Bed Time Stories…

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When my brother and I were children, bed-time stories were a must-have ritual every night. During school days, we used to fall asleep listening to our father’s voice droning in the dark about Rama, The Pandavas or Alibaba.. 

And during the holidays, my grandfather used to read Brer Rabbit from an Enid Blyton book, when we fell asleep on a cot out-doors, staring at the starry sky.

Apart from this teeny bit of English stories, all others were home-grown. Tales from Rmayana, Mahabharata or some other mythologies were regulars and sometimes peppered with local stories of a greedy mother in law, or a shy, but gluttonous son-in-law, and such.

Now of course the stories I read to my son are stright from glossy books we find in upmarket book stores – Bob the builder, Mickey Mouse, Franklin the turtle, Thomas the Tank Engine, to name a few.

I was horrified last week, when he told me that Prince Ram from Raamaayaan – The Legend of  Prince Raam,  Phhawan Phuthrrr Haanuman are all American boys. (Thanks to Cartoon Network) He refused to believe they had their origins in India.

Mortified, I vowed to set it right. Maybe I’ll recount the stories of my childhood. 

That night he was all excited that I was going to tell him the story of Ramayan. I started off with King Dasaratha pining for a child and he got four sons…

But then, even the tamest of our epics is full of blood and gore…

Lakshmana cutting off Surpananka’s nose, Ravana slayiing Jatayu, Rama killing Vali with his bow & arrow and the finale, the bloody battle itself…

All the stuff which are  normally taboo for him on TV was all rolled in one story.

Mahabharatha is equally violent. 

So I tried some of the home grown stories. Each one was more violent than the other.

Here’s an example.

A mother-in-law tries to kill her daughter-in-law by asking her son to bundle her up in a sack and set fire on her… Why? Because the Daughter-in-law had eaten all of her favourite ennai kathrikka (an eggplant dish) The clever daughter-in-law escapes and replaces the sack with firewood. And when the sticks start to explode, the Mother-in-Law rubs her hands in glee that her Daughter-in-Law’s bones are breaking.

The younger woman escapes into the forests and gets on a tree for the night. She hears some dacoits dividing their loot under the same tree. She jumps on them. They run for their lives misaking her for a ghost and she happily gathers all the gold and comes back home. Her mother-in-law is shocked to see her alive. The daughter-in-law convinces her that she went to heaven and her father in law is rolling in money and gold and gave her just a bit. So the mother-in-law orders her son to set fire on her so she can join her husband and his riches in heaven. He obliges and the young couple live happily ever after…

How am I supposed to narrate this to my soon-to-be five year old?! What morals does it teach him? That killing someone for petty reason is ok? Living off stolen money is commendable? Its even worse than all the violent good Vs evil stories he watches on TV.

More importantly how did my own father and his kith and kin tell us this story when we were about the same age?

Actually speaking, it didn’t do us any damage emotionally. Both me and my brother were never aggressive as kids.

Am I over-analysing the effects of stories on young minds?

But still I hate it when my son’s favourite pastime is slaying imaginary enemies with a Ben 10 sword. Now most of his sentences are peppered wih the word ‘kill’.

Only yesterday, we had a power-cut which lasted about ten minutes (thanks to the upcoming elections!)

He was so annoyed and afterwards told me, “Amma, a bad god came and took the electricity away. Then a good god came, killed the bad god and gave me the electricity.”

Deivame!!

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33 Comments

  1. maami said,

    April 22, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Violence is so tactile, overpowering and attractive when it is in form of story, film or art. You don’t experience the actual physical torment but take vicarious pleasure/horror is knowing/seeing/sensing it superficially. Perhaps it helps children overcome their beastly desires for blood by playing out these gaming techniques, else listening to such stories with warped morals. However cartoons seem to make violence fun and without warnings or morals-cats chasing rats and pounding their head, biff-bang, manga comics that take teen violence stories to new levels etc. Bob the builder is a saint in comparison, he’s a product of responsible children’s entertainment in a politically-correct world.

    Why do adults pay ticket fare to watch a Chain-Saw Massacre gore, allow themselves to scream their lungs out in fear watching horror movies, clap when the villain goes flying in his white Ambassador car and Simbu’s fists of fury send half a dozen baddies swirling in the air?

    Violence is vulgar, but like porn has a voyeuristic element. We feed it to our children early on.

    Gimme blood Sundari, I wanna taste some for supper!

    🙂 So true… Remember N and her horror stories?!

  2. oorja said,

    April 22, 2009 at 11:22 am

    my mother is a major story teller. she has told us all of these epics and mythological ones. i loved them.

    i remember the one you have mentioned. wasn’t it chundakka she had eaten..? her MIL saying “chundakka thinna vayiru vedikka”.

    i think the moral of the story should be that if you dig a pit for others you may fall in it yourself. MIL took the help of her foolish son to kill her DIL so in the end she gets killed by the hands of the same son. so when you keep the company with fools it might turn back on you. as the son was not able to judge the evil intentions of both the women.

    these stories never had bad violent effects on us. if told properly and if the correct moral is conveyed.

    That was very well said! Thanx!! 🙂

  3. Meena said,

    April 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Echoing what you said – Deivame! Maybe we are over-analysing things, for listening to these stories did not increase our aggression. Maybe the difference is in “telling” as opposed to “seeing”. The visual is always more powerful, hence the effect of cartoons.

    Ya, that is so true…

  4. Gradwolf said,

    April 22, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Maami is right. There is a voyeuristic pleasure element. My 3 yr old cousin won’t ask a question if things are normal and a Hum Aapke Hain Kaun is playing out. But he’ll ask all kinds of questions if someone is kissing or people are killing each other. He wanted a gun! He grew up on Ganesha’s story with stories of beheading and the likes. No wonder sex and violence often appear in the same sentence.

    Haha! Kids!! 🙂

  5. globejam said,

    April 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    My mother told me the same story, brinjal, dacoits, burning, the works. But in the end it was just a story, totally disconnected from any reality. I never thought the behaviour of the people in the stories was “life-like”. Surely didn’t make me violent.
    Maybe that’s just me.

    You and violence! That just does’t gel, baby!!

  6. buddy said,

    April 22, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    were the pandavas were part of a single parent family?
    was ganga schizophrenic to throw her children in the river?
    how can a woman have five husbands?

    my niece asks. she is six.

    PS: may i suggest tinkle. no sex. no violence. pure clean fun!

    Wow! your niece is something!!! Ya, I shall try Tinkle!

  7. NRI Maami said,

    April 22, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Ayyo.. completely agree.. I tried fairy tales.. and then realized.. I would have to explain evil stepmother, or evil step sisters, or wolf eating a girl and then spitting her out.. I stopped at that point!

    🙂 I’m just going to stick to Bob the Builder from now on!

    • NRI Maami said,

      April 24, 2009 at 11:57 pm

      My husband and I have started making up our Dora the explorer stories. She is going with Boots and a fairy princess to get a green parrot that is across seven mountains and seven seas, so the big bad man will stop troubling the fairies. On the way, they saw old man, ate jack fruit from banana leaf.. boots ate the leaf too.. etc.. etc.. You get the idea? She totally loves it!

      Haha!! That’s so sweet… Sometimes I make up stories about a bad boy who troubles his mom!!! 😉

  8. Deeksh said,

    April 22, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Nice one again.. It is true that the small world that our children dream about is filled with violence. I was baffled when my son spurted out the word “theeya sakthi” after listening to cartoon network’s shows in tamil .he is 4 and I think he is too young to understand “theeya sakthi”. I make sure he listens to Enid Blyton and Aesops at bed time. (However he likes to keep his Ben10 Omnitrix with him by his pillow to have a safe night) God save us!

    Oh yeah! Don’t even get me started on omnitrix! Mine has tried 4 till now and still can’t figure out why he hasn’t transformed! 😉

  9. kusublakki said,

    April 22, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Lovely post and really nice comments also. If i remember right most of my bedtime stories were one liners with my dad repeating the same thing over and over again till I slept…was that a lack of his imagination, or my intelligence I still wonder 🙂

    What about panchatatntra and all those lazy crocodile, clever crow stories?

    Have you tried tales of Thomas the train? and Barney and me? Those are really cute too!

    I agree with Buddy…Tinkles are the best.

    :)Yes, he loves Thomas Train and Barney… Except that he now thirsts for more action!! Shall try Tinkle..

  10. maxdavinci said,

    April 23, 2009 at 1:18 am

    deeeeeeivame deeeeeeeivame, nandri solla deeivaame..
    thedineeeeen thedineeeeeeeen……..

    send him to baba bangalis boot camp!

    🙂 Sure thing! I’m sure he’ll give you a new perspective to life!

  11. Chutney said,

    April 23, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Aiyo max, stop killing tamil! Nandri solla deivamae doesnt make any sense in this context, or any context for that matter.

    I have a feeling that the epics weren’t exactly meant for 6 year olds. My grandfather used to tell me stories of hanuman because that was the only story which didn’t have multiple partners. lol

    Hahaha.. Hanuman is a strict bachelor to boot!!! 🙂

  12. maami said,

    April 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Ahem, can I add this bit?
    When Kamba Ramayanam was being read to me, we stopped at the part when Rama gives Hanuman his ring and asks him to go to Lanka and tell Sita that he’s on his way on a rescue mission.
    Hanuman asks, ‘How will I recognise Sita?’
    And then Kamban, the lord of hyperbole and similie takes over.
    Rama gives a glorious description of Sita beginning from her beautiful brow, her radiant face and so on to the part where he describes Sita ‘as she of the yoni that resembles a segment of a victorious warrior’s chariot wheel’.
    I was in second year BA, language class, and this cracked me up even then.
    I whopped and asked the teacher:”You mean he asks his friend to recognise his wife by her um, er, thingie?”
    She threw me out of the class saying I had no head or heart for poetic license!

    • padmajav said,

      April 23, 2009 at 12:47 pm

      Hahahaa… that was good!

    • Pradeep said,

      April 26, 2009 at 2:26 am

      Aah maams, the teacher should have known you were in class. 😀
      Imagine what would’ve happened it were a male Professor. He’d have probably made it a “home work” assignment. 😛

      PS: I love this reply feature.

      • maami said,

        May 19, 2009 at 7:01 am

        uff those ancient tamil poems i tell you!

    • Chutney said,

      May 5, 2009 at 12:02 am

      Hahaha! maami, you should totally send a copy of the kamba ramayanam to the ram sene! To say it in the words of the immortal GP (my engliss teacher) – Irony, irony it is.

      • maami said,

        May 19, 2009 at 7:02 am

        Haha ram sena already has a pile of ladies’ underwear too ready…

  13. April 23, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    I think Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha should solve the problem.

    Dn’t buy Champak 😐 Bad English.

    ACK is the best for mythology if you want the whole Indian culture. No one said any stories to me. My uncles sang hindi movie songs to make us sleep 😐

    • padmajav said,

      April 23, 2009 at 10:31 pm

      Ya, I think I’ll do that! Thanx! And you’re so lucky! Hindi songs are so much better than all the violent stories we heard!!

  14. Biswa said,

    April 24, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Tsk, tsk, it should be:

    When my brother and *I*

    But you are such a good writer, all is forgiven!

    Oops! Thanx! Shall correct it!

  15. Pradeep said,

    April 26, 2009 at 2:23 am

    I don’t children think so much. By time you start saying “So, the moral of the story is…” they would have stopped listening.

    My paati made sure that I had karachu kudichufied Ramayana and mahabharatha by the time I was in UKG. 🙂
    From Class I onwards, it was Jeffrey Archer/Arthur Hailey/Irwing Wallace. I think “Shall we tell the president” was the first non-Indian story she ever told me. Yeah, she told me the Archer trilogy in reverse order. 😀

    Wow!! Your Paati rocks!!!:)

  16. bombaygirl said,

    April 26, 2009 at 5:28 am

    My son wants a Ben 10 watch. And I had to ask him what a Ben 10 was. So tragic! I actually let him watch supposedly scary movies with me. My daughter will watch like I do, with her eyes behind her fingers, and my son will be glued to to tv, taking pointers on killing moves. Which he practices while the movie is going on. I’m such a bad mother. [Okay, not so bad…we’ve only watch Batman returns, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes (original campy version), Lord of the rings (pressshus…!). Stuff like that.]

    🙂 Letting him watch movies does not make you a bad mom!! Refer to Pradeeps’ comment! I let mine watch TV just to get him off my back, sometimes!!!

  17. Priti R said,

    April 26, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Ben 10 is ossum!
    Wait till he graduates to manga (japanese) and anime.Its the best ever.
    But you will hate it.
    What one does not see here (including my mother) is all these stories show good over evil.
    yayyy to all us cartoon network lovers.
    -in late teens cartoon lover 🙂

    🙂 Yeah, now he’s on to Ben 10 – Alien Force. He sometimes watches Naruto, but I don’t think he’s old enough to understand!

  18. Asmitha said,

    April 29, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    See..

    we were all not told stories with violence in it. We really did not see.

    Lord Shiva tales.. legends behind Pradosham.. Good over evil types..

    It all just depends on the way you see the world and narrate thing, than blatantly blaming all our legends have violence in it! Pooh.. what a rude statement that wat.. absolutely ridiculous!!

    See the lighter side.. we have rich legends, mythologies, sacred tales to pass on.

    • Shanti said,

      April 30, 2009 at 5:39 pm

      Well, everybody has different take on things and lets respect others opinion too..

  19. Lakshmi said,

    May 8, 2009 at 9:10 am

    We have to discuss and sign off Sexual abuse yearly with my 10 yr old. just got done reading it, skipping parts and reading very unintelligibly fast. finally ended with telling him to come to me for questions, for which he said, Amma, I know more than you from watching TV. So you can come to me if you have questions, ok?

    hahahaha… that was so hilarious!! but it does give me an inkling of what I can expect with mine 5 years down the line! 😀

  20. musings said,

    July 21, 2009 at 5:30 am

    Hi there:

    this is the first time I’m responding to any blog, but since no one seems to have suggested this, try tulika books – a chennai based publishing house for children. They have bilingual books in all languages with english as well as vernaculars by themselves. Most of their books are very well written and beautifully illustrated and are everyday experiences for most people in India. Hope this helps.

  21. musings said,

    July 21, 2009 at 5:32 am

    sorry, just a follow-up to my previous comment – there is no violence in these books, of course, and their website gives you all the info – i think it is tulikabooks.org or tulikabooks.com – google them.

    hi! ya, we got most of tulika’s book! they’re awesome! sleeping shanmugam, color colour kamini & mallippoo sundari! i enjoyed them more than my son!!;)

  22. Harish Ramaswamy said,

    September 29, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    LMAO! This one is extremely funny! You never know what sort of an impact violent stories will have on children.. try amar chitra katha! those are brilliant and some stories have no violence at all!

    I remember my first amar chitra katha so well! Gopal and the cowherd! try those. stories of virtuous kings and all that jazz!

    Thanx! I shd start Amar Chitra Katha, but not till he starts reading by himself… I’m too lazy to read such a long story! 🙂

  23. Leia said,

    April 2, 2010 at 1:29 am

    Dear Friends, Happy April Fool’s Day!!!

    The patient shook his doctor’s hand in gratitude and said, “Since we are the best of friends, I would not insult you by offering payment. But I would like you to know that I have mentioned you in my will.”
    “That is very kind of you,” said the doctor emotionally, and then added, “Can I see that prescription I just gave you? I’d like to make a little change…”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

  24. JLT said,

    April 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Why don’t you try Amar Chitra Katha? They’re long, yes- me and my son have a pact- if its a long story, we take it in instalments- part 2 or 3 will be the next night.

    Ya, he’s graduated to amar chitra katha now. thanx to cartoon network televising them! 🙂

  25. Madhumathi said,

    February 15, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    I am just reading your blog with the same feelings as yours when my 2.5 year old kid is asking me to narrate stories..I was just thinking about this story that my grandma used to tell me when I was a kid. I slept listening to these stories and “ennai kathrikai” used to be my favourite. But now I am still thinking how would I tell this to my kid. How did my grandma narrate this to me..it had no impact on me then, but now how would my son take it??

    so true, isn’t it? mine is now 12 and watches real gory action stuff! after all that!


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