It was like any other summer night in Madikeri. Time was 8.30pm, all 5 of us were at the dining table trying to chew & swallow rock hard chapatis that we had prepared in spite of our mothers disapproval. But we were giving expressions as if they were the tastiest chapatis in the whole world (the whole story behind which you could read here) when suddenly the power went out just like any other summer night in Madikeri, sigh.
As Dodammi* got busy in lighting up the age old gas lantern, all of us looked at one another in dismay, as after dinner was always ‘Playtime with Nidhi mama*‘, how were we gonna play now in the darkness? That was the time we looked forward to the most each day. But then our faces lit up in happiness as we remembered that power cuts meant ‘Thatha’s stories time’, yippee.
After washing our hands quickly, we ran to thatha’s room to find him applying coconut oil to his hair which was his everyday after bath ritual (probably the reason why he still has a head full of hair). After making him agree to our demands for a story, we then ran to the front verandah (which was our usual story session spot) as we had to set the scene for the story telling session by arranging the pillows & by also sneaking out a bowl of peanuts from the kitchen.
As thatha* came out of the room, all 5 of us arranged ourselves at different corners of the verandah with me & Sukruth being nearest to the bowl of peanuts. Thatha stood in the doorway, smiling down at us, silently enjoying the attention he was receiving courtesy his storytelling skills. As thatha settled down with his back against the wall, I looked around. There was silence everywhere (as thatha’s house was situated on the outskirts of the town) broken by crickets chirping sounds & a frog’s croak from the lotus pond which got an answering croak from another frog in the garden & various other insects’ sounds. There was also pitch darkness everywhere with only 1 or 2 lights blinking from a house located in the forest on the hill opposite our house. And then, I saw Fireflies coming out in hundreds & lighting up the whole atmosphere, their reflections in the lotus pond was another sight to behold & the trees with the fireflies on them looking as decked up as a bride on her wedding day. Sigh, pure magic.
Amidst such a magical scene thatha’s story telling session would commence, where for the next hour or so all of us would be lost in the various plots & characters of Ramayana & Mahabharata. Thatha was blessed with that innate talent of explaining the intricate plots of the epics in such a way that us kids not only understood them well, but also remembered them for a long time (and his interest in Yakshagana* and his enactment of the same during his childhood days had only honed this talent further!). His favourite character was Narada muni* & he made sure to include at least one of his stories in every session. Hithu would listen to the stories for a maximum of 10 minutes, post which, she would stand in front of a mirror (when the storytelling had to be moved indoors courtesy summer rains) combing her short bob hair to a glossy finish, lost in her own world, till thatha finished his stories. And the story telling session would continue till the power came back on, which usually took an hour or so.
It’s been a long time now since we attended thatha’s story telling sessions, but I remember the joy of us cousins listening to his stories like it happened yesterday. We don’t remember most of his stories today, but the feelings of wonder, contentment and of being at peace with the world, as we sat on that verandah all those summers ago, surrounded by darkness and silence, and listening in rapt attention to thatha as he took us on a journey through the epics have forever been ingrained in our minds. I just wish that someone had told me at the time to grab onto those moments with everything I got, because sometimes, memories are all we will be left with for the rest of our lives.
Dodammi- maternal grandmother
Nidhi mama- our uncle
Narada muni- Vedic sage who is also the messenger of Gods
Yakshagana- traditional Indian theatre form developed in Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada districts of Karnataka state in India.