Since my childhood I have been listening to stories weaved around nature, the Panchatantra stories, Aesop’s fables, Jataka tales all revolving around talking animals and their elaborate jungle homes. At that time I did not have much books or comics, my father was my encyclopedia of all moral mythical stories who narrated it all tirelessly as we siblings hung around on his shoulders after dinner till the thirst of our imaginative senses were quenched. I used to call my father ‘Anna’ which means head of the family in South India.
Once during Deepawali a friend of ours had mischievously loaded a tin box with powerful crackers and lit it next to a family of street pooches who were fast asleep in a nearby trench, the arrangement worked like a powerful blast ripping the tin box into splinters that soared all around. Looking at the impact we were terrified and ran inside the house and hid for a long time. As we trembled in our hiding places we heard the yelping voices of the poor canines and the loud curses of some adults who searched for us frantically with gritted teeth.
The next day we confided to Anna that we were part of the misdeed although we did not contribute directly to it. Our father was aghast to hear this and asked me ‘do you know why I tell you so many stories?’, ‘what do you understand by all those stories with so many animals as the lead characters who go on to teach you morals and ethics?’
Every moral story is woven around animals and plants because nature is an integral part of our eco system. They are chosen as ambassadors of moral stories not only to make the story interesting for kids but also to convey and register in your minds that this is how we would talk if we were able to talk. This is how we felt if we were able to express our emotions.
He then narrated one of his experiences or rather a close encounter with nature. ‘It so happened that’… he began rolling back in time.
“On a fateful day when I was a youngster I was returning from office on my new scooter, on my way home I saw a goat stranded with its hind legs struck in fresh tar that was quickly solidifying, the workers were done for the day and had left unmindful of the trauma of this goat that bleated helplessly. The goat struggled hard but was unable to untangle itself from the slimy sticky mess. I parked my scooter aside and tried to pull the goat by holding on to its front legs but the panic stricken goat further planted its foot deeper, I tried to unplug its hind legs but to no relief. I thought for a while and then quickly ran up to my scooter and tilted it flat to fetch some petrol. I collected the petrol in some coconut shells that lay around and poured it at her feet and slowly rubbed it, in a few minutes the goat escaped freely bleating most hysterically as if to say ‘Thank God.”
I felt very light, very relieved and glorious to have saved it in time, have you ever experienced the joy of saving nature’s friends or someone in need. You must do it and to begin with you should remember one important thing ‘if you cannot help you should at least not harm’.
These powerful words I always remember all along my life in all walks of life.
He was not just empathetic to animals but was also a huge lover of plants and its conservation. We had a small garden with vivid variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers all well managed in a little space itself. We were kind of self-sufficient with respect to veggies. He toiled in the soil and often told us that ‘we come from this soil and go back to soil again’.
He watered them regularly setting up mini vines for climbers that clustered the greenest beans, watering the green chilies, tomato, spinach carrots et all and spraying the leaves of the lovely roses, bogenvilla, hibiscus, jasmine, marigold, passion fruits, guava, Ashoka and coconut trees. At the end of it he encouraged us to water it and also let us to have little fun with water. We also dug into the soil looking for those slimy earthworms to capture it in our glass jars but let go of them when our father told us that they are the essence of good rich soil.
Whenever a flower bloomed or a new fruit was born we cheered in delight together as if it was some miracle. We even telephoned him from our neighbor’s house to tell him that a new bud had sprung or a baby tomato had just appeared. I was really curious about this miracle and wondered how nature could create so many wonders around us and my father would explain it’s as if God has a crayon pencil with him and he goes on to color things across. I would inquisitively enquire how he never went wrong while coloring and Anna would quickly add ‘that is because my dear Putti would not eat a blue colored carrot or a black colored radish’, he fondly called me Putti.
Those were the days when we sat together with the whole family peeling heaps of peas, Hyacinth beans(avarekaalu), Green Pigeon Peas(togarikaalu) throwing and threating each other with the little worms from the heaps, chatting up with lot of interesting narratives, quick riddles and math puzzles.
There was no menace of plastic, no frozen or packaged food, we ate fresh from our garden and gave the peels to the neighborhood cow that ate it all contently without worrying about any segregation. We washed the greens in buckets of water and used the muddy water to water our plants in our very own garden. We conserved water, grew lot of plants, trees around us, switched off electrical gadgets immediately after use, walked long distances for daily chores, conserved nature and natural resources in every possible form, ate healthy and cared for one and all, that’s the reason my Bangalore was a garden city but today as I teach my children about so many specializations, tall technologies, innate requirement of segregation, conservation, global warming, organic waste management and many inflicted things like that sitting on the 5th floor of my apartment complex I wonder why my Bangalore has suddenly gone on to become a garbage city.
My heart weeps as I see unorganized educated people who sing greenathons but go to the store without a basket/bag, when I see people use a vehicle to drop their kids off to the bus stand that is just 10yards away but diligently go and perform power yoga or sweat it out at the gym, when I see schools that preach about green initiatives but call a thousand parents who go on a road rage in a convoy of flamboyant SUVs to attend a parent teacher meeting of a 5 year old. I was just calculating the amount of fuel wastage in this whole exercise in this era of internet and online chatting. We teach our children to go green but buy rolls of new paper to draw pictures of ‘save tree campaigns’. Everything from a little candy to a cabbage is packaged in plastic, every street vendor today offers innumerable plastic bags to his careless customers, yes we cannot go back to stone-age but have we forgotten to reuse and recycle? Have we forgotten to save nature naturally?
But cribbing will not help nor can I change the world so the least I can do is to stay connected with nature like my father and also inspire my kids to explore nature in our very own balcony garden.
I have planted rose, jasmine, Doddapatre or the Indian Borage/Indian Oregano, a plant whose leaves can relieve us of simple cold and cough, Amrutballi or Tinospora Cordifolia a medicinal plant that is used to treat diabetes, jaundice, cancer and liver disorders we also have Tulsi the Holy Basil of India whose leaves have various medicinal properties and whenever I buy Spinach I cut their roots and plant them to grow some fresh palak in our backyard.
Even today I water the plants before I have my breakfast and care for them as if they are my kids.
Stories are an integral part of childhood and a great mode of inspiration to connect kids with moral values, empathy, nature and their natural inhabitants at a budding stage to ensure a long term association with Mother Nature hence I create stories around plants and animals and narrate each day hoping to recreate the magic that I experienced during my childhood days with my dear father who is no more here with us yet inspires me and my kids to be connected with nature always.
Today I am sowing some chilly seeds and I am reminded of the famous ‘Chot menasinkai’ story that my father used to tell me.
Menasinkai in kannada means chilly.
The story goes like this “there was once a small chilly grown in the garden of a young boy who went to pluck it at the behest of his mother’s instruction but just as he tried to pluck it, the chilly spoke out and cried to be spared. The boy agreed and in return the hot little chilly bestowed him with a boon for sparing it. The boon empowered him to turn people into a statue by simply chanting ‘jai chot menasinakai’ which means ‘hail little chilly’, the boy first rendered his nagging teacher as a statue then his brothers, sisters, friends, finally even his mom and dad and when he was very hungry and angry he looked at himself in the mirror and began speaking, the whole world around him had turned mute and when the mirror did not respond he furiously chanteded those gifted words and the spell struck upon himself rendering him also a statue but once he became a statue, the spell broke and the chant was rendered powerless anymore and everybody came back to life with the boy realizing the importance of people around him.”
My kids today wait zealously for a chot menasinkai crying to be spared when it finally grows in our garden.