Have You Ever Seen, A Penguin Come to Tea?

Why would a Penguin ever come to tea? But so goes the nursery rhyme my foster-grandchild and I are currently hooked on.

If I were to write the poem, I would say

‘Have you ever seen, a penguin out at sea’.

Would make a bit more sense.

Of course, the other argument is, why should nursery rhymes make sense?

6A7544E4-A7BF-48E0-9512-51C1F4F1AFDCBut that is not the subject of the blog today. April 25th is marked as World Penguin Day, and that is the occasion of the blog. This day coincides with the annual northern migration of Adelie penguins.

Any ‘Day’ is a way to focus attention and raise awareness about an issue. Penguins evoke immediate love and interest. And hence are a great species to highlight when it comes to conservation education in general, and education about the species in particular. Alarmingly, of the 17 recognized living species, 11 have been listed as Vulnerable or Endangered, and hence awareness about penguins is important. And talking about penguins also ensures we talk about the health of the waters where they spend 75 percent of their lives.

It was only very recently that I saw my first-ever penguins in the wild. It was an unforgettable experience—a visit to the Omaru Penguin Colony in New Zealand, where visitors can spend a few hours freezing on stands, waiting for Little Blue Penguins to come home to their colony for the night. And believe me, it was worth every chilly bone to see this phenomenon. Groups of ten or more penguins coming in over a period of about an hour, after spending the whole day in the waters feeding—for themselves and to regurgitate for their children. What a hard life! The Little Blue Penguins are really tiny, just about a foot high. And we were lucky enough to see pair of chicks—cuddly balls of down.

And to end, some trivia:

  • The origin of the word ‘penguin’ is not clear. It may either be derived from a synonym for ‘great auk’, a bird familiar to Europeans who thought penguins looked like auks when they first saw them. (Great auks are flightless birds not related to penguins. They became extinct in the 19th century).  Or it could be from the Latin pinguis, which means fat or oil.
  • Some prehistoric species of penguins stood almost as tall and heavy as an adult human. Today, the largest species, the Emperor Penguin, stands at about 3 1/2 feet.
  • Although except one, all species are found only in the Southern Hemisphere, most do not live in extreme cold areas like the Antarctic. Many are found in temperate areas too.
  • There are two names for penguin collectives—when there is a group of them in water, they are called a ‘raft’. When there is a group on land, it is called a ‘waddle’.

Here is to World Penguin Day, may their tribes increase!

–Meena

The Kardashian of Trees

Heroing and highlighting individual trees is a great way of drawing attention to trees in general, and to reinforce the value of nature, wildlife and biodiversity.

An example of a successful initiative in this direction is the  European Tree of the Year contest started in 2011, inspired by an older competition which originated in the Czech Republic in the late nineties. According to the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation which started it all: ‘Tree of the Year is a contest looking for a tree with a story. The aim of the contest is to empower people and get local communities involved in the environmental and local heritage protection. We believe that by gathering around a tree, people are more likely to take action again in the future for other environmental causes and for the wellbeing of the community.’

The process of selecting the European Tree of the Year starts with a well set-out voting process at the national level of the participating countries (16 this year), and ends with a finale consisting of online voting to select from among the national winners.

Now the competition is moving to other parts of the world: In 2016, Sri Lanka started the Asian Tree of the Year, with India, Nepal, Malaysia and Singapore joining in soon after. Canada, Australia and Russia have also held national competitions, though not on an annual basis.

Beautiful old trees, with history and cultural connections to the community have found their spot under the sun through this process, and also generated a lot of public interest, involvement and learning.

Sounds good! But what has all this to do with the title?

CF37A480-1747-49E9-9F79-48FCA5BAC580The connection is a tree that is reputed to be the most instagrammed tree in New Zealand, almost a symbol of NZ tourism. On a recent trip there, we were urged to set aside time to see the tree, specifically around sunset. So we worked around our program to ensure we got to the spot—a stretch of a beach—well ahead. We drove past a few times, keenly looking at the beach. We could see some people, but nothing special in the way of trees. We asked natives and tourists alike, and they all pointed us to the same area which our GPS had shown us, and which we had passed, looking in vain for a landmark. We decided to make our way down to the beach anyway. Lo and behold, there were many, many people there, jostling for some spot (we could not figure out what the spot was for), all setting up professional looking camera equipment. It came to a pass when we had to ask a friendly-looking lady what everyone was waiting to photograph, where the famous tree was, and what it was about. She kindly pointed to this spindly willow tree, standing a few feet into the waters of the beautiful Wanaka Lake, against a beautiful background of majestic mountains. But the tree itself? In my mind, this will forever define and exemplify ‘under-whelming’. ‘Why is the tree famous’, we asked many around us in bewilderment. While there was some story of how it was part of a fence and had survived in the water for several years, the general consensus was that it was famous because it was famous! So famous , it even has its own insta handle #ThatWanakaTree.

Does the title begin to make sense?

But yes, surely is a lesson to countries like ours, where we have such unimaginable treasures of cultural and natural heritage, but simply are not able to create anywhere near a proportionate buzz!

–Meena

 

 

What an Irony!

…Or contradictions in the time of Corona.

Confession. I belong to the age of dinosaurs! Not so old as to reminisce about the freedom struggle, and World War 2 (which my parents did), but old enough to remember one short war, night curfews and blackouts, and shortages. Old enough to remember a time when gymming, pubbing, clubbing, beauty and retail therapy were not considered to be critical to one’s physical and mental health. When staying indoors as a family was not unheard of, and what to do with one’s time was never a stress-inducing problem.

It is in the last month, as they say, “the world as we know it had changed.” Coronatimes newspapers, and especially the Lifestyle and Leisure supplements reveal that yes, the world has changed, but in different ways for different people. I cannot help but think back, and chuckle a bit at the contradictions!

Then and Now…

‘Staycations’ were the trendy way to spend your holidays; but now staying at home for free becomes ‘confinement’.

People went to expensive health spas for detox stints; now have DTs at home without their sustaining substances.

School vacations were a time of simple self-devised ‘time-pass’ activities (or lack of activities); not a time of huge stress for parents as to how to keep the children “engaged”.

Summer holidays were marked by hours spent playing cards, ludo and carom with relatives of all ages; now newspapers feature pictures of this as a wonderful sign of how indoor games lead to ‘family bonding’.

‘Social distancing’ was a cause for concern and counselling, as people addicted to virtual reality could not relate to real people; now when it becomes mandated, people want to break it.

Page 3 celebrities fill pages with pictures of “doing the dishes” or “playing with baby”; while numerous stories of unseen unsung heroes who are risk their own life to save others are inconspicuous among the headliners.

People have to be taught how to cover their faces when outdoors, something the two-wheeler female riders of Ahmedabad have been adept at for years.

Now Kitchen Hacks on innovative ways to make provisions last longer, and replacements for quinoa and parsley; when generations of homemakers have learnt and practised ‘living within their means’ with some saved for a rainy day.

While some eagerly await the resumption of Swiggy and home delivery from restaurants, many middle-class housewives wake up early every day to join the voluntary cooking efforts to feed the homeless and hungry.

Glossy pictures of designers displaying their designer masks; news items of hundreds of ordinary women sewing for hours to make and distribute masks made from old clothes.

Once people had to wear masks when the sky was grey and smoggy; now everyone has to wear masks when the sky is clear and blue.

Then, health and well-being pundits urged and cajoled people to get off the couches and walk; now people are risking fines and arrests to go out for a walk.

Now we need Life Coaches to tell us how to spend our day from the time we open our eyes to shut-eye time; then people did not have time nor leisure to need such coaching, but a lot of basic common sense to guide in how to live, and thrive.

Then we scoffed at mothers and grandmothers who judiciously planned, saved and put away things that “you never know when these may help”; now we remember with nostalgia and regret (or gratitude) that ‘old ladies’, old fashioned’ advice.

SARS CoV-2 did to CO2 levels what 25 Climate Change COPs could not do!

The virus of fake news spreads much faster than the Covid-19.

 

With gratitude and humility for those of us who are lucky to have the wherewithal to lead the life we do.

–Mamata

 

 

 

 

Walk Your Way to Health

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This week we marked World Health Day.

And walking is my trusted route to good health. It is the only exercise regimen that I have been able to stick to. And I have tried several:

  1. Swimming: Tried about 15 times, but could not manage to learn.
  2. Gymming: If it was not the traffic, it was complete mismatch with the age of the people around. Never feels good to up the average age of a room single-handedly.
  3. Cycling: Oh, the ups and the downs! My muscles ache and my breath doesn’t hold
  4. Exercising at home: I can find an excuse a day after the first three days, to not follow the regimen.

So walking it has been for the last 25 years and more—starting from long before the obsession with counting steps. About 50 minutes of brisk (hopefully) walking every day.

The Mayo Clinic assures me—and I believe them–that regular brisk walking can help me:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
  • Strengthen bones and muscles
  • Improve mood
  • Improve balance and coordination

And in these days of lockdown, it is still a possible form of exercise. It not only helps the body, but just the act of getting out of the house into the fresh air and seeing people even if only from afar, definitely contributes to well-being.

Maybe the lockdown will help walking become a lifelong habit for some. But for me, it was the peer pressure of ‘walking with a friend’ that worked. My friend Kiran and I decided at some stage to walk every morning at 6.15 a.m. on the IIM-A campus. The very thought that the other would be standing impatiently at the gate if one was late, was enough to get us out of bed and out the door most days. And if we did not, we had to be pretty inventive in coming up with excuses.

But for many years now, I have been walking by myself. And my trusty companion is my XONE music player. This is something I picked up at the Vizag airport over five years ago. This is a nifty little device—headphones with built in storage, with huge capacity and no wires. It seems to be developed in India. I think I have about 1500 songs stored. The battery lasts me a week on one charge. People who see me walking regularly jokingly ask if I have ears, as this is always glued to my ears.

So find a way to get yourself into the habit of walking, and find a way to stay hooked! While I may not go so far as to say ‘My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god’ (Bruce Chatwin), I will swear by walking for a sense of all-around well-being.

–Meena

 

 

Hail, Nightingales!

Two news items last week took me to my cache of ‘saved for a rainy (read lockdown) day’ books.

The first was that the tagline for this year’s World Health Day is ‘Support Nurses and Midwives’. April 7 is celebrated as World Health Day as it marks the anniversary of the World Health Organization which was founded in 1948.

The second news was that on April 3 Britain’s first emergency field hospital exclusively for coronavirus patients was inaugurated in the East End or docklands of London. More remarkable, that a large exhibition space, usually used for large events such concerts and conferences, was transformed into this 4000 bed hospital in just nine days. The hospital is fittingly called NHS Nightingale Hospital. Similar Nightingale hospitals are planned to be set up in different cities of UK, as emergency sites to treat coronavirus patients.

Calling these facilities Nightingale hospitals, is an apt and timely reminder of Florence Nightingale, who almost 200 years ago changed the face of nursing from a mostly untrained profession to a highly skilled and well-respected medical profession with very important responsibilities.

These stories took me to the book titled Called the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. The book is the memoir of the years that Jenny, this young nurse anIMG_20200407_111221.jpgd midwife spent in the poor slums of the East End of London. 23 years old and newly qualified she lived and trained as a midwife with a dedicated group of nuns St Raymond Nonnatus.

Though set in the 1950s, the conditions of the area, and the people who lived in these docklands were appalling in terms of health, hygiene and sanitation. The book recounts anecdotes that paint vignettes of the people, and the experiences as a midwife, delivering babies at home amidst challenging and often overwhelming circumstances. But where the narration could have been dark and depressing, Jenny’s description of her patients and their families brings out the touching humanity, and tough spirit that rises above the squalor. Whether it is the pen portraits of the nuns, each with a unique personality; the fellow trainees; and the soon-to-be or new mothers (from the first baby of a 14 year-old girl, to the 25th baby of a 45 year-old woman!), the book captures the power and spirit of the vocation. Rushing on their bicycles through the freezing smoggy streets with their simple delivery bags to attend a calling the middle of the night (almost 100 deliveries a month), to the daily routine of morning and evening home visits for pre and post-delivery check-ups, one cannot help but applaud the total dedication and role of the midwives.

Interestingly in India generations of children had been born at home under the hand of the local midwife or dai. Around the time when Jennifer Worth was a midwife in England, hospital deliveries started becoming more common in India. In the last fifty years, with advances in the world of medicine, and advancing technology, the traditional art and craft of midwifery was replaced with the science of sonography and Csections. Interestingly, in the last ten years or so, there seems to be a return to the traditional ways of childbirth. While at the one end of the spectrum, there are boutique clinics offering 5-star deliveries, other young women are opting to ’call the midwife’. And there is a new generation of Jennys who are undergoing the rigorous training of midwifery to qualify and practice as midwives.

It is fitting indeed that WHO has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale who fought, against all odds, in the frontlines of the Crimean war. And once again, more than ever before, it is time to salute these brave and tireless soldiers who are at the frontline of the Corona war. Hail, to all these Nightingales! year of the nurse.jpg

–Mamata

Friends in Need

“They are friends waiting for us any time we want them, and they will always speak honestly to us about what really matters. They are the perfect cure for loneliness. They can be our very closest friends.” They are books, wrote Swiss-born British philosopher and essayist Alain de Botton, in a letter to children.

Today is the day to celebrate this timeless friendship. April 2 is International Children’s Book Day, a worldwide celebration to highlight children’s literature and encourage the love of reading among children. This date marks the birthdICBD.jpgay of Hans Christian Anderson one of the best known children’s writer who was born on 2 April 1805 in Denmark.

The celebration of this day began in 1967, initiated by the International Board on Books for Young People, or IBBY. Each year a different National Section of IBBY has the opportunity to be the international sponsor of ICBD. The hosting country picks the theme for the year and invites a prominent author from that country to write a message to the children of the world and a well-known illustrator to design a poster.

This year, IBBY Slovenia is hosting this day, and the theme is “A Hunger for Words.” Slovenian writer Peter Svetina has written the message for this theme. Sharing a few lines: “Words in poetry and in stories are food. Not food for the body, not food that can fill up your stomach. But food for the spirit and food for the soul.”

In the days of lockdowns when parents around the world are despairing, and desperate to “keep children occupied” why not open up a menu of books, to explore and discover, to taste and savour, and to assuage the hunger of a restless mind. This will plant the seeds of the magic of stories that will grow with them as friends, and sustain their spirit through the many unknowns that lie ahead.

Equally relevant, and perhaps one that presaged the year to come, was the theme for 2019 which was Books Help Slow Us Down. Lithuania was the host, and Kęstutis Kasparavičius the Lithuanian writer wrote this inspiring message.

“It seems that books have this wonderful quality – they help us slow down. As soon as you open a book and delve into its tranquil depths, you no longer fear that things will whizz by at a maddening speed while you see nothing. All of a sudden, you come to believe you don’t have to dash off like a bat out of hell to do some urgent work of little importance. In books, things happen quietly and in a precisely arranged order. Maybe because their pages are numbered, maybe because the pages rustle gently and soothingly as you leaf through them. In books, events of the past calmly meet events that are yet to come. …Someone who enjoys reading – be it a child or adult – is much more interesting than someone who doesn’t care for books, who is always racing against the clock, who never has time to sit down, who fails to notice much of what surrounds them. …Books help us not to rush, books teach us to notice things, and books invite us or even make us sit down for a while.”

Around the world, for perhaps the first time, we have been forced to slow down, to sit down for a while (and wonder what to do with ourselves). What better time to use this opportunity to revisit our old friends—books– that were part of our young and innocent days. And what could be more joyful than rediscovering these in the company of children? A beautiful way to celebrate this special day!

–Mamata

Pencil Day

Not many may have heard of it, but 30 March is observed as National Pencil day in the US. If you think of it, the humble pencil is an implement that needs to be celebrated. There is not a single child who has not begun its education without a pencil. Even with all the new and emerging means for ‘writing’ every teacher believes that the pencil is with what it all starts—working with pencils gives the child the motor coordination necessary for more advanced tasks.

Pencils started being used sometime in the mid-1500s, when a large deposit of graphite was discovered in Cumbria, England. The particular deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid, and could easily be sawn into sticks, and people started to do so, using the sticks for writing. However, graphite being very soft, it needed some casing. Initially, the sticks of graphite were wrapped in thread or sheepskin. In the 1560s, a couple in Italy started hollowing out bits of wood and putting sticks of graphite into them. Shortly after, the idea of making two halves of a cylinder of wood and sandwiching the graphite seems to have dawned and so the pencil, as we know it, was born. Today pencils are made by mixing fine ground graphite and clay powder with water to form strings which are then placed in a kiln to harden, then dipped in oil or wax, which seeps into the tiny holes to make it smoother for writing. These are then encased in wooden cylinders.

So which of these landmarks does March 30 celebrate? None really, because all these specific dates are lost in history. March 30 of 1858 is the day on which Hymen Lipman of the USA received the first patent for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil. And USA decided to mark this day in his honour as Pencil Day.

Apparently, the pencil business in India is controlled by four major players—Doms Industries which make Doms pencils; Hindustan Pencils, which makes the familiar Apsara and Natraj brands; Camlin (now Kokuyo Camlin) is another significant presence; and finally Maharashtra Pencils, which is the smallest of them. The market leader is Hindustan Pencils, which has 45 per cent of the market share. It produces about 8 million pencils a day!

A2947853-F525-4B83-B57D-9C879A334925Pencil sketch, V. Raghunathan, using 3B and 4B pencils. 1980.

HB pencils were the pencils most of us used. In fact, anything else was left to the more ‘arty’ types. The notation ‘HB’ is a part of the European system of classification, using a continuum from “H” (for hardness) to “B” (for blackness), as well as “F” (for fine point). The system was developed in the early 20th century by Brookman, an English pencil maker. The US of course must be different from the rest of the world, and uses a numeric system of #1 to #4 to classify pencils.

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So on this Pencil Day, make sure to write a few lines with a pencil. Believe me, it is a very special feeling, and you will realize how much you miss it! Not only the hand-feel, may be it will bring back memories of school and childhood!

And to end, some Pencil Facts:

Chemistry was not very well developed in the 1500s when the graphite mine was discovered and the substance was thought to be lead. Hence it was called plumbago (Latin for “lead ore”), and even today, though pencils don’t have any lead, they are called lead pencils.

Every year, about 82,000 trees are cut down to make the close to 2 billion pencils manufactured worldwide. Each tree can yield about 1,70,000 pencils.

A typical pencil can draw a line about 55 km long.

–Meena

 

 

Ides to Ideas

Beware the Ides of March! Perhaps never in the living memory of humankind, has this dire and gloomy prophecy proved so true. It is in this month that the world has been brought to its knees by an invisible force that seems to have united all of humanity in facing a common enemy.

The world, and way of life as we know, have overnight, changed beyond our wildest imagination, and no soothsayer can foretell what lies ahead, in the near and distant future. From now on, the month of March will be marked as the month that changed the world.

But before all this began, March had been designated as the International Ideas Month.

Ideas–our brain is churning out ideas all the time; even though we may not consciously register these. From small ideas about routine matters, ideas.jpgto Eureka moments, ideas keep our little grey cells ticking away. Sometimes we let these slip away because we are preoccupied with what we feel are more serious or important matters, and sometimes because we feel that the ideas is too inane to pursue.

International Ideas Month is meant to celebrate the value of ideas. And an encouragement to get one’s ideas rolling—no matter how silly, or profound they may seem.

Ideas spring from imagination, and imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. And yet in these times when even creativity is measured by its market price, or ideas that help make large profits; imagination is seen as the indulgence of children and dreamers, writers and painters.

In the words of American author Ursula K. Le Guin “Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human. …Like any tool, the imagination requires that we first learn how to use it or, rather, that we unlearn how to squander it. Children have imagination to start with, but as we grow, we tend to put aside imagination as an indulgence. All human beings need exercises in imagination as they need exercise in all the basic skills of life, bodily and mental: for growth, for health, for competence, for joy. This need continues as long as the mind is alive.”

One way to nurture imagination is to give the time and space that ideas need to take root and grow. This garden cannot be meticulously planned, pruned and scheduled. Ideas turn up anytime, anywhere—on a morning walk, at the kitchen sink, in the shower, and in the middle of the night.

Because Ideas do not have a fixed time and place to appear, it is important not to let them slip away. Grab them, capture them on paper, take your time and mull over them, incubate them, or put them into practice right away!

The right time and space is now–when we are in a physical lockdown. While we cannot physically wander far and wide, when we seem to suddenly have time on our hands–What better time to unlock and unleash all those ideas that have been hibernating or aestivating in our minds.

Turn the Ides of March into the Ideas of March.

–Mamata

 

Sighting Snowflakes In Bangalore

I came out of my house one evening and the green grass was sparkled over with hundreds of what-looked-like-snowflakes. And as I lifted my head to look up, I saw thousands of transparent winged seeds snowing down from the trees all around. It was a magical sight.

My housing complex has a large number of African Tulip Trees, and these were the sources of the ‘snow’. This native of Africa’s tropical forests (Spathodea campanulata) is an invasive species in some parts of the world, but fortunately does not seem to be a problem in India.

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For a few months, these trees were in bloom, clusters of bright orange flowers, each individual flower the shape of a tulip. The trees used to be a riot of colour and sound, with the dozens of birds which came to sip the nectar from the flowers. Then these flowers turned to seeds—when mature, these are brown and woody. And now the seedpods are bursting, releasing the 500 or so seeds that each pod has. Each seed is tiny and covered in a transparent polythene-like covering, which floats down lazily to the ground. And at this stage too, there are birds that visit the tree-yesterday I saw a parakeet feasting on the seeds and releasing the empty cases to float to the ground.

68811143-005D-42A1-BBF5-06B5CB2BD4A2It was like my textbook coming alive. ‘Seed Dispersal Mechanisms’ is what I think the lesson was called. And it described dispersal by wind, by water, by animals and birds, by ballistic action, etc.

I could only marvel at the tree for producing and sending down thousands of seeds every season. Sadly, for most to be swept away by the gardeners. Presumably, the very large number of seeds the tree has evolved to produce is to make up for the very small probability of any of them actually growing into an adult tree.

I can only hope a few of the ones I have seen this season manage to escape and are able to fly a decent distance away from the attention of gardeners and home owners, and land on un-managed land and fulfil their function!

–Meena

PS: While urging our readers to take all precautions and stay safe, MM will try extra-hard to focus on everything other than Corona during these difficult times. Life is beautiful!

 

Once Upon a Time…

These four words open up windows to entire universes—unexplored, or familiar. This is how many a story begins. Stories are a life force that have imbued human life with that something extra, since the dawn of civilization. Stories are a way to convey history, culture, language, spirituality, and identity. One way to keep stories alive is storytelling. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication.

20 March is celebrated as World Storytelling Day–a day to remember and remind ourselves of the magic and power of stories. What began in Sweden, on this date in 1991, as All Storytellers Day has now become a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. On World Storytelling Day, as many people as possible tell and listen to stories in as many languages and at as many places as possible, during the same day and night.

On this day I celebrate a storyteller who collected, recreated, and created a timeless repertoire of stories. Generations of children have grown up with these tales, told and retold by parents and grandparents over the last one hundred years. This was my grandfather Gijubhai Badeka, one of Gujarat’s foremost educationists and storytellers.

In Gujarati, as in most Indian languages, the child reader had remained somewhat neglected till the middle of the nineteenth century. There was hardly any specific literature for children; only stories retold from classical Indian literature, or heroic stories from Western literature, in not very satisfactory translations. Gijubhai pioneered the creation of special literature for children that also contributed to preserving the oral tradition of literature through exploring and compiling the rich legacy of folk literature. His search for folk tales crossed the boundaries of language and country. This journey of exploration he described thus, in his seminal work titled Vaarta nu Shastra (The Art and Craft of Stories) published in 1925. “So many stories have travelled in foreign lands, so many stories have changed their religion and form; it is an adventure to trace their journeys. If we become wandering travellers with the stories, we will discover that we find one story in Tibet and will see the same story in Africa; we will discover the same story wrapped in snow at the North Pole, and yet if we wander in the Arabian desert, there it will be, but uncovered and bare…but still we recognise the story. Some stories adapt to their land, taking on the form and language of their adopted home, while others retain their origins wherever they may settle. Some stories follow the creed of universal brotherhood, they see the world as their home and go wherever they get a chance to serve and please. Some settle firmly in different countries and come to be recognised as belonging to that place. They are then only translated to reach other countries.”

Many of Gijubhai’s stories are members of this travelling band. Gijubjai transformed and localised these stories, so that they are steeped in the sounds and colours of Gujarat, and have today become not only Gujarati, but uniquely ‘Gijubhai’s’ stories. They are simply told tales characterised by a mixture of prose and rhyme. The repetition of rhymes makes for lively storytelling which listeners join in. Gijubhai retold delightful tales of ordinary people, and familiar birds and animals. With equal panache he churned out stories of common folk with common trades—tailors, potters, barbers, shopkeepers, but also kings, queens and princesses. The characters reflect basic human traits—greed, envy, fear, desire for one-upmanship. Animal tales reflect a close and symbiotic relationship between animals and people. Many open with “once upon a time”… and end “happily ever after.” A hundred years after they were written these stories still touch a cord in the child, and also the child in each of us.

Stories are older than us, they are smarter than us, they keep going, and they are a part of us even though we do not realise this. But stories need human beings to reproduce, much as we need food… we need things to keep ourselves alive.

Hungarian-born American polymath Thomas Sebeok said “…what we can do, I think, is try and create stories that are interesting enough and important enough that our grandchildren might want to tell those stories to their grandchildren — because that’s the purpose of stories, that’s what they’re for: They make live worth living and, sometimes, they keep us alive.

In my own small way, I try to carry forward the legacy of my grandfather by translating and retelling these timeless tales.

–Mamata