The stories where children are the main charecters always have a special place in my heart. The great writers bring them to life and long after you have read their stories, you keep wondering what would they be doing now.
Pappathi in Sujatha’s Nagaram – City – Sujatha does not speak a word. But Rachna, my daughter keeps telling me that she always remembers her and wonder if somehow she could have been brought back to life.
Of course no one can forget ‘Gladys’ the little girl in Woodhouse story, ‘Lord Emsworth and the girl friend. I also keep thinking about what would have happened to the students in Ku. Azagirisamy’s story, ‘Kumarapuram station.’ They all must have gone on to become lawyers and teachers, engineers and doctors. What would be ‘Kariyan’ the child in C N Annadurai’s Red Banana – செவ்வாழை doing now? Or for that matter ‘Swamy’ in R K Narayan’s Malgudi Days.
Ki Rajanarayanan, popularly known as Ki Ra, an award winning writer best known for his ‘Gopallpuram Village’ novel, has written about the land of black soil and its people for over 40 years. ‘Karisal Kadu‘ or the black soil is the driest place in Tamil Nadu and living is an every day struggle. The heroes of the story Lakshmi and Srinivasan are not talkative as ‘Gladys.’ But they make you to look at the positivities of their life even when they are living in abject poverty. I am sure the Gen X, grown up with Barbie dolls and beyblades will be inspired by Srinivasan and Lakshmi’s game of choice, ‘The door game.‘
One of my all time favourite stories.
Door – Kathavu
‘The Door’ game had started.
The neighbours children joined with a roar.
‘All of you buy tickets’ said Srinivasan. Immediately everyone shouted, “give me a ticket.”
“To which city? Why are you pushing like this? If you continue this, I won’t come to play.”
“No, No, we won’t push.”
“OK. Where do you want to go?”
The children looked at each other’s face. One shouted, “To Thirunelveli.” Everyone joined him “To Thirunelveli.”
Lakshmi was cleaning the door with a torn cloth. Srinivasan, with empty hands, tore tickets in the air and gave it to them. Once the tickets were distributed, the children latched on to the door. Some started shaking the door. The big door’s heart was moved and it made the children happy by swinging back and forth.
Srinivasan said, “We have arrived in Thirunelveli.” The children got down. Bought tickets again, climbed on the door and the game began once more.
It was a big house with a plaster of limestone. It had one large door. The people who lived there years ago must have been rich. The present occupants lived in absolute poverty. The oldest child in the house was eight years old and the youngest a toddler. The father had gone to Mani Muthaaru, a nearby town for doing manual labour. Mother went every day to nearby forest for work. The two elder children took care of the infanttill mother came back from work and played with the door.
One day Lakshmi found a big match-box label. It had a picture of a dog and the picture looked very dirty. Lakshmi spat on the label and cleaned it with her skirt. The dirt actually spread further. But she was happy that she cleaned it. She looked around to show it someone but no one was there. She stared hopscotching fast towards her house; she was so happy.
When she arrived, Srinivasan was sitting outside holding his wrist. When she saw him, she hid the picture behind her back and asked him, “hey tell me what have I brought?”
“What have you brought? I don’t know”
“I don’t know.”
Lakshmi showed the picture from a distance.
“Sister please give it me” Srinivasan started asking her and got down the stairs.
Lakshmi showed a face as if to say ‘no’ and held the picture well above her head. “No way. You don’t know how much did I struggle to get hold of this.”
“I will just look at it once and give it back” Srinivasan asked in a crying tone.
“You should be careful and just look at it only once.”
“You should not tear it.”
Srinivasan got the picture and looked at it. His face brightened with happiness.
“OK now go and get some Kamman soru (food made from pearl millet). We can paste it on the door.” (In village people use boiled rice as a glue).
“Sure sister.” Srinivasan ran into the house.
Together, they pasted the picture on the door, looked at it from various angles, clapped and laughed with happiness. The children from the neighbourhood joined them and they climbed on the door to start their ‘door game.’
If you looked at the door more closely, you could see one more picture pasted above. As it was pasted a long time ago, it was dirtier and covered with smoke. May be, it was pasted by Lakshmi’s father when he was a kid.
When the children were playing with the door, thaliayari (the village watchman) arrived.
“Lakshmi where is your father?”
“He has gone out-of-town.”
“She has gone to the forest for work.”
“Ask her to come and pay the tax. Tell her Thalayari thevar came looking for her.”
Lakshmi nodded as if to say yes.
The next day, the watchman came when Lakshmi’s mother was still in the house and asked her to pay the tax.
“Sir, he is not in here. It’s been five months since he went looking for some work. We have no news from him either. There has been no rains since last three years. How can we pay tax? It is becoming difficult to even feed the children with what I get paid for the work I do at the field.”
The words did not register with the watchman. He has been listening to the same story from many people in the village.
“What can we do for that? You should definitely pay tax this year. No use blaming us later.” He left with a stern warning.
One fine morning the children were sitting in the ground opposite to the house and were talking. The village watchman came with four people, started removing the door from the hinges. The children came running towards the house and started watching the whole thing with excitement. Somehow, they managed to remove the door and kept it on their heads and started walking away. The children could not understand what was happening. It was not clear what struck in their minds, suddenly one of the children made a flute with his hands and sung ‘pee pee’ as if he was playing nadaswaram for a procession. The next one imitated a drums sound and started ‘dum… da dum.. dum dum.” Srinivasan joined the chorus. They started walking behind the door carriers in a procession.
The watchman could not tolerate this. He shouted at them, “run you donkeys.” The children ran away. When they reached the house, they saw Lakshmi sitting on the steps and crying. They sat beside her without making noise. No one spoke. Srinivasan also kept a serious face. But how long can children sit like that. Suddenly a girl said, “I am going home.” Others started leaving as well. Only Lakshmi and Srinivasan were sitting there now; neither of them uttered a word.
Lakshmi heard the sound of the infant crying and turned towards the baby. Srinivasan ran ahead to lift the baby in his hands. As soon as he touched the baby he removed his hands and looked at Lakshmi. She also looked at him.
“Sister touch the baby. It’s very hot.” Lakshmi touched baby. She felt very hot.
Their mother came back late in the evening with some sticks for making fire. When she was collecting the firewood, a scorpion strung her and her whole body ached. She came near the children and took the baby from them. ‘It’s hot’ she muttered to herself. By now the children started narrating what happened in the morning.
When she heard the news, she felt her breath would stop. Her body shuddered throughout and she held the baby even closer. She was determined not to cry in front of the children; but after a few minutes she could not control herself. She left out a wail, “Oh my mother.” The children, afraid, moved away from her. That inexplicable fear caught them and they started crying as well.
No news came from the father at Mani Mutharu. The days were passing by. When the night arrived, the children shivered under the cold. The house without a door was useless; it could not prevent the cold winds of December which came inside in waves and spread around. The health of the infant was deteriorating slowly. One fine day, not able to withstand the cold winds any longer, the baby left them and the world. The sadness of Rangamaal could not be described; she was keeping herself alive only for the sake of other children.
Srinivasan has started going to school now. While he was returning from school one afternoon he found a match box label. He brought it and showed it to Lakshmi who did not show any enthusiasm.
“Sister; give me some kamman congee; I am very hungry. I want to paste this label after lunch.”
“Brother, there is no congee” she replied anxiously.
“Why? I saw you boiling congee in the morning.”
She nodded a ‘yes.’ “I went out for a few minutes. A dog came inside and drank it all. See there is no door to the house” she said with sorrow, her voice despondent; she felt bad for her mother who would come after a hard day’s work with nothing to eat.
Srinivasan collected few kamman grains spread on the floor; made a paste, applied it on the back of the matchbox label. But he could not stick it on the rough surface. He tried in different places without success. Filled with hunger and disappointment he started crying.
In the evening when Lakshmi was cleaning the mud pot utensils, Srinivasan came running to her. His face was bright and he was breathing heavily. “Sister you remember the market near our school? Behind that, I saw our door. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Is it? True? Come let’s go and see.” She held Srinivasan’s hands and they started running towards the bazaar. It was true. From a distance, they could see their friend, kept in a slanting position. They looked around to see if anyone was watching them; no one was there.
Their happiness could not be described in mere words.
Caranatti and other small plants around the door got stamped under their feet. They jumped towards the door; reached and touched it. They ran their fingers all over the door. Lakshmi cleaned the termite mud struck on the door with her skirt; glued her face on the door. She wanted to cry.
She hugged Srinivasan and kissed him. Then she started smiling. Tears started flowing from eyes. Srinivasan also looked at her and laughed. Their hands were holding the door tightly.
Ki. Ra.’s first published short story was Mayamaan (lit. The Magical Deer), which came out in 1958. It was an immediate success. It was followed by many more short stories. Ki Ra’s stories are usually based in karisal kaadu (scorched, drought stricken land around Kovilpatti ). He centres his stories around Karisal country’s people, their lives, beliefs, struggles and folklore. The novels Gopalla Grammam (lit. Gopalla Village) and its sequel Gopallapurathu Makkal (lit. The People of Gopallapuram) are among his most acclaimed; he won the Sahitya Akademi award for the latter in 1991. As a folklorist, Ki. Ra. spent decades collecting folktales from the karisal kaadu and publishing them in popular magazines. In 2007, the Thanjavur based publishing house Annam compiled these folktales into a 944-page book, the Nattuppura Kadhai Kalanjiyam (Collection of Country Tales). As of 2009, he has published around 30 books. A selection of these were translated into English by Pritham K. Chakravarthy and published in 2009 as Where Are You Going, You Monkeys? – Folktales from Tamil Nadu. Ki. Ra. is well known for his candid treatment of sexual topics, and use of the spoken dialect of Tamil language for his stories (rather than its formal written form). In 2003, his short story kidai was made into a Tamil film titled Oruththi. It was screened in the International Film Festival of India.