Savi Paaty Series is a tribute to oral stories. I have created this in memory of my beloved grandmother – Savi Paaty. Each story in the series is a story within a story. Although oral stories are becoming a lost art, it is time we revive and bring them back to life, into our homes and schools, back into our children’s lives.
Here is a story of Apoo, Abi and Janu – three siblings who live in Coimbatore, India and love listening to Savi Paaty’s stories. Savitri Paaty, whom the children fondly call Savi Paaty, always parted her hair in the centre, wore bright silk sarees and used the pallu of the sarees to repeatedly polish her already sparkling diamond nose-pin. Apoo, the eldest of the three siblings at 8 years, loves playing basketball, spends most of her time out in the open, climbing trees, and sporting new scars on her knees every day. Abi, at 7 years is Apoo’s closest confidant. He loves his cars and precious mechanic set. He never fails to bring the set out, screw, un-screw and explore the parts of his dashing wheels collection. Janu, the youngest at 5 years, tries hard to join in with her siblings in climbing trees and fixing cars, but secretly loves playing with her kitchen set and making ‘green-medicine’ with the fallen leaves on the porch.
It was late July, the monsoon had been pouring in Coimbatore and the trees and grass in the city were sparkling with a coat of fresh leafy green. With the heavy rains, as people in Coimbatore had grown to expect, came the flu season and both Apoo and Abi had caught the flu one after the other. They were recovering from a combination of cold, cough and a fever and were advised complete rest by their doctor. Little Janu had been upset that the flu had left her out of the pack, since, it seemed to her, the duo were having much too fun in their resting room with no school or homework to be bothered with, while she had multiplication homework and a test to tackle by Monday. Janu watched longingly as Amma carried bowls of warm soup and bread in the evening and warm, mashed rasam rice with ghee late in the morning and went back to her looming math homework with dread.
Suddenly, to Janu’s delight, an idea flashed in her head! She realised that with her siblings unwell, she could try her hand at some of the new toys that she had been eyeing for months. The dreadful day turned into a field day. Janu threw herself at all the new toys, like a child in a candy shop. One moment she was wheeling away Abi’s scooter round and round the living room, whiffing past Savi Paaty whom she thought would notice her zip. The next moment, she set the scooter aside and ran to fetch Apoo’s brand new badminton racket and was waving it in the air trying to strike the cork. Janu paused and looked at Paaty in delight but noticed that, oddly, her Paaty hadn’t noticed and was rather busily chanting prayers with the ஜெபமாலை (prayer beads) twirling at a rapid pace. She then went on to try her hand at the other forbidden items belonging to her siblings – a handful of puffed rice in Abi’s blue spiderman bowl and lastly Apoo’s orange and purple sunglasses. It was then that she noticed two crows cawing loudly from the balcony. Janu was familiar with the crows, they were usual visitors in their house and came promptly every morning for their feed. As a routine, Amma would keep hot rice and dal in the yard for the crows every day and just as expected, they were on time. If Amma was delayed, as she was today with her two kids still recovering, they would caw loudly and remind her that they were hungry too.
The pair of cawing crows drew Janu’s attention and she ran to the balcony to watch them. She stood behind the glass door to the outdoors and saw one of the crows cawing with eyes focussed on her. The other was hopping up and down on the railing of the balcony and joining in the hunger call. Janu wondered to herself what the crows were cawing about when Amma came with a plate of hot rice and dal and opened the door to the balcony. The pair of birds flew from the balcony and perched themselves on the guava tree and watched patiently. The moment the door was shut, Janu saw the birds fly back to the meal and peck at it instantly. The whole unfolding of activities delighted her and she ran to Paaty and declared, “Paaty, paaty, when I become a big girl, I will also feed the crows like Amma.” The statement seemed to finally put a smile on her grandmother’s face and she stroked her granddaughter’s messy hair and said, “Do you know why we feed the crows every morning?” Janu was elated and wanted to hear more. She called out to Apoo and Abi from her grandmother’s lap and out came the pair of them, excited to hear a story to brighten up their otherwise sombre weekend.
Paaty began, “Every morning, Amma feeds the birds rice and dal before feeding even you children because there is a belief that our kollu thatha and paaty (great grandparents in Tamil) come in the form of the crows to eat and bless us.” Abi giggled and looked at the birds polish off the last of the dal and rice and asked Paaty, “Oh Paaty, does that mean Ramu thatha is now a crow and has come to eat parupu sadham? (dal rice)” Apoo and Janu looked instantly at their grandmother to see her response when Paaty smiled and continued, “While this is the belief, Paaty has her own views on why we feed these birds.” The children shared a proud moment when they realised their Paaty had her own take on such big matters. Paaty continued, ” Our pithrus (ancestors) wanted to teach us to be compassionate towards all living beings and our mother earth. So, as a simple daily practice, we draw kolam (rangoli with rice flour done traditionally in most South Indian homes) in the mornings to feed the tiny ants, we grow tulasi with care and water it every day to value and respect plants.” Paaty went on as the children listened in rapt attention, “Have you seen when we visit Gobi (Gobichettipalayam is a small town about 80 kilometres from Coimbatore) ,we always feed the cows every morning and Amma pours milk into the snake nest to feed even the snakes which we all fear?” The children nodded and Paaty said, “All of this is to embrace these living beings and not hurt them. Through these simple daily practices, our pithrus wanted to tell us to live harmoniously with all beings.” She concluded, “That is also why we feed the crows every morning.”
The children were moved by the story and wanted to start pitching in instantly. Janu ran up to her Amma and said, “Amma, can I feed the crows from tomorrow?” while Apoo and Abi decided they would learn to draw kolams from Amma. Having made their decisions, Apoo and Abi started discussing what they would draw for the ants while Savi Paaty went back to chanting prayers for her two grandchildren to recover from the flu.