Monday, November 24, 2014

If you had a magic wand....

I was very surprised to see that my son enjoys reading Sudha Murty's books. A few years ago, he picked up one of her books in a Mumbai bookstore. I think, that was simply because he was intrigued by the title. He didn't really know anything about Mrs. Murty or her books back then. But as a non-lover of milk, he was probably just curious to know why she stopped drinking milk or rather how she managed to stop drinking milk. Seeing him enjoy that book and read and re-read it several times, I got him a set of her books on my recent India visit.

Sudha Murty is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. All her books are about India and Indians. My son loves them all! The stories and the language is very simple and easy to understand. On the other hand, when I tried to get him to read Swami and His Friends by R. K. Narayan, something that I thought he would enjoy because it is a story of a young boy, for some reason I didn't have much luck.

Last year, he had to write an essay for school. I thought it was a difficult topic. I had no idea how to help him. Fortunately, he didn't need my help. He was able to use his imagination much better than I could ever have. What he wrote (excerpts below) shows the influence of Ms. Murty's story, Harry Potter and his own impressions of India.

The topic for the essay was : If you had a magic wand, whose life would you really like to make better?

Yeshee's answer to that question begins something like this:     

I try to hold on to Jatayu’s giant back, but the tighter I hold, the sweatier my palms get. I can see the dark clouds looming over my face. Jatayu veers left as my hands struggle to cling to his back. Then I feel it - the first drop of rain. Suddenly, it starts raining cats and dogs! It is raining so heavily that even Jatayu is surprised! Great, I think, now my palms are covered with sweat and rain water- the worst combination to stay on a bird! Then, I see a flash of lightning ahead of us and realize that we have to make an emergency landing. My voice is like a baby’s voice against the pounding rain as I struggle to say “Jatayu down!” 

As Jatayu descends, I see my first glimpse of the land. It is covered in dirt! As we look for a place to land, the only thing I can see all around us is mud. I realize that there is no way we can find a clean spot to rest and wait for the rain to stop unless we go to a town or a city of some sort. After a mile and a half of walking for what seems like hours in the rain we finally see a cluster of huts. I walk up to the first hut and knock. 

A thin dark man opens the door...I ask Jatayu to perch on a nearby tree and enter the hut... 

(I tried to get into my son's head. If I ask him a direct question, "tell me son, how did you come up with the idea of flying on the back of a giant bird?".  If I am lucky, I'll get the answer, "uhh, I don know". These days I have to compete with the iPad for his attention and the iPad always wins. So I have no choice but to try and get inside his head to figure out where the ideas are coming from.  Obviously, it comes from Harry Potter. There are a lot of giant things and flying things in Harry Potter. And now that I think about it, there is a lot about magic wands in Harry Potter. I wouldn't have connected magic wand to Harry Potter but my son did it right away, in his mind, after he saw the topic. I guess the schools and the teachers are smart! They know what the children are reading or are expected to read at a certain age and base their essay topics accordingly. And the essay that the child writes tells them what he has been reading, how he has absorbed it and how he is able to articulate it. I suggested the name of Jatayu for the bird. I have omitted the middle section: it basically describes what happens inside the hut. It has the influence of Mrs Murty's story and his own impressions of India gathered during our visits there. Influence of Harry Potter shows up again towards the end).

The essay ends this way:

...This is not the first time I have landed in India, so I know what is happening here. The family is so poor that they have nothing to eat or feed the baby, yet they will not let a guest go hungry. I am touched by the man’s hospitality. But I can not accept his offer. There is no way I can drink the milk that the baby will need in the morning.

The wind seems to have died down. I don’t hear the rain anymore. I hear a cock crowing outside. It must be close to day - break. I decide to leave. I tell the man I must resume my journey onward. I thank him for giving me shelter from the rain and say bye to the family.

As I climb on Jatayu’s back and he takes off, I take out my magic wand. I wave it over the village below. I want to give all the villagers good homes, enough food to eat and milk to feed their children and give them all regular work so that they can earn a decent living. 

Ever since I was a child I wanted to help people who were less fortunate. My family and I did a lot of things to help the poor and those in need. We donated money to charity and gave out food to local shelters. My parents told me that sometimes people take the life that they have for granted and forget that there are people, just like us, in other parts of the world who have to survive on the income of less than a dollar per day.

I am thinking of all this as I wave the wand. Nothing happens! I can't remember the spell I need to say to make the wand work! I don’t know what to do. Jatayu is flying high and fast. I ask him to slow down. I don’t want him to go so high that the village will go out of the range of my magic wand. Finally, after trying many different variations I come up with the correct spell. “AMRUS PHUTIUS” I say and watch the village getting transformed before my eyes.

As Jatayu and I fly away, I see the villagers stepping out of their homes, dancing and celebrating with joy, at the same time, confused by the changes that occurred in their life so suddenly.

Books by Sudha Murty (Listed in the order from the most favorite going down to the least favorite of my son) -

The Day I Stopped Drinking Milk
Wise and Otherwise
The Old Man and His God
The Magic Drum and Other Favorite Stories
How I Taught My Grandmother to Read

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