Sunday, 5 February 2012

Tales of a Bedtime-Story...



Sometimes, the only way forward, is to look back.....



One cold night last week, an hour or so before I left for work, I got busy with the kids' bedtime routine, in a well intentioned, slip-them-into-it-slowly ritual of a bath, warm glass of milk, and the promise of a much-loved story in bed. When I took them both upstairs, I had been meaning to tuck them into bed and talking to them about WHY it is important that they stay there and try and get to sleep...
After weeks of argumentative arm-twisting (I mean that figuratively, of course!), pleading, bargaining, etc, I started talking to them before reading them their much loved book of stories....

For a very long time, I've read a bedtime story to my daughters every night that I'm at home which presented me with some peculiar difficulties-
First, there was the question of the choice of story- a subject, book or title, on which both of them were always at odds. Most of the time, We'd take turns from day to day, but the discussion preceding the selection was always fraught; something I endeavored to avoid. I believe strong emotions like anger, discord and bickering cause are best avoided so close to bedtime.
Then there was the whole situation- I couldn't possibly read without decent lighting, and that made it harder for them to drift off to La-La Land as I read to them...!
Third, the story would end, the lights would be dimmed, and after a few cuddles and kisses, I would slip out of their room, still wondering if they would be able to drift off to sleep...

Thinking about all these, I got ready to read to my kids, waiting for a moment of 'inspiration' when none came...so I turned to them, book in hand. As I suspected, their eager, beautiful, bright-eyed little faces took my firm "I'm-SO-in-charge-right-now' words away... my mind blank, wordless and still.
"...Shall I tell you what my Ba used to do when we were kids??" I asked them tentatively.
They nodded, smiling, and I could see why- they were probably trying to imagine me as a kid, I guess!!
I told them how all  of  us slept with our Ba, (Grandmother) and listened to her saying a prayer for all of us at bedtime, I smiled as I remembered days when she patted my face lovingly, as I cried myself to sleep, or, as I recollected with a laugh, nights when she 'floated' in, frown at all of us cousins, telling us off for giggling and talking, huddled on the living room floor, 'camping style' on rare but monumental, memorable occasions in the holiday calendar!

As we always slept together, my memories of sleep-time all go hand-in-hand with her voice, her caress on my face and her big, safe hug..I can still smell her clean cotton saree, and hear her voice as she'd say a prayer-

"ઓમ નમઃ શિવાય, ઓમ નમઃ શિવાય..." (as she got ready to sleep), followed by the beautifully simple Gujarati prayer that both my parents remember from their own childhood days..

ઓ ઈશ્વર, ભજીએ તને, મોટું છે તુજ્હ નામ,
ગુણ તારા નિત ગાઇએ,
થાય અમારા કામ. 
હેત લાવી હસાવતું, 
સદા રાખ દિલ સાફ,
..ને ભૂલ કદી કરીએ અમે 
તો, પ્રભુ, કરજો માફ..."

(O Lord, we pray to you; your name is, itself, so vast and your glory so blissful...that our tasks always get done as we dwell on you always...
Lord, make us loving and kind and keep our hearts pure,
and, if we make mistakes, O merciful One, then do forgive us...)

"..After this prayer, our eyes closed, holding our hands together, she'd try to bustle us off to sleep saying, 
"ચાલો, જોઉં, કૌન મોર સુઈ જાય..!!"...Only, we, sometimes clamoured for a story, as children often do! .....coming back to the present, I tried to think of HOW to tell the two eager little children who were smiling up at me, eyes and hearts hungry for affection, that I was getting late, and that they should stay in bed even if they didn't 'feel' sleepy...

So I said the prayer Ba taught us as kids, invoking that timeless love she always showered on us. Somewhat tentatively, in hushed, sweet voices and endearing 'brit' accents, my children joined in. After one try, their confidence growing, I explained the meaning to them in, yes, English...I told them about her love, her stories, her warm hug as she patted us to sleep..."She told us stories, and what glorious stories they were...!" I said. Stories of all the Gods we pray to, (stories she would tell with her soothing voice carrying over the steady, rhythmic revolutions of the fan above.).

Stories of how Vasudeva put little baby Krishna, eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva, in a basket one stormy night, and carried him across the swollen River Yamuna, (to the village of Vrindavan, where the headman, Nand lala and his wife Yashoda had just had a baby girl) as instructed by Bhavishya Vaani (The voice of that which is destined to occur), so that he may live and fulfill his destiny of slaying the demonic uncle Kans." Of how Krishna ate mud, stole Butter, broke the मटकी (earthen pots) of the village gopis, and strung up their clothes as they bathed in the river, on the higher branches of the tree as they pleaded with him to give them back!! How the sound of his flute, or बंसी mesmerized them, and they followed him, entranced, and paid no heed to anything else, as he played his divine melodies". "....these are the stories my Ba told me." I said to my daughters, as they looked at me, smiling. "will you tell us one of those stories too, then?!" .."Of course I will!" I replied, caressing their small foreheads with each hand, "..but for that, you must go to sleep after today's story, okay?".."OK!" they chorused!
"...so , Do you want to hear the story of the singing bird and the princesses?" I began...

A half hour later, with their peaceful faces expressionless in their sleep, I tiptoed out of the room, and down the stairs, thinking that this was the best night ever!! It was only eight, and I had achieved the unimaginable!! Job Done!





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