A book & a story for the kids


S Balakrishnan
The book - A picture storybook that enchanted me as a kid continues to mesmerize the third generations and would continue to hypnotize many generations to come. That is a Russian picture storybook for tiny tots. Conceived by Russian artist Nikolai Radlov, it was originally in Russian language. What I got as a kid in the 1960s was its English version; actually, the language does not matter at all.  One could just see the pictures and easily understand the stories. The characters were mostly birds and animals with humans popping up here and there. While most were funny stories, some had a tinge of moral teaching also. I loved it so much that the first book I presented to both my children was this very book. By then the Tamil version had also come but, as I said, language does not matter. When we bought the book for our daughter in 1995, it cost ten rupees. Now, some 30 years later, it is priced 150 rupees. Yet, it is still worth the money. Both our children would sit mesmerized turning the pages of this book that we would peacefully do the household chores. It was their bedtime story book also. Such a lovely book that it became our standard first birthday gift to children.  It is published by Raduga (‘Rainbow’ in Russian language?) Publishers of Moscow and was also printed there in the past. Nowadays, however, it is printed in India itself and continues to be sold by New Century Book House. The 48-page book is available online also. I enjoy flipping over the pages of this book even now. It is so relaxing.  This led our children also to become book lovers that we fought with each other to read first the Harry Potter series as they came out one by one. Well, that was entirely another world … Potter’s magic world so well crafted by Ms. J.K. Rowling!
The story – This is a ‘nutty’ folk story from the far-off beautiful Nicobar Islands about how the coconut came to be.  By the way, don’t you think the coconut resembles the human head? Then read on - Long, long ago, there lived a Nicobari man practicing black magic, so to say, a sorcerer. He used his magic powers to frighten and keep the innocent people under his control. When it became too much to bear, the islanders decided to finish him off.  They cut off his head and threw it deep into the thick jungle and started living peacefully. As years rolled by, one day when some men were hunting the wild boar it led them into the deep jungle; there, what they saw shocked them. A new tree, so tall and slender, had grown at the exact spot where the head of the magician was thrown away. It swung its head wildly in the air and its fruits looked like that of the magician’s head! They were so scared that nobody had the guts to enter the deep jungle. But how long could this last? They had to go to the jungle for their needs like timber, fruits, etc. But nobody went near the tree or touched its fruits that had fallen down. A curious Nicobari lad, however, once secretly broke a nut of that magic tree. What he found inside was only white kernel and water, and nothing scary or black magic. But he was cautious and did not taste them. This secret about the fruit slowly spread among the islanders, yet nobody touched the fallen nuts. Helped by the abundant rains the nuts, in turn, sprouted, grew and formed a grove. But there came a time when the rains failed and there was scarcity for drinking water. Still the islanders did not touch the nuts of this frighteningly tall and lanky tree. Among them there was an old man who was very sick and who could die any moment. He was begging for water but the only water available was the salty sea water. Then someone suggested giving the old man the water of the new tree that had grown out of the magician’s head. Well, the old man was anyhow about to die any moment; at least they will come to know something about the fruit. He also agreed to this idea because he desperately wanted some water to quench his thirst. Well, he did drink that water but did not die. Rather, he got up and demanded more of that fruit’s tasty water. After a few days of drinking this water he was completely cured and got well. The islanders could not believe their eyes. They all ran into the jungle to collect the fruits of this ‘magic’ tree and taste its water and its kernel. From then on the coconut tree occupies an important role in the life of the Nicobarese. Perhaps the sorcerer repented while dying and used his powers to give this magic tree to his people. No wonder the coconut resembles his head!
We all know that Nov. 14 is observed in India as Children’s Day, being the birth anniversary of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, because he loved children very much. While in Hindi he is called ‘chacha’ Nehru (paternal uncle), in Tamil he is affectionately called Nehru ‘Mama’ (maternal uncle). The latter nickname is more appropriate, I believe. I remember the day when he died on May 27 1964. I was in my maternal grandparents’ village enjoying the summer vacation after my 3rd standard final exams. As the news of Nehru mama’s death trickled in, my cousins and I took out a march on the dusty street waving flags (sisters’ ribbons tied to coconut sticks). So sad!  
The writer can be reached at [email protected] / 9840917608 Whatsapp