The dragon listened attentively and the little boy began the story.
You know what it is is like in India! You only have to announce a solitary quest, for the whole village to go along.
The Maths Teacher found his quest after a long conversation with Thatha. Thatha always had a quest, he never had to ask anyone about it. The villagers did not really care about the quest itself one way or the other. They liked to go along, whenever something was going on!
First Ravi wanted to go. Then Veer and Siddhu wore their parents out till they agreed. Then Ravi’s mother wore Appa out till he agreed to let her go., to look after the children. The children begged Thatha to go along with them. Then Veer’s Ajji insisted on going along. She was a tough, wiry old lady, with strong views on the rights and capabilities of grandmothers. They were in no way less than grandfathers. If a Thatha could go., an Ajji could go too.
Maths Teacher was terrified. All these elderly ladies and gentlemen and young children!. And he a skinny young man! How was this going to work out? He went to meet Appa in the evening. He simply begged him to come. “I need some adult male help and I dare not say this in front of the ladies. They will tell me how strong and capable they are. I have no doubt about that but I would appreciate your help!”. Appa laughed! He knew amma and ajji. Especially Ajji. Full of enthusiasm and energy and always keen to try new things and go to new places. She took part in all village functions giving a helping hand and directions. She claimed that she was already a hundred years old. She was delighted when people bowed to her and took her blessings. She knew what a valuable person she was and how much everyone liked her. And she was a great story teller in her own right! The children of the village were very lucky. However, she was made of pure steel and nobody would ever dream of crossing her.
Well Doddappa and Chikkappa could always look after the farm and village work, so Appa agreed to go and help the Maths teacher. Also it was quite inconceivable to say no, when someone needed your help. Particularly to look after your own family and kinsmen… So it was arranged that Thatha, Maths Teacher, Ravi, Veer, Siddhu, Ajji, Amma and Appa, not to speak of few interested others who were bound to turn up on the starting day should all leave on the Maths Teacher’s solitary quest!
The little band set off on an auspicious day chosen by Ajji. There was no dearth of bundles of things to eat and drink. Appa had a conversation with Thatha a few days before that. Thatha threw open a bunch of books all over his mat. He had a general idea of where the field of magical shy plants might be. He knew tons of stories and lots of couplets and quotes. The Maths teacher listened respectfully as Thatha and Appa argued about the best way to get there with a band of small children and women.
“Thatha! It is one thing to go on a quest all by yourself as you did when you found your magic grain. It is quite another thing, with kids and grandmothers about. Boys are always hungry. Women get tired a liitle sooner than men and they won’t admit it. They insist on clean places to eat and sleep. They will want to wash your clothes and theirs at the first opportunity. They will insist on wearing at least a little bit of jewellry. We have to take safe routes, through villages, near rivers and lakes. We may have to get at least one bullock cart along. Sometimes women and children need to rest. Then the bullocks will need rest too sometimes.”
Thatha started laughing. “And are you going to bring cows, goats, firewood, cooking pots, groceries and tents too? Do you plan to get there anytime in this life time?” Appa looked at him seriously. “That is a brilliant idea Thatha! We shall travel like the gypsies do, with all that and more! We can’t expect strangers to feed such a large group. It would not be fair.” Thatha gave up. “Well you are in charge! What do unmarried folks like me and the Maths Teacher know about women and children. Arrange at will!”
And so it was. With Thatha’s wisdom and Appa’s organization, the little caravan band set off. The Maths Teacher was relieved to have the trip so well organized. The children were happy. They brought along their tops and balls and wheels and marbles too.
The sky looked wonderful that day! Some of the caravan band only meant to travel till the next village and back. Most of them had no idea what the Quest was for, or even what a quest was! But they knew what fun was and they were not planning to miss any at any cost.
The dragon listened attentively to the whole story. “But where do you and I come in?” Draganna asked.”I am coming to it” Ravi said. Draganna was happy. It liked to be in stories. Draganna liked Ravi a lot. He had exactly the right kind of manners to please dragons, dragonflies, big baroodas, dumtwits, dimwits and every other kind of creature including butterdragins.
Well, the happy caravan set off on its way. People dropped off and joined in as the caravan passed through the villages. The villagers were happy to give the caravanners a bit of food and water to drink and helped them wash the animals. They had messages and parcels to be delivered to the folks of the villages ahead in the routes and were glad to hear the story of Thatha and his Magic Grain. They had questions to ask Ajji about marriage proposals and children’s ailments, cures for stomach aches and recipies. They discussed crops and weather with appa.
The Maths Teacher stuck close to Thatha and learned as much as he could about the field full of shy magical plants and the proper way to behave in their presence. You must never so much as pluck a leaf from any plant without asking it permission first, preferably in Sanskrit, because said Thatha, everyone knows that Sanskrit is the language that links nature to humans. Even the sun and moon can understand sanskrit – to say nothing of the rain, wind and waves of the sea. If you say the right Sanskrit words – pebbles or mountains will do whatever you ask of them! So the maths teacher learned some magical sanskrit words and sounds from Thatha every day. Ravi, Veer and Siddhu, would stop playing and hang around attentively whenever Thatha taught the maths teacher anything.
Later they practiced all the words and sounds and made sure they got them right! At night Amma or Thatha would sing and all the caravanners would listen happily looking at the stars as they fell asleep. Sometimes, the children from the villages would also come and sleep in the caravan and listen to the lovely songs as they slept.
As they came closer to the mountains, the caravan started becoming smaller. Finally, only the people who were serious about the Quest wanted to go forward. Thatha and the Maths Teacher, Ravi, Veer and Siddhu, Appa and Amma, Ajji and one bullock cart full of stuff. Ajji took to riding in the bullock cart a lot more, because she was getting tired. And by the time they came to a mountain people village, amma and appa knew, that it would be better of Ajji did not travel anymore. “I think I’ll stay back here and look after Ajji” said Amma. “You folks can go forward.” Appa and Maths teacher had a talk and decided that Appa should stay back with Amma and Ajji to care for them. It would also be hard to take the bullock cart forward.
Amma spoke to Ajji. “Ajji, I really would like to learn the music and recipies of the people of this village. I would be very happy if you and Appa stayed here with me. I need some company too. Would you mind staying back with me?” Ajji never, ever said no to anyone who needed her help. So she said, “Sure, I will!” and that was decided.
So now there was Thatha, Maths Teacher, Ravi, Veer and Siddhu, with little bundles on their backs, taking only exactly what they needed, setting of on the final and most important part of the quest.
Authorship and Copyright Notice : All Rights Reserved : Satya Sarada Kandula