Savi Paaty Series : The Squirrel & its Three Stripes

Tribute to Storytelling

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 a bright and sunny morning in April; the three siblings had made plans to go swimming later in the day. Apoo was the first of the three to wake up; she came and sat on the திண்ணை (stone bench in the porch) with a glass of Boost in her hand, watching some squirrels chase up and down the neem tree. She was still groggy and waking up, while the squirrels were briskly and busily playing run and catch! Savi Paaty was sitting on the easy-chair, her morning spot, with a ஜெபமாலை (prayer beads), busily chanting away “Asaadhya Saadhagam”, a sloka of her beloved monkey-god – Hanuman. She sometimes participated in the children’s conversation and then went back to chanting. Paaty had already clocked around 400 chants since she was up from 4 in the morning. Right now, she was waiting for her second dose of filter coffee.

Apoo was just finishing up her glass of Boost and using her fingers to lick away the last of the chocolate paste, when Abi and Janu entered the porch. Abi came running down and joined Apoo on the திண்ணை, while Janu who was rubbing her eyes and yawning, sat on Paaty’s lap. Apoo quickly updated Abi on the squirrels and now, they were chatting away. 

Apoo said, “Look at these squirrels Abi! Look how fast they are running on the tree.” Abi ran up to the neem tree to inspect the squirrels closely. He wanted to tell Apoo that even he can run as fast as the squirrels, in fact faster! As he was craning his neck to get a closer view, he saw a squirrel jump up to a higher branch. Abi was now ready to climb the tree, when Paaty suddenly said, “Do you know why squirrels have 3 white stripes on their body?” Janu, who was until now slouching on Paaty’s lap, sat up straight and turned towards Paaty. Abi came running back to the திண்ணை and Apoo wiped the sticky Boost paste on her dress – washing hands had to wait! The children became attentive. They knew their beloved Savi Paaty always had lovely stories up her sleeve. 

Paaty, with her expressive eyes and hand gestures, began, “Long, long ago, there lived a brave and beautiful princess called Sita. She was married to Prince Rama of Ayodhya. Once, when they were in the forest, Ravana of Lanka came in his pushpaka vimana, and took Sita away to Lanka.” Apoo and Janu gasped. It was Abi who broke the silence by asking, “pushkapa vimam?” Paaty immediately said “It’s push-pa-ka vi-maa-nam, Abi – Ravana’s mighty aeroplane” and continued “Rama and his brother Lakshmana were distraught and sought the help of the vanara senai.” Apoo, now asked, “Paaty, what is vanara senai?” and Paaty clarified that they are an army of monkeys and bears. She said “Rama and Lakshmana needed a lot of help to reach Lanka because they needed a bridge to get across the sea.” 

Abi was puzzled, confused even! He wanted to know how monkeys and bears can build bridges. He said, “Paaty, but monkeys and bears cannot build bridges, only big people can!” Apoo, promptly said, “Abi, you keep quiet, this is just a story!” Paaty went on, “… So the monkeys and bears were lifting heavy stones and carrying them to the water. It was difficult, manual labour that required a lot of strength. Suddenly, they noticed a small squirrel on the side. It was carrying small pebbles with a lot of effort and dropping them in the water. This little squirrel went about its work in full earnest. The monkeys and bears found this very amusing and started mocking the squirrel.” The silence was palpable in the air, with the three children listening to Paaty with rapt attention.

Paaty continued the story, “… One bear went straight to the squirrel and said, “Ai Anile (squirrel in Tamil), you think you can build a mighty bridge for Rama with these tiny pebbles? Look how small and tiny you and your pebbles are! You need to be big and strong like us. Your tiny pebbles will drown in the water. Now clear this place up and go from here!!” She said, “The little squirrel was upset and hurt by the bear’s statement. It really wanted to help Rama find Sita. Rama, on hearing this, went and lifted the squirrel up and ran his finger on the body of the squirrel to acknowledge its contribution.” Paaty showed her three fingers and drew the stripes in the air to describe to the children Rama’s action. “The little squirrel proudly wore its honour of stripes and went back to collecting more pebbles.” Paaty concluded her story by telling her grandchildren that we must never mock at people, however small their contribution. She said, “Like Rama, we must be humble and acknowledge everyone for their effort and good intentions.” 

As she was finishing, her second dose of coffee came right up and Paaty said, “Now, you three go in and help Amma. Apoo, you can peel the carrots, Abi you can help set the table” and she looked at Janu and said “You must eat on your own today without Amma having to feed you and then see how your work is acknowledged.” Saying thus, Paaty went back to her ஜெபமாலை and filter coffee. 

The three children stood up and went inside – they had their contributions to make!