Childhood stories are amazing, especially when grandmothers narrate them. Let me take you back in time to my childhood, which means stepping into a rambling old house that belonged to my grandparents. As you entered the house through the main door, there was a Brindavana (the place where the Tulsi plant is worshipped) on one side with trees like the parijata, gooseberry and pomegranate around it. On the other side was a shed, a stone bench and a staircase that usually served as the place where all of us cousins sat around, chitchatted, played games, and wolfed down sweets and snacks of different kinds.
We had some great times together during our vacations, but occasionally got bored too. And this is when Grandma came into the picture, to do the thing most grandmothers do so well – tell stories! ‘Kolaba’ was one of her favourites. She would vividly describe the village where the old lady Sonabai used to stay and how she made a living out of the red, juicy berries she grew. When she narrated the part where Sonabai made the berries into a gooey, chewy, spicy-sweet halwa, we would be drooling! The story would then move to how greedy Kolaba came and ate up all the berries, leaving none for the old lady. My favourite part was the clever plan Sonabai came up with to punish Kolaba. I would wait eagerly for that description by Grandma and when she said, “ye re ye re kolaba borre pikalika…”, I would grin from ear to ear. By this time, even our mothers who had joined in to listen to the story, would be giggling, seeing their children laughing to their hearts’ content.
Grandma must have told us this story over a thousand times across hundreds of holidays, through hot summer afternoons, dark power cuts, hungry dinnertimes and sleepy bedtimes.
But time doesn’t stand still, and before we knew it, we were all grown up and busy with our lives. During this time, we lost our beloved Grandma too. And with her went a favourite childhood story among many other things.
Fortunately, though, life is never short of stories. Some months ago, I got to know Funky Rainbow: The Travelling Children’s Bookshop and their amazing collection of Indian children’s books. On one visit, as I browsing through their books, something caught my eye. A slim green book with the words ‘Kolaba’ on the cover! My heart skipped a beat. Was it what I thought it was? With a gleam in my eye, I quickly turned the pages. Oh, what joy! It was indeed the very same story Grandma used to tell us. The same Sonabai, the same gooey-sticky halwa, the same Kolaba and the same “ye re ye re kolaba, borre pikalika, teri pikalika? Are the berries ripe or is your bottom?” My childhood was right in front of me!
Wasting no time, and with my precious book in hand, I headed home like a five-year-old with a bag of goodies from a candy shop. (And believe me, Funky Rainbow is really a candy shop for children’s book lovers.) The first thing I did was to lock myself up in my room and read every page of ‘Kolaba’ – slowly, lingeringly, nostalgically, enjoyably… To me, it wasn’t just a story; it was all those cherished childhood memories coming alive through the pages of a book.
I congratulate Sandhya Rao for writing this remarkable story and Ranjan De for the beautiful papercut illustrations. I have, of course, read many more stories by Sandhya Rao now and hope she continues to weave her magic forever. Thank you, Funky Rainbow, for giving the story of my life back to me!
Contributor: Shruthi Sriraghunath