when they heard that the loud thunder claps that sometime unnerve them are nothing more than the sorrowful sobs of a dragon called Apsu.
On the day of my session at the Literature Festival, there was a clear blue sky above, and I told the children in my audience that I had plucked all the clouds in the sky, and stuffed them into my bag. (Later in the session, I found some little ones peering curiously into my bag – perhaps they were hoping to catch sight of a cloud peeping out?)Then, I asked the children to tell me where they thought the clouds went, when they were not in the sky. The answers I got were so interesting. When they are not in the sky, the children explained that the clouds…
go on a picnic
go to play with their friends
But the most engaging answer came from a thoughtful and obviously practical little boy who told me that when the clouds are not in sky, he thinks they must all have gone to ‘the washroom.’
From now on, whenever, I look up at a cloudless, blue sky above, a picture of a row of fluffy clouds lined up patiently outside a washroom will always flash into my mind…