By Reya Mehrotra,
Once again, Sudha Murty, with her maternal vibe, sits down to her young readers and opens her bag of stories. This time, the storyteller pulls out a utopian lockdown handbook for children. When the future generation sits down to uncover the year of the pandemic, Murty’s Grandparents’ Bag of Stories will reveal what a day in the lockdown amid the global pandemic looked like. Published by Puffin Books, the book is second in her series of grandparents’ stories, the first being Grandma’s Bag of Stories.
The parents, reeling under pressures of working from home, decide to send their children to the grandparents’ home right before the lockdown and the rest is all ‘a story’. As one flips pages, Murty’s spell deepens and one travels down memory lane, into juvenescence. A summer dream blossoming in grandparents’ backyards begins. Each of her stories comes with an important life lesson for the children. Her stories of rice and wheat teach one the importance of foodgrains during troubled times like that of the lockdown. The Magic Beans teaches not to be greedy, The Goddess of Luck teaches the importance of good karma, The Mouse that Became a Mouse tells us to accept what has been given to us, A Word of Honour tells one to be true to his word, A Ship on the Land teaches one that skills and talent matter more than appearance and The Greatest Medicine of All talks about how a disease grips the world every hundred years, its dangers and that hygiene is the greatest medicine of all.
For many, the lockdown was all about re-establishing bonds and the book captures that essence. Grandparents and the grandchildren unite as parents continue their work-from-home life back in the metros. When her young fans complain that their grandparents do not know as many stories as she does, or that they watch TV all the time, Murty advises them to gift their grandparents her books to narrate to them. “You have to make an effort to reconnect with them,” she says while sharing that her third book in the grandparents’ series is underway.
In a world of Alexa and audiobooks, Murty is one of the very few writers keeping the art of traditional storytelling via the elderly (read grandparents) alive through her work. Murty’s stories transport you into the calm and comfort of the golden days. Her first reviewers are undoubtedly her grandchildren. “I miss my grandchildren very much as they live in London, so whenever I write a story, I call them over Zoom and narrate it. They loved The Arrival of Rice and the Children, A World of Wheat and The Magic Beans stories. They were fascinated to hear stories of their origins. I try and narrate one story a day to them,” she tells us.
Murty affectionately gifts children life lessons blended with our own traditions in her stories. What’s Luck Got to do with It boasts of the Indian traditional education system where lessons were imparted through stories. She carefully notes the stark difference with the western school of thought where stories are rather bedtime narrations. In Forty Days of Quarantine, grandparents set a timetable for homeschooling children while teaching traditional games like hopscotch, scrabble, snakes and ladders and ludo and how to contribute in the household chores, away from the world of online life.
What is a Sudha Murty book without lessons in philanthropy? Rightfully so, the philanthropist in Murty doesn’t resist weaving autobiographical elements in the narrative. “The experiences have been toned down in the stories. I was extremely busy during the entire duration of the lockdown. I wanted children to learn to help elders during the lockdown and so penned down the experiences as stories.” In the book, Ajja and Ajji prepare ration kits and meals to help the needy with help from the children and in the process, teach them the importance of giving—Murty’s favourite lesson.
But Murty was not a born storyteller. Rather, she derives inspiration from her growing up years. “When I was growing up in my village, there was no electricity or phones and so people passed their time talking. My grandparents have told me thousands of stories and that is why I too love sharing them.”
To sum up, Sudha Murty’s social media bio best describes her being and her writings are a mirror— simple living and high thinking! From her sober appearance to her clean and colloquial writing style, she embodies simplicity with her words.
Grandparents’ Bag of Stories
Penguin Random House
Pp 240, Rs 250