I love my city library. The other day I was browsing the returned books (I always like to look there since I find the best books all in one place) and I came across ‘The broken tusk. Stories of the hindu god Ganesha’. Now, I had heard about Uma K’s children’s books for a long time but my son is not quite old enough for most of the books so i hadn’t actively gone out searching for them. And now suddenly, there it was just landing on my lap!

I spent the evening reading the book, and it was just as delightful as I expected it to be. The only slight problem was that there were not too many illustrations in the books, so the question was whether it could completely capture the attention of the 3-year-old.

Now G and I have this bed time routine, where we read a few books and then he asks for 1 more story after the lights go off. Now these stories are usually the ones which are completely made up. It may have something to do with what he did that day. He will say something like ‘Mama, tell me the story of G goes to the toy shop and finds a monster’ or something else that has taken his fancy on that particular day.

And sometimes he will say ‘Tell me the story of Krishna and Kalia’. As I have begun telling stories to G, I have quickly realized how the so many versions of our Hindu mythology stories have come to be. I have to tell the story to keep his attention, but I also have to tell the story so it’s not the same boring story to me everyday. And no 2 stories of Krishna and Kalia are ever alike, because G is who he is and when he wants something in the story, he wants it and when he doesn’t he doesn’t. Usually I oblige.

A few days back for the first time ever I read him the story of the snow-white and the seven dwarfs and he was just fascinated by the story and he wanted to hear it over and over and over again. He spent a long time just looking at the picture of the queen (whom he called a witch) and saying ‘She’s a bad witch. I don’t like Bad witches, I like good witches’. And then turning back to the pages of the evil queen aka witch over and over again. It was like he didn’t care for snow-white or the dwarfs (how boring and predictable) but the queen with her magic mirror and the apple with the poison in it were just delightful. As an aside what is it about kids and loving all the killing and gore and death. As i am still reading stories to my son, I usually try to avoid the parts of death and killing. But he already corrects me – no mama you forgot that part of the story – if I glossed over the part of the queen or the witch hurtling down the abyss and getting killed. I would say that she was gone, and he would say ‘No mama, she is dead! (all this analysis from just the pictures alone!!)

Anyways, this particular night, he was clutching the ‘Snow white’ in one arm and determined that I was going to read it to him for the nth successive time that day. He was poring over the pictures of the queen in her ‘hag’ costume as if his life depended on memorizing every single detail of that part of the story.

And I was equally determined that this night would not be the night of snow-white or the night of krishna or kalia (our usual standby) but would be the night of Ganesha. But which story could I start with? Well the story of how ganesha was born was a good one, but how could i delicately tell him the part of shiva chopping off his head. Well, inspiration struck me and I figured that since he is always playing with his lego people (‘lego men’ he calls them) and replacing their heads with other heads and bodies with other bodies that I may be able to get a pass on this one. Moreover, it was me who dreaded the gory bits of these stories, it didn’t seem to bother him.

What I love about Uma’s stories are that she does a wonderful job of presenting them in a way that violence is never the overarching theme. (as is the case with many of our mythologies). So that night I told him the story of how Ganesha came to be, how he guarded the bathroom, how shiva chopped of his head, and how he replaced the head of the boy with the head of an elephant and that was how he got the name ‘Ganesha’. He listened to the story with rapt attention and at the end pronounced. ‘Mama, you are a good story teller’. High praise indeed from a 3-year-old but for this I have Uma’s Broken tusk to thank, for it gave me the inspiration to present the story to him in a way that was as much fun for me as for him.

With this success, I slowly ventured over the next several nights to read other stories from the book. I just read them to him – at the dining table and the sofa – with hardly any editing at all, and most of the stories in the book seemed to capture his attention and engage him even without too many pictures to go along with it. Some stories were a little too long for him like ‘Kubera’s pride’ but most of the stories were just the right length. I changed the titles of the stories so it would be easy to remember (for him and me). Ganesha going around the world to win a prize became the story of Ganesha and the mango. Ganesha and the dance was such a fun little story. ‘Is that how monkeys dance mama?’ he said wide-eyed when we read the tham-thakatika-tham. Sound effects in stories and non-sensical words are so popular at this age.

A great book to have in your library and have your kids grow up with.

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