Hiss Gets Knotty

How Hiss hated his name! Every second snake in his class was called Hiss. Surely, his parents could have been in a little more imaginative!

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Now the only thing he could do was to get himself a prefix or suffix to his name. Like his cousin Happy Hiss, who got that name because he was always laughing and joking. Or his friend Speedy Hiss, who got that name because he was the fastest slitherer around! He was very envious of his senior Astro Hiss, who got his name because he knew the names of all the stars and constellations in the sky, and was forever looking through his telescope. And of course of the school captain Hero Hiss, who got his name because he was a whiz at all games and helped the school win every match and tournament.

But our Hiss didn’t have any special characteristics. He was just a normal little snake.

Secretly, Hiss’ ambition was to be called Naughty Hiss. It sounded such fun. But Hiss wasn’t naughty at all. He didn’t sneak into people’s houses just to scare them, like some of his friends. He didn’t hang upside down from trees by his tail as some of his cousins did, just to irritate their mothers. He didn’t participate in ‘curls’ where about 15-20 of his friends would curl themselves into a ball and roll pell-mell down slopes, giving old ladies the hysterics.  He didn’t like to do such things. He was really a very well-behaved and nice snake!

But still in his heart he longed to be called Naughty Hiss!

So he thought and he thought and he thought.

And one day, during his Scout class, when the teacher was teaching them to tie themselves up into knots, an idea struck him!

Why not be called Knotty Hiss? That sounded just like Naughty Hiss!

If he practiced and practiced his knots, he could be the best knotter around, and then he would be called Knotty Hiss!

So he secretly practiced and practiced tying himself up in to different kinds of knots, not just the ones his Scout Master taught him

He practiced his Reef Knot

And the Sheepshank

The Bowline

And the Timberhitch

And of course his favourite Constrictor Knot…after all, he was one!

And when he had practiced and practiced for many a day and many a night….

He was the best!

No one could tie themselves up into knots as quickly as our Hiss could.

And that is how Hiss got Knotty, for everyone started calling him Knotty Hiss.

He couldn’t have been more pleased!!!!

–Meena

The Race to be Wise: A Ganesha Tale

With Ganesh Chaturthi wishes!

‘Narada is here, Narada is here’, called Murugan to his elder brother Ganesha.5F27BFBF-2569-4CCB-9260-42B589B98DF0Narada’s visits were always exciting.  He travelled all over the three worlds and he had a nose for gossip and scandal.  He picked up news from here and there, and made sure people at the next stop got to know it.  He spoke so wittily, and sang and joked…there was never a dull moment when he was around.  And he brought such interesting gifts too!

Ganesha and six-headed Murugan rushed over to the main reception hall, where their parents Shiva and Parvati were receiving Narada.  The first greetings and exchanges were already over when the two boys arrived, and they could do their share of talking and asking and answering.

When the excitement and the decibel level had come down a little, Murugan the impulsive one asked Narada: ‘Narada, have you got anything for us?  Any new toy? Any wondrous weapon?  An interesting book?  A playful pet?’

‘Oh! I had almost forgotten!’ said the mischievous Narada, who had probably been waiting to be asked.  ‘Of course, I have something for you!  Something rare and precious, one of its kind’.

‘What, What?  Tell me quickly.  Is it for me or for everyone?  Must I share it with Brother?  Tell me!’ implored Murugan.

‘Well, I don’t know whom it is for.  There is but one piece.  I shall give it to your parents and they must decide as they think fit’, said Narada, looking forward to the trouble this was going to lead to.  He handed over a luscious, rich yellow-orange mango to Parvati.  The fruit was obviously no ordinary mango–it shone with the lustre of gold and smelt divine.

A mango?  Is it a very sweet one? Asked Ganesha, a little confused.

‘Not only the sweetest, tastiest and most flavoursome mango in the world, it is also the fruit of wisdom.  He who eats it will be the wisest among gods and humans,’ said Narada.  ‘It is indeed a special fruit, for there is no other like it in the world.  So I thought, who else to give it to but Shiva and Parvati?’

Murugan got down to business.  ‘Ma, I think you should give me the fruit, I am the youngest and so I must get it, if there is only one.  Anyway, you always give Ganesha everything.

‘That is not true Kartikeya’ said Shiva.  ‘You get an equal share of everything–often more, for you throw such tantrums.’

‘I do NOT throw tantrums’, said Murugan, promptly losing his temper.  ‘Ma always favours Ganesha.  She is always making modaks and laddus for him.  For me, nothing.  And you also.. you always praise him for being intelligent and for knowing the scriptures.’

‘Enough Subramania.  You know both of you are equally dear to me–my two eyes.  Vinayaka is the older, so he gets more of some things.  But you are the younger, so you get the preference in certain other things.  That is how it has to be ‘, said Parvati.  ‘But in this case, I am not sure who should get the fruit.  You are both brave boys, intent on doing good in the world, proud and intelligent.  The wisdom this fruit will give you, I know both of you will put to good use.  What shall we do?  Let your father and I have a talk so we can decide.’

Shiva and Parvati conferred while everyone waited, impatient but silent. Murugan paced up and down, while Ganesha sat quietly by, playing with his pet, vehicle and companion, the shrew.

At last Shiva spoke: ‘We have decided to set a test for the two brothers, to see who deserves the sweet fruit of wisdom.  Both brothers shall set out immediately, and he who circles the world three times and comes back here first, shall get the fruit.  Is that agreeable with you, Kartikeya, Ganesha?

Murugan was quite happy.  He knew he was much faster and more skilled at physical activities than his brother.  The test was set up so that he could win! ‘ Its fine by me.  How can I have a problem when my parents have decided?’ he said.

Ganesha smiled his slow smile.  ‘I agree‘ he said. ‘My wise mother and father have decided it is to be so.  I know that it must be the right way.’

Murugan went into a flurry of preparations.  He called his trusted peacock who flew faster than the winds.  He sharpened his spear and unfurled his flag.  Ganesha stood quietly, a thoughtful look on his face.

’Come Brother, get on with your preparations.  Nothing ventured, nothing won,’ called out Subramania, just a little mockingly.

‘I will see you off, little brother, before I leave on my journey.  A minute here or there will not make a difference to me,’ said Ganesha calmly.

‘Yes, that is true.  Well, I am off now.’  Kartikeya mounted his peacock, and in a flurry of flapping wings, he was off.

Hours later, weary and sweaty, dusty and damp, but sure that he had won the competition, he approached Mount Kailash.  He could see the crowd of people gathered there, looking up at him.  He could see his mother and father, Narada, all the minor gods, courtiers. But what was this?  Sitting at his parents’ feet … could it be Ganesha?

There was no way he could have come back ahead of him! His peacock had flown faster than ever before.  The winds had aided him.  He had used all his skills to steer the easiest path.  No, it just was not possible that Ganesha could have been faster than him.  Then what was it? Had he not gone at all, knowing that he would not be able to beat his younger brother?  No, that could surely not be true.. his brother would not give up without even trying.  Confused, Kartikeya landed back.

‘Welcome, my son.  We are glad to see you back safely,’ said his father as he rose to greet him. ‘And you have really been fast.’

Shiva turned to the waiting people.  ‘Now the time comes to declare the winner,’ he said.

Subramania was still confused.  What was going on?  Ganesha looked so calm and tranquil, he could make out nothing from his face.

‘I congratulate both of you, my sons.  Subramania has performed a wondrous physical feat.  He has gone around the world three times, faster than any God, human or demon has ever till date.  He is indeed incomparable.  I wish I could give him the fruit, but I cannot.’

‘Why,  why? You said I was the fastest,’ said Murugan, turning in confusion to his father.

‘Because my son, your brother went around the world much faster.  No, not the globe, not the physical world,’ explained Shiva.  ‘He went around us, his parents, three times, and it took him but a moment.’

‘I don’t understand.  What is this all about?’  Subramania was vexed and perplexed.  Was it some kind of a joke?

‘I will explain, little brother, why I did that.  For dutiful children, their parents are the world.  Moreover, with parents like ours, the mighty Shiva and Parvati, they are the greatest of Gods, they are indeed the world.  They are the repositories of all knowledge, all wisdom, all power.  What need is there to go any further?  If I go around them, I have gone around the world.’ said Ganesha.

The crowds cheered.  For indeed, was there a world without Shiva and Parvati?  Was there a world beside Shiva and Parvati?  Ganesha was indeed wise and deserved the fruit of wisdom.  Even Subramania was convinced. He could win any race against his brother, but when it came to racing minds, it was another matter!

And so Ganesha became the wisest of the Gods.

–Meena

From ‘Elephantasy’. Centre for Environment Education.

Heaven’s Flower 

Re-telling of a tale from Bhagwat Purana about Nyctanthes arbortristis, night-flowering jasmine or parijat, a species of Nyctanthes, native to SouthSoutheast Asia

(A long-read, this one!)

My parijat tree has just started flowering

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Narada entered Indra’s court. Indra was obviously in a bad mood. All the minor gods and goddesses, apsaras and attendants, ghandarvas and gyaanis looked uneasy. Indra was firing a courtier:

‘How dare you question my decision? Don’t you know that I am Indra, the greatest of the Gods? The ruler of heaven and earth? The warrior before whom the world trembles? Even the Gods listen to me, and you question my wisdom?’ he thundered.

‘Great Indra! I know what a great god and king you are Sir! I do not question your wisdom. I only wanted to give you some information that I thought you might not know,’ said the trembling courtier.

‘Don’t try to act smart. I know all there is to know. My decision stands. Court is dismissed,’ said Indra in his rudest tone.

Narada was worried. ‘Indra’s arrogance is growing beyond limits now. He is rude to one and all. He respects neither age nor wisdom. He doesn’t listen to his well-wishers. If a ruler is so arrogant, it does not bode well for the kingdom. A ruler must be open to criticism as well as praise. He has to listen to all before he takes decisions. And he must be kind and just and fair. Indra has forgotten all this. He needs a lesson.’

Narada in his tension was playing with the flowers he had gathered for his puja. Suddenly he looked down at the flower basket. His eyes sparkled.

‘Ah ha! Two birds with one stone. Two nice people who have become proud and arrogant can be brought back to their senses with one drama!’ There was a smile on Narada’s lips

And when Narada smiled, someone was going to be in trouble!

It was but a jiffy before Narada was over Dwarka.  He smoothly landed in Rukmini’ courtyard. He knew this was the time Krishna would be there.

‘Narayana, Narayana!’ he said—that was his usual greeting.

Krishna and Rukmini welcomed him warmly. But behind Krishna’s smile was a small doubt. What was Narada up to now? He never went anywhere without a purpose!

‘What a privilege that you have come to my house Revered Muni! How may I serve you?’ asked gentle Rukmini, a bit flustered with such an important visitor.

‘I just thought I would visit friends on Earth, Rukmini. And obviously the first of these friends are Krishna and yourself. Just a casual visit, to chat and catch up.’ Narada turned to Krishna casually. ‘Vasudeva, have you seen the flowers of the Parijat tree? The tree that came from the seas during the Manthan, the churning? It has the most beautiful and fragrant flowers! See, so unusual. White petals with a coral stalk.’

Krishna and Rukmini peered at the string of flowers in Narada’s hand. Indeed it was exquisite, unlike any other flower they had ever seen.

‘Oh, how foolish of me! I brought the flowers for you Krishna, and look at me, holding on to them! Here, take this sting of heavenly flowers. Give it to the one you love,’ said Narada with an innocent look, as he handed over the flower to Krishna.

Krishna saw Rukmini looking at the flowers longingly. He knew he had no choice but to give it to her! ‘Here Rukmini, put the flowers in your hair. It will look beautiful.’ Rukmini was thrilled!

Narada stayed chatting about this and that and the other for a good hour. Krishna and Rukmini couldn’t stop laughing at all the stories that he told about the rishis, devas and asuras. All true no doubt, but with a little Narada-masala sprinkled!

‘Oh, it is getting late. I must take your leave Rukmini! I need to visit dear Satyabhama too before it is time for the lamps. Thank you for your hospitality. I will come around again in a few months’, said Narada as he made his way out of Rukmini’s palace.

Rukmini gazed at the flowers in her plait. They were so beautiful—like pearls set in coral! It had such a lovely fragrance. Never had she seen anything like it! “Oh, Indradev should share the flowers of his tree with all. It is so beautiful. If I could get these flowers, I would make garlands every day for you and for the Gods in the temple! Everyone looking at them would be so happy.’

“Yes indeed Rukmini! Beauty should be shared. I wish I could get you more of these flowers. But Indra is very possessive about his tree,’ said Krishna.

In the meantime, Narada was already with Satyabhama. After all, her palace was right next to Rukmini’s. He got as warm a welcome there. Satyabhama set out the most delicious snacks as he regaled her with news and stories.

Just as he was about to take his leave he said: ‘Oh Satyabhama, how rude you much think me, that I have come to visit you without a gift. But I did bring one. It was a string of beautiful parijat flowesr, from Indra’s tree. I gave it to Krishna and told him to give it to his loved one. He gave it to Rukmini.’ With this parting barb, Narada bowed to Satyabhama and disappeared.

It took Satyabhama a few minutes to digest this news. She hadn’t ever seen a parijat flower. But she knew that the tree grew in Indra’s garden and that he wouldn’t give it to anyone. It was heavily guarded. So she knew it must be very special. And Krishna had given the flowers to Rukmini! What was he thinking? Was she not his loved one? Was Rukmini more precious to him? Her eyes blazed with anger.

‘Call Krishna here immediately! I want him here, now!’ she called out to her maids.

They knew better than to dally! With Satyabhama in this mood, they didn’t want to be in the way. Obviously Krishna had done something, let him take the flak!

A breathless maid soon ushered in an apprehensive-looking Krishna. ‘What is it my dear Princess?’ he asked. ‘You look so bothered and flustered. What has happened? Has anyone offended you?’

‘Oh innocent Gopala! Oh intelligent Sumedha! Oh Vasudeva who runs the whole world! Of course you don’t know what’s wrong! Of course you don’t know what has happened and who has offended me!’ began Satyabhama, who had resolved not to tell Krishna what the problem was. But she couldn’t desist! ‘Narada gave you heavenly flowers to give to your loved one and you gave them to Rukmini! So I am not worth such special gifts? I am not the loved one! I am just some stupid ill-tempered girl who must make do with some silks and jewels bought from the local merchants! I am the one who can be ignored and not counted in this household!’

Krishna understood what this was about! His unease at the sight of Narada was borne out.

‘Beautiful Princess! Lovely Satyabhama! How can you talk so? It was just another flower! Rukmini happened to be there, so I gave it to her! See, for you also I have brought so many lovely jasmines and lotuses,’ cajoled Krishna. ‘Don’t you understand, it is just Narada pretending that he gave me something very special, when actually he came to see me with one little string of flowers.’

Satyabhama was not taken in. The argument went on and on, till finally Satyabhama completely lost her temper. ‘Krishna, I have had enough. You gave Rukmini parijat flowers. I want the whole tree. Nothing less will do. That tree had better be planted in my garden in the next week. Otherwise, I will never ever speak to you. Nor eat, nor go out.’

Krishna knew that this was serious. Satyabhama was the sweetest girl, but she was prone to throwing tantrums when she didn’t get her way! And boy, could she be stubborn. He had no way out but to get the tree!

‘OK Satyabhama. Of course if you want it so much, you will get it! Your wish is my command, Princess,’ said the harassed Gopala.

Krishna left immediately for Indralok. He knew he had a tough task ahead. Indra was very possessive about this tree. But Krishna was sure he could convince him. After all, it was not just about Satyabhama. If the tree came to Earth, everyone could enjoy its beauty.

But Krishna was not prepared for the new not-at-all-reasonable Indra! Indra would not even talk civilly to Krishna! ‘No Vasudeva! Sorry! I cannot part with the tree. I got it as my share in the Manthan. It is for me. It is too beautiful to leave Heaven. No other place deserves to have it. I am sorry,’ he told Krishna. And then turned away to talk to his other courtiers and ignored Krishna totally!

Krishna was shocked! This was no way for one god to treat another, for one ruler to behave with another. Even in refusing a request, there must be politeness. And anyway, there was no reason to refuse the request. But Krishna knew how to keep his cool. ‘Is that your last word Indra? My request is reasonable and I have been polite. But don’t you think that you have been both unreasonable and rude?’ he asked.

‘I have every right to refuse the request. You may be a big guy, but you can’t get whatever you want. Thank you for visiting me,’ said the unrepentant Indra, and started to walk out of the court.

‘Indra, you have exceeded all bounds of propriety. You need to be taught a lesson, and I shall do so. Prepare for war!’ said Krishna, cool but firm.

And war there was! A war in which Indra had no chance before the skill, intelligence and technique of Krishna. In no time Indra suffered a humiliating defeat.

And with that humiliation, came good sense! He realized that Krishna had not fought the war to get the tree, but to teach him a lesson for his arrogance. He fell at Krishna’s feet. ‘Jagadisha, forgive me! I understand that I had grown too big for my boots. My pride had gone to my head. I thought that I was so powerful that I could behave as I wanted, do what I liked. But that is not true. No one is above anyone else, and no one is above law. A ruler especially is here to ensure the well-being of all. It will never happen again.’

Krishna was pleased. His mission had been accomplished. The parijat tree was but an excuse. ‘All is well Indra. Rule wisely and kindly. I take my leave now.  All earthly beings and Satyabhama will be so happy with this tree—I thank you.’

As Krishna turned to go, he spied Narada standing in a corner. A smile came to his lips. ‘I take my leave of you also, Kalahapriya!’ he said.

‘Farewell Govinda. Take the tree carefully and plant it as soon as you get to earth. I know a spot where the soil is just right. On the edge of Satyabhama’s garden, right next to the compound wall adjoining Rukmini’s garden is a nice spot.’ He said. ‘And oh! I hope you know, parijat flowers are never picked off the tree. They fall on the ground early in the morning. All you have to do is spread a nice clean cloth on the ground and the flowers will fall on to it. You can tell Princess Rukmini that.’

‘Tell Rukmini? You mean Satyabhama?’ Krishna was confused. But when he saw the gleam in Narada’s eye, he understood. He understood why Narada had asked him to plant the tree near the compound wall next to Rukmini’s garden.

And sure enough, that is what he did! As soon as he returned to earth, he made for Satyabhama’s garden. A triumphant Satyabhama stood beside him as he planted the tree in the spot indicated.

‘Oh Krishna! This is a magic tree from heaven, right? It won’t take time to take root. I think it will start flowering tonight itself.’ She said.

And she was right! She got up early the next morning and she looked out of her window, thrilled to see the tree in her garden. But what she saw the next moment did not please her so well! It was true that the tree stood in her garden, but all the coral-stemmed flowers had fallen into Rukmini’s compound. Rukmini and her maids were picking them up.

And Satyabhama understood Krishna’s message. She had got the tree by throwing tantrums and being unreasonable. But she was not going to get the coveted flowers!  She smiled wryly to herself. Krishna had indeed taught her a lesson! Bad behavior does not pay in the long run!

And in his palace, Krishna smiled. And in the heavens, Narada smiled.

–Meena