Telling Tales Author(s): A. K. Ramanujan Source: Daedalus, Vol. 118, No. 4, Another India (Fall, 1989), pp.

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and from those of my fellow folklorists. Indeed. Con the unconscious surfaces. K. another India. As are a central concern voices of this Dcedalus issue. mostly A. but the Indian psyche is first swathed in the mother languages' secret folds.Telling Tales A A. Ramanujan and Civilizations isWilliam E. and 239 . and cooks grandmothers. So I hope you will hear two voices?mine and enclosed in it the voices of domestic tellers of tales. made over the last two decades in Karnataka and Tamilnadu. K. are really gods and who to labor as servants. many of the tales I shall relate here are samples from my collections. I have done what may be called hear them now. Since my childhood. Department of South Asian Languages on Social Thought at the University the Committee of Chicago. I've to chosen voices?in tales heard from our speak of certain childhood in the kitchen?and I about how aunts. the official and universal English?are imposed later in childhood. It lives in tales of passion and ven trouble. from Tamil to Kannada. behind the prim exte households rior. fieldwork other people's and other domestic among grandmothers Indian tellers of tales in Kannada villages and towns. Calvin Professor. told to children by their grandmothers and servants languages heroes are as the dusk descends. Ramanujan rr n E in the most urbane and Westernized Indian there exists. The disciplines of the father tongues?the classi cal Sanskrit. beggars Related in the stories turn the diurnal hierarchy on its head: their princesses sciousness forced gives way.

when Iwas in my twenties about them. oral tales are only a grand large cities like Bombay a a no further cousin train ride mother away. We will bracket that anxiety for now. The houses. I have written about them elsewhere and my space here is some sorts of I shall therefore present tales and suggest what represent to someone like me who. limited. I hear that the nets of television will soon cover 90 percent of the Indian population: I don't know if that will kill the folk narratives or adapt them or help disseminate them further. is blessed and handicapped by at least three language traditions?Sanskrit. Associated with relaxed loving were and influences formative sleep and food. or a cook. TALES The IN CHILDHOOD we read in our early years were Grimm's and fairy tales we as to soon knew how read in among it). away. a mother tongue. English called The Book in a many-volume other of encyclopedia things our father's never was in We told these that library. like many other they may Indians. We never connected or our cooks we heard downstairs in the from our grandmother only kitchen. Ramanujan but One can say a great deal about these (in my translation). for South Indian stories tend to be mealtime rather than bedtime stories. Authority figures did not tell these stories. figures. coincide. in Kannada). The tales I am talking about are ancient but current." I refer not only to my own childhood but also to that of myriad others like me and also to children today in Indian villages. things A. and English. came to the end of the story and the meal. they were were in Tamil (or in friends' an aunt. away. (as Andersen's.240 women's tales. the tales were trying hard to keep our eyes open by the time we hypnotic. which were timed to and the slandered bride reinstated. never by Mother.1My mother told me folktales only when and she had Iwas lost her authority in learning interested over me. When I say "childhood voices. They were told at dusk while we were eating. Knowledge these tales with the ones stories to one another. and mostly away than the kitchen. told by a grandmother. stories we heard downstairs oral. Even in themost anglicized Hindu families or in and Calcutta. there were taboos against telling them during the broad daylight. at least not in our family. Furthermore. The prince was married. K. with We .

and the mother tongues. one kind and one unkind. brought to service the local cows. also the us from and . The characters were and his scold of a wife. and Kannada (my two childhood languages. we knew were our it. tongues. ing magnificent vilayti. foreign bull. tongues distanced and from our villages and many of our neighbors in the cowherd them. bilingual for three different interconnected worlds. who grandmothers. And the mother now seems quite appropriate that our house had three levels: a downstairs for the Tamil world. The tales in the English books had names like Cinderella. Sanskrit and English father our mother and Tamil and Kannada tongues. a wedding. or with their farts outwitted their cruel but stupid mothers-in-law. literally my mother's since she too had become in our childhood) stood tongues. from our own childhoods. which served as a disruptive creative other that both alienated revealed us (in its terms) to ourselves. just when sleepy hand was the very last one. with all of us listening in. Sanskrit. Euclid. we could also look down on the and run down noisily and breathlessly cowherd for a closer colony. and Tamil English. From up there on the terrace. It tongues united us with colony next door. who were daughters born to a dog that lived or clever daughters-in-law who terrorized balcony. very literate father never told us stories like these. he talked about astronomy. As we grew up. English for colonial India and theWest. an upstairs for the English and the our and a terrace on top that was open to the sky where Sanskrit. But if he talked to us at all. The father us from our mothers. people under even but grandmother's like a poor Brahmin the palace the goddess had no names at all. Sanskrit stood for the We saw Indian past. Hansel and Gretel. though he too knew them and had heard them in his childhood. always to identify with the clever daughters-in-law. specially look if we ran up and down all these levels. Itwas a rare occasion and kitchen. the beginnings women two hair" fight between (with the choicest obscenities pour a or or from them). or or Gita Chaucer and and poetry. father could show us the stars and tell us their English and Sanskrit names. Tolstoy anything to of Macbeth in the father once told the whole my mother story Sanskrit in Tamil. Bhagavad Shakespeare or to be reading. My he happened and Dumas. or a "hair to of a festival.Telling Tales the wicked morsel 241 the in the stepmother thrown into the lime kiln. seemed Our Our had been both. Snow White. or two sisters. often the astrology.

for the world of women." The king came down and asked his daughter. "You'll get a dead man for a husband." The king was disturbed when he heard this. 'You'll get a dead man for a husband. our were in that lives in translations. He was afraid the prophecy would come true. He strange. are witnesses about to this lifelong nor most enterprise. He has been saying it for twelve years. for every time he begged. including essays neither such as these. analysis. and it became the business of a lifetime for some of us to keep the dialogues and quarrels alive among these three and to make ?say. of them. Give me some alms. significant in each of these languages. And he said every day. even psychoanalysis). Ideas. these dialogues triangulations. but no sons. Our writers. daughter?" She replied. and all such explorations.242 most A. Each was an other to the others. Give me some alms. oral I am talking of the recognitions women's tales What Doll"?a The follows is an oral tale?"The Dead Prince and the Talking typical favorite: and then a king had a daughter. One daughter. "You'll get a dead man for a husband. The holy man {bava). Ramanujan comfortable and least conscious of all.' Then I give him something. tales. For those of us who and quarrels." The girl used to wonder: "Why does he say such weird things to me?" And she would silently give him alms and go in. alliances. ever since Iwas a little girl. and left the palace with his entire family. poems. something Gandhi. playmates. "This bava comes every day and says." And he got his servants to pack everything. . came to the door every day for twelve years. Though are I shall use the first person singular often in this essay. K. unhappily. Give me some alms. and men of action use of these creative and Bharati?made Tagore. reflected conflicts. He said. elders. and peers were Each had a literature that was unlike the others'. beggar would he would say. "You'll get a dead man for a husband. this beggar man. "It's no good staying in this kingdom." One day the king was standing in the balcony and heard him say. Let's leave and spend our time in travels. servants. searches often disguised (which research." shaped we as and out of India. I believe that the things peculiarly mine. thinkers. "triple stream. "What's this talk. and children. He didn't wish his only daughter to have a dead man for a husband. Now was come to the palace.

" nowhere "My girl. what's to be It looks as if I am imprisoned here with this dead man. and started massaging his legs. for twelve years in the house: vessels. "The food is all ready. Right in the heart of the house she found a man on a cot who looked as if he were dead or fast asleep. said he would his father." "What is in there?" "A dead man is lying here. Ahead of her were eleven more doors. our girl?" Her father had walked outside and called her. The She went The king's daughter went for a walk and saw was of exquisite design and gleamed from a lock near and held it in her hand. But they could hear her cries from inside the house. Nothing else. fully on it left awritten message saying: "One day a chaste woman who has made body offerings to the gods for her husband will come here. they locked themselves shut. the mother had said. As soon as I came in. spices. The locks can't be opened." in the forest. the prince of the neighboring kingdom fell mysteriously ill and died." the bava said is coming . called out. Let's do she said. the king. What true. in it. "Daughter. The princess saw all these things around her. Itwas as dead His family had as dead could be but as calm as a face in deep slumber. built a bungalow outside the town. for themselves. The door closed and locked itself the and open behind her. laid his son's Instead. When Itwas soon after this sad event that the first king arrived there with his wife and daughter and his entourage.Telling Tales 243 Around that time. one behind another. But his body looked as if he had only fallen asleep. and they fell open." She unveiled the face of the body. the locked door. it sprang door opened. She was Where's done? to be seen. "Well. she happening was in his presence. itwill open. Itwill open to no one else. I am alone here. how doors opened before her and shut behind her. and each closed behind her as she went through them. Astrologers return to life after twelve years. left provisions dishes. She went in. your luck has caught up with you. "I touched the locks. and left the and clothed adorned. why are you in there? Come out!" They She answered from within and told her father what had happened." place. Only she can enter the she touches the door. mortared and whitewashed the house on all sides. They all opened at her touch. Meanwhile. As soon as she touched it. clothes. "I didn't escape it: his words are coming true. so they didn't bury him. The father locked the main door and body there. They were all hungry and began to cook a meal distance. grains. something. She remembered the holy beggar's words and thought. Before she could wonder about what was to her.

and pour the juice into the man's mouth." a woman window. grind them and press them in a silver cup. Just then. She twisted and contorted her body and got in. kept house and looked after the dead body. "What's this stuff in the cup? Why and the cup the bird's what The princess told her about message was as her soon this acrobat she heard all this. offer worship give the juice to the prince. She was dying to see another human face. The time for his life to One day. is it here?" The acrobat girl asked her. The acrobat girl was agile. Time passed. an acrobat's daughter came that way. and they grew old. With a companion rolled by. she saw a young have a girl for a companion. You "Oh no. If only I could she thought. coming to an end. "The twelve years omen bird speak from the branch in the window. she had inside." They left sorrowfully." try to come in. looking through "Hey." She pulled the girl in through the window. time went fast. "Do you have any father or mother? If you do. girl! Will you come inside?" "Yes. and made offerings for her prince. don't can't get out. If you don't have parents. They tried and tried and finally said. "What else can we do? We'll go and leave you to work out your fate. and wake up in the morning where could she go? She bathed and cooked. I've nobody. he will come to life again. K. it occurred to her that she her bath.244 A. Around the tenth year. As girl thought . Two more years company now.At once she plucked some leaves. night and day the princess massaged man's legs. when the king's daughter was taking her bath. and at last climbed onto the roof. Ramanujan They tried to enter the house from the sides and from behind. Just when man's lips. The princess was lonely. the dead Inside the locked house. I could pull in at least a child. and thought about all the things that had happened to her. but itwas as if itwas sealed. tried the doors. took ritual baths. If someone will pluck the leaves of this tree. and then down the cup and went to bathe and offer worship. are coming to an end. She would finish to the Lord Shiva properly. So she put she was about to put it to the dead had not bathed yet." said the acrobat girl. The princess was happy. The prince's stir again was twelve years were near. pressed the juice out into a silver cup. his body. worshipped the gods at the right times. the contained. purify herself." The king's daughter heard it. come inside. she heard the It said. She would For almost twelve years she tended and massaged in the locked house with twelve locked doors. She looked all around the house. "If there's a chink in the house.

she heard the two of them whispering each other and thought. he said to both of them. The prince began to see the difference between them inmanners and speech." "Then tell me your life's story. "Hmm. Now servant. "Tell me a story. So the princess told the doll her entire story. The princess answered. ." She began to work When as their servant. asked for all sorts of greens and some dry flat bread. Shiva!" he sat up straight. who had been longing for her kind of gypsy food. "I left the silver cup there. sat inside. happiness is not my lot. hmm." he thought. Exclaiming. but this one asks for wretched dry in the house bread! Then he told the acrobat girl to ask the other woman what like. All she wants is a talking doll. after everyone had eaten and gone to bed. The acrobat girl was overjoyed at the sight of the rough food. the acrobat girl the After a good hunt in the jungle. she was a princess. Just like that. I did penance for twelve years. "I don't want anything much. she would master what I'd really like is a talking doll. and then I'll go to the city. That's the way it turned out. after all. He was disgusted. "What story can I tell you? My own life has princess become quite a story. and it turned out like this. So later that day. "O Shiva. Tell me what you would like." The princess answered." The acrobat girl." He was grateful to her. The other girl was only an acrobat's daughter. That night. long absorbed in prayer. and for the evil-smelling greens a talking doll.Telling Tales chance. A woman should ask for saris and silk and blouses. he brought some and and bread from leaves dry gypsies." And she ended the story." insisted the doll. The prince. lips and poured the juice up as if he had only been asleep. "I'm going out for a hunt. "Shiva. while the prince and the acrobat girl sat back and enjoyed themselves. As the liquid went in. now she began to thrive and get color in her cheeks. as I've told you so far. heard it all. from the silver cup. Yet. They became husband and wife while the princess." tell the Just "This one is strange too. born to a queen. the talking doll suddenly began to speak and said. "Who are you?" She said. the woman who had served him for twelve long years. While prince's he woke 245 the acrobat girl parted the dead the princess sat in worship. on that ledge. and that woman gave the juice to the she's the wife and I'm the prince before I got back from my prayers. Finally she said. He began to suspect something was wrong. "Your wife. lying awake in the other room. intimacies to she came out." as the princess told her tale. The doll nodded and said. He saw the woman next to him and asked. Obviously.

often marriage. In the world outside. and drove her out of the house. begins with a firmer bonding between the woman and and ends with a reunion. and they too hurried to the reunion at their daughter's wedding. they sent for the bride's parents. you're an acrobat wench! Get out of my sight!" he the princess who had served him lovingly for twelve years. and all the town with them. always conclude of the Kannada tales women-centered characteristic pattern a a a followed first union. tales of the Cinderella they are unlike European which A begins. the action with marriage. It's all your doing. Ramanujan As he heard the story from where he lay in the next room. When the story came to an end. They found the doors unlocked princess.246 A. They knew twelve years were over and were anxious to see what had happened to their son. or Snow White type. They came. who had grown weak and old. our son came back to life. and they were ready to lie down in the earth. the middle part features the death of the most drastic kind. For the grand occasion." They took the young couple to their palace. and in the heart of the house loving words to each other. The women women almost their husbands and are married formally informally in the first part of the tale. Their eyes had become like cottonseed. K. and then the real story. he took a switch and lashed at the acrobat girl sleeping next to him. In the story of the dead prince. Such princes who of action tales share on off go never or characteristics. screamed. In this matter. whispering the father-in-law Gratefully. her spouse. and in the latter part of the tale the wife restores him to life. and celebrated the wedding with great pomp and many processions. tales with wedding meet do so. quests for the golden bird in the emerald tree invariably end in bells. separation (and in the classical tale of Savitri). as in this one of the husband. by separation. In several of these tales. "By your good work of many past lives and young daughter-in-law your prayers in this one. prince and Then he went in and consoled fell at the feet of their and said. "You're not my wife. the separation . usually nothing but trouble. That special is what Iwould call a woman-centered While tales that feature at the center tale. But their spirits revived at the good news. the prince felt his anger mounting. and the mother-in-law the couple. and they talked to each other all night happily. his father and mother had counted up the days and years. He looks as fresh as if he has just woken up from a long night's sleep. often at the very beginning.

she (and all her and all their mothers) karma. Not did not know that our storytellers Mother was angry with one of us. or sin (for want of a better word)." Such terms of abuse as well One full of the concept of karma and its consequences. epics were or had to be careful to do good deeds and accumulate merit. more an upper-class lower-class cunning vigorous. things. But in the women-centered tales. Sometimes to character. unconnected or for the prince's twelve-year it is a curse or a prophecy.Telling Tales reaches suffering. They usually rarely any mention rather to a single life span and seemed different from karma. and a bride are the prizes he For the prince on his quest. a kingdom sce his initiatory and hardships?that's wins after his adventures as in classical the nario. in our divine accounts. But in the stories grandmother told was or of karma there rebirth. every action ismotivated by the actor's cause and consequence is unrelenting. when the acrobat woman suddenly other lover.2 actions I find express the actors. . the concept karma may be mentioned in the epics. life that motivates in passing. her married married. In a classical text period of deathlike entirely unearned. Among her husband's woman's years 247 and of waiting usurps her place and I it expresses. The chain of previous about karma. actors. state. (accumulated prarabdha in this life. we shouldn't surely be as lizards in the next birth. suffering. becomes think. We evil consequences with we were children that if anybody was thirsty and also believed when needed born refuse it. actions. reasons. no act of good or evil in a past as there is the present and rationalizes misfortunes. we would water. and avoid bad ones. period of unmerited of Sakuntala In all such stories. and events. wife's misfortunes hibernation. come now to fear. She has to earn her husband. Whenever fellow mothers. my torment me scolded us with phrases like "You are my as the Sanskrit bad deeds). to work on a theory of us. Though no reason is is not part of this worldview. like the Mahabharata. punya. its worst twelve the maiden's phase. analogues seem enough to be for a woman it doesn't and Savitri. through a a rite of passage. there is no karma. felt confined action between Actions Donald Davidson and other philosophers speak of the difference actions have distinction Actions useful have here. given for the Actually. If we did. which would heap up papa. the rivalry of a supposedly woman.

social and economic in its most The uncontrollable institutions. The tale then becomes her story. a silent woman her. usually speaking one's own story. actions. as in the Mahabharata. she wandered away from home in sheer misery and found herself in a deserted old house outside town. especially rationalized. The whole her story. away but faced. making tale is the tale of her acquiring a speaking person. people. happen motivated everything in human But in is Narratives by karma convert all events into actions. She couldn't bear to keep her miseries to herself any longer. In these oral tales. for what they do. the wall collapsed under the weight of her woes and crashed to the ground in a heap. It can only be accepted laughed at or sidestepped and bypassed by human ingenuity. have human causes. She told all her tales of grievance against her first son to the wall in front of her. and character no to Events have reasons. she grew at her growing mocked fatter and fatter. But there has a reason. telling then. nature itself. Till then she has no story to tell. or watched. like a talking doll or a lamp). in the moment part of crisis. four of them scolded and ill treated her all day. All A poor widow was living with her two sons and two daughters-in-law. resolving the crisis. reuniting with her husband and her kin. Here no as reasons. One day. By They of change that is the apt for a moment them and watching enduring moment and acting for action. ending her separation. are seen events.248 actors events them much nature bodies. Her sons and daughters-in-law fatter by the day and asked her to eat less. not is human that controlled by reality beings?ac intimate human form. K. Her body grew lighter as well. of nature one's cannot own be and others' cident. only causes. As she finished. That's why many of these tales end with the heroine telling her own story to "a significant other" (often through a device. . Ramanujan are responsible is destiny. She had no one to whom she could turn and tell her woes. out. especially A. As she kept her tales of woe to herself. making STORIES ABOUT STORIES a person of The power of such tales may be why it is crucial that stories should be told and why Here is one there are stories such story about about stories: not telling stories and about why they should be told. one comes through. this reality is not reasoned actions.

till in the ground . fourth wall too with her complaints against her second daughter Standing in the ruins. they its but affect In this tale." literally. are part of the action. At once she begins to grow round. all her fourwalls demolished. the fatter he the secret out pregnant. the teller of the tale. only she has changed. but the more he keeps it to himself grows. "heavy-" and Tales dreams take Such "light-hearted. not to enlighten anyone else. and she grew lighter still. And down came that wall. the the addressee. They change they are woe to tales of told express and affect the speaker's own mood. In our Stories is a form of perfor classical too. she digs a hole and tells her secret to the hole and covers it up.Nothing is said about her cruel family being converted. and ends with her in the open. metaphorically." literally. pain of death. becoming kinder. tale. course. unable to bear the burden any longer.Telling Tales Then 249 she turned to the next wall and told it all her grievances against her first son's wife. only to lighten herself. a barber has a donkey's discovers. looking more and more one day. after much trying. Such a notion of catharsis is not part of the also how emotions have weight?the not or "burdened. This Tamil tale begins with a woman beleaguered and enclosed. In another that the king classical The king orders the barber never to tell anyone about them on So he keeps the secret. One substance may allowing characters are become the other. The old woman tells her stories. she felt lighter inmood and lighter in body. with bricks and rubble all around her. Material emotions and thoughts and nonmaterial of sthula and sukshma. storytelling literature. her family secrets. things are part of a continuum "gross" and "subtle" substance transformations. metaphors a literary device. His wife is alarmed and. Then she went home. to change Indian the speaker's aesthetics. state of being. and the remaining in-law. She brought down the next wall with her tales against her second son. ears: while he is shaving the king. are not merely utterances. Telling Note the story is cathartic for mance. She looked at herself and found she had actually lost all the weight she had gained in her wretchedness. unburdened of her sorrows. wheedles of him. is not merely It implies the sense that literalization are substances.

has the ears. the Kanara man asks the other to tell him a story. "Then let's go see the young man. "If he escapes that. The Kanara man reopens his marriage negotiations. Nothing fits. thinking. "Look here." says the Kanara man suddenly. dum dum. The Kanara man leads the other man . from Kanara. they begin to talk about a marriage alliance between doing so." In the morning. K. "This man won't tell or teach a story to anyone. has a daughter. I'll crush him when he walks through the narrow passage between two rocks. dum dum. One day. "Let's not go under the banyan tree. "I'll wait in his plate of rice as a fish hook and get him when he eats. dum dum!" is lost." The Mysore man adds. While belly. If it's not the hand. and they can take different "The Tales' Revenge": shapes. We can fix the wedding dates as soon as we have done that. On their way. as in the following Nothing Stories and words have not only weight. and other such things. While the Kanara man lies awake." says the Mysore man. When traveling and they find out about the son and the daughter. "Dum dum dum. They eat together. "If he survives all of you. I'll become a snake and kill him. A rich man from Mysore has a son. They agree on dowries. dum dum." and he guides the Mysore man away from it. Then they come to a place where they have to pass between two rocks." They start walking. "You know how it is these days. the palace drummer a branch off the tree and makes some drumsticks." Another says. but the other says nothing. Sometimes even the hands seem too short.250 Out A." and invites the Kanara man to visit his house nearby. No sooner have they passed it. The other man knows many stories but will not tell him any and goes to sleep. example. he hears voices as in a dream. dum dum." says the girl's father. When he beats his breaks drum in the palace assembly. of a donkey. "It was lucky we were not walking under it." The Mysore man finds the request odd but agrees. And he adds. "That's right. gifts. One says. men are on meet The the way. The king has the ears. only transformed. the king. The third one says. The other says. when down comes a big branch. we've been looking and looking for a bridegroom. night comes on. it's the leg that falls short. they also have wills and rages. You must do as I say for the next couple of days. and as they are falling asleep. "I'll walk with you on one condition. Another. they come to a banyan tree. When he walks under the banyan tree. the drum says. Ramanujan of the buried secret springs a tree. "These chaps from Kanara are a bit strange anyway. We are choking in his them. I'll fell a branch and kill him. they resume their journey." The fourth says. of a donkey.

He stays awake. He quickly snatches the other's plateful of rice and overturns it. and why I touched your wife. "Shall we see the young man now?" But the young man's mother says." He is really inside. the Kanara man asks that all the rice be given to him. and shows him the fish hooks. While the host and his wife are fast asleep on their cot. The wide-awake Kanara man pulls out a knife and cuts it down just as it is climbing the legs of the cot." The man wonders aloud. When they've finished eating. "How can you do that? We'll give you a bed in another room. "Ayyayyo. fearful lest it be poisonous. "That's why I told you I'd come with you only if you would do as I asked you to. the Kanara man speaks out: "You may wonder why I have this knife inmy hand." And he shows them the pieces of dead snake. You can now see why.Telling Tales 251 other man away from it and goes around the rocks. and they sit down to eat. It's night. and now the snake. But the wedding guests gossip and whisper to each other. Before it gets worse. and how he had saved his host wakes from the banyan branch. He also tells the bewildered Mysore man the whole story about the tales that had vowed revenge for not being told. these days. Her husband up and is about to attack when the guest restrains him. And the bridegroom has half a leg!" When to me?" the groom's father says to the bride's father. She wakes up startled. but they don't want him to be interviewed. Its blood the spatters on the cheeks of the host's wife and. But the Kanara man insists on sleeping in the same room as his host and his wife. theMysore man prepares a big meal. everything is short." says the Mysore man. that's all. when suddenly a boulder comes rolling down into the passage. "He isn't around. As soon as he begins to eat his rice. I'm not after your wife. Kanara man quickly wipes it off her cheek with his dhoti. When they reach his house. "But I told you. and does. "Lucky we were not there. the fish hooks in the rice. finds this strange man touching her. the rocks. But the Kanara man insists on sleeping in the same room. "How can you do this the other says. and screams. "Why is it I have kept all the stories to Mysore myself?" Then the wedding takes place. they move on to other kinds of food. He pulls out from his pocket the previous day's rice in his handker chief. the Kanara man asks. even they return to the wedding talks. So they make beds and offer one to the guest. look. his uncle's a snake comes slithering in toward them." says the shocked host. Just look under the cot. He has gone to place. and in a few days . the bride has one hand shorter than the other. The host is surprised and offended at his guest's but strange behavior.

a man whose are legs crippled by paralysis. speaking into being a tale. and unable out. a snake who is stuck in a or a move tree to in is that unable to produce any fruit. and to ask him the question about giving meets a king who has built a tank. traditions seem or to such else tales say. a son can't understand suffocates. K. happen In another story told all over South India. you They are there before any particular teller tells them. or World 3: neither subject nor object. not only hands. have something other refuses man stories have special function. the paralytic marriage. son out sets to find Shiva So the away food." say. from each other?a seems a The two fathers with both to conceal to tell him tells no daughter a short that a finds a hand and a son with half a leg.252 A. to You can't hoard them. Like chain owe it not only to others. you. As the son meets each of these one to ask Shiva for the cause of his special problem him tells each people. things will beware. to tell it. an Shiva knows the answer to such questions. for they can come they are not passed If you know and again only in that act of translation. otherwise. objectivity. Ramanujan even legs hands!" The groom's father says. They have an existence of their own. and a cure for it. but it The mother that only ignorant old woman. but a third depends subjects and objects. he is chewing betel nut with Parvati after a hearty meal and tells the boy that each of them has been keeping something to himself?the king has a grown daughter whom he has not given away in the snake has a jewel in its hood he must give away. sometimes fall short!" In this tale. .One of them asks for a story. hole. When the boy finds Shiva. when again realm that on and enters into the construction of both It is in this sense perhaps that "myths speak as L?vi-Strauss would them. they hate it on to others. a clever woman thief by letting them respond to a story she tells. To tell a story is to discover or reveal a secret.3 rather than man man. They are part of what the philosopher Karl Popper calls the Third World. a secondary And such stories also tell you why tales have to be told. it why his poor mother gives away half the food she earns each day: says that she is. There secretive tales. after all. repair. transmitted. In another to be a suggestion tale. On the way the son is dry. and the one. but to the tale. to be kept in good have letters. like other cultural artifacts. "But I told you.

equally well known And have been quarried for important. that are filled out by later living. notions and These peasants. (usually Western) psychoanal to which myths or episodes are valued by the as if to work at Indian mythologies to get a nuanced and true sense of what between so. 253 he is hoarding. merit gathered by her daily gifts of food. each in its own contextual of slot. presumptions of meaning." we could not have known that they were told all over India. Itwould be interesting to study Indians' favorite folktales and their role inmodeling and "scripting" Indians' psychic and relational lives. a in In the culture. without users. and food must circulate.Telling Tales has all sorts of knowledge its roots. depend on such and transfers. in accordance no are Stories and generations different. equally own the commentators' all equidistant. or gifts. we could also hear the dialogue and the nonliterate creations like those need any regard ysis. even all over . Communities away. as they have been. the learning. TALES HAVE RELATIVES carried and polished and renewed by nameless and subtly powerful ALL OVER THE WORLD In childhood when we heard stories like "The Tales' Revenge. with which the tale begins. and songs. the treasure. types largely of every kind and from every level have vast nonliterate persons substrata within riddles. but on and told in context. By doing the Puranic mythologies grandmothers. nonliterate unlettered culture. must be given danas. Even Sanskritmythologies have to be studied not only from selectively have been texts. They to every native. consciousness?not communities. Daughters. or how and why. thanks to his mother's punya. Thus. exchanges are not confined to grandmothers. are constitutive only for the illiterate but for everyone. These are wealth. they are eager to give the young man of course. and the princess?all. and the tree is hiding a treasure in As you can guess. with their nature.4 Oral literature precedes other kinds in India in the lives of individuals and It offers forms. the jewel. they also have a parallel life in the oral traditions. folktales and other genres like proverbs. remembered studied as if they were the ground?as they are For they are not only in written texts. that. knowledge. We in order folklore they were they are about. they like concerns. them.

falling tree. M.7 to appear between Connections and contrasts the mother began the tales of Indian between tales and the Sanskrit myths. With the . Ramanujan and that they had had past lives in old texts like the Kathasaritsagara (TheOcean of Story). When tales. Grimm. Iwas twenty-three and I discovered what I had lived in and what had lived inme since childhood?the unofficial verbal world of the dialects. averts venge") bedroom. and he went back to Bombay. a part of his body is petrified. Edwin in a small in Karnataka in my early twenties. instance. the disasters and he finally in "The Tales' Re father does (as the bride's when the prince. a snake in the bedroom. The birds also say that anyone who reveals Faithful John the secret will turn to stone. volumes. friends. his master. and I know and the European tales of Grimm and Afa for that "The Tales' has the now. H. princely collapsing bridge. vengeance is about a loyal on the teller same plot the motif having who won't overhears two servant who John" about four that await his disasters talking a a master?a heavy city gate. Without any explanations. K. tongue villages nasiev. with The Ocean of Story. that literature without letters (eluta eluttu in Tamil). Penzer on thingswe used every day. their profound values. The Brothers symbolic or my a model. the eleventh-century discovered Sanskrit Afanasiev's reworkings in ten Russian of local tales. marked bank accounts. Tawney in the nineteenth century. Revenge" as "Faithful John" in the Grimms' collection except for not kitchens of the untold "Faithful birds tales that vow tell them. like betel leaves and umbrellas?their distribution. This lastwork was translated into English by C. I discovered these folktale indexes types of indexes when Kirkland. that with ?and there were numbers5 not only international just as library prisoners?are town and motifs. fascinating cultural histories by philologist N. spent two happy I accidentally met evenings swapping an American folklorist. tales.254 A. also became and I started from folktales somewhat everyone collecting methodically in the surrounding aunt. and people mother. and prisoners books. he sent me Stith Thompson's The Folktale. As he molesting his wife when John has just saved her from a serpent in the is forced finishes telling each one. and we tales and riddles and proverbs. around?my their uses villages. in ritual. idea of them. these days. suspects John of to reveal the secret of the four disasters. I didn't know for a long time the world.6 inwhich I found worldwide parallels for my household I then reread found the Grimms.

and recite a long religious epic in a rich man's hall or a public . the mendicant teller who recounts or romantic a romantic tale on the verandah. Indie ones. Reversals from the point of view of European are not perceived or and meaning noted?only similarities inmotif and generalized structure guide the typology. who tells them. but they tell us nothing about meanings. in central India. There which opens with the revenge of the untold tales. the vratakatha (or ritual tale) told in the outer parts of the house or the yard. but quicksilver they must not mask to what STORIES FOR SMALL CHILDREN The stories change a great deal depending on where they are told. That be told. that this version of the story is also told in different parts of India. variant is our true focus. dismissed usually tellings. John is all stone." and many other Indian motif). strangely. dance. or not are made of form strangely. But the oldest version is in the eleventh-century the Gond collection. is willing the prince's wife a statue. the differences are as variants. "Faithful John. assimilate the Indian tale to the European type of Faithful John. Types in the indexes keep tallies. and from old issues of journals like the Indian Antiquary (especially 1890-1900). told in summary above. to walls that have no ears. all the indexes. is our study. is about secrets that cannot be told or that can be told only on pain of death (also a classical oral tales But "The Tales' Revenge. tribes so Kathasaritsagara. The much-maligned but their living use by the variants. is an important difference. Tales are interregional or international in plot and motif but not in what they tell and mean. Only individual tellers and their tellings do. He to sacrifice is restored her infant son." in theGrimms' collection. The grandmother telling a story to a child in a kitchen at dinnertime. focus on the tale that cries out to to a tree.Telling Tales fourth when secret. but lead us back to their sources. For not invariants. "The Tales' Revenge" among Indian. Tale types and motifs are useful bibliographical devices. 255 to life only Ifind from the type indexes. the secret thatwill kill its keeper or swell the body till he or she tells it all somewhere. or narratives area?these of the professional bard who is invited to sing. for the indexes materials.8 and Bastar is told initially even the are German studies of "Faithful John" showing that the story was But. and towhom they are told.

themes. she lets Crow in and offers her several places to sleep. and topics." By morning Remember betelnut? she you gave really. She invites Crow again to visit. crying before she leaves. number of stock formulas. Here audiences with is one we just one kind of story. the outside the I the household. Akam interior. Because she is feeding her children. through from "interior" forms to "exterior" ones. others. Each a constitutes and "finite of expresses. is angry. so she fills the sack with Sparrow's their hands Sparrow to sit down. Ramanujan are all different in genre. Sparrow is putting her children to bed. carry a set of concentric important means to context. province reality. Whenever asks her what the noise is. Sparrow one of stone. Sparrow makes Crow wait at first. a function. heart. in the accompaniment or props of other actors or instruments like to move a continuum here from akam to puram. Crow has a house of cow dung. on chickpeas and makes a katum-katum All night long." illustrate pictures. the kind that is told to small all heard as small children?"Sister Crow and Sister Sparrow. They come in arrays. Finally. theater and ritual perfor have places the notion on this continuum. When Crow knocks a third time. Crow Ka! Ka! in pain. and in other discourse the South Indian communities tend to properties house. so she goes to Sparrow and knocks on her door. flees. house. She cannot control her bowels. puram means body. that tales have this scale of forms. has eaten all the chickpeas in the sack. A big rainstorm washes away Crow's house. K. the poetics of akam and puram. where each has a niche. seem We Myth mance and folktale. to eat some peas and muck in children go there the morning up with what Crow has left. Crow chooses to sleep on the chickpea sack. Sparrow is feeding her husband. When Crow knocks again. style. exterior. styles. in a sort of ecology of genres. meanings self. and when she is about puts a hot iron spatula under her and brands her behind.256 A." It is a story told in several languages today in South India: Sister Crow and Sister Sparrow are friends. Crow says.9 special features for Let me certain illustrate children. proverb and riddle. "Nothing Sparrow a me I'm biting on it. she munches noise. people outside yard have argued elsewhere that genres. her excrement . according outer parts of the household. occupies. as the classical Tamils two would These words say. occasions.

as with children of that control.12 A collection of Indian stories told to small children would be instructive. she keeps waiting Because of her grudging hospitality. Patterns of toilet training are said to be significant in any psychoanalytic interpretation of person ality. Many of the stories part thought. I have felt a certain Crow ing's unloading of her bowels. the dwarf was angry. not relate these virtues to anal continence. When the dwarf went to dig holes in a field. the projections self from nonself. firm. bottom. She is punished by a branding on her always ambivalence. and alysts would is disorderly. Children laugh gleefully at Sparrow's discomfiture and enjoy Crow's filling the sack up with nightsoil. She is generous hospitable.10 Crow happily a incontinent. of this sort are not only about small animals ants. a and not successful is Sparrow. are also with winning bigger They quite preoccupied urination and defecation. midget. it. She lowered her basket and called him: "Midget. the she-dwarf brought him food. storm. Martha Wolfenstein's book children's humor age ones.11 I've often was different from American documents this preoccupation in English children.Telling Tales 257 Children laugh a lot at this story?especially at the crow filling the sackwith her excrement. come eat!" When he heard her call him midget. Her house of dung cannot withstand can nor the morn she neither control her all-night guzzling On the other or hand. our of toilet training. Sparrow's children getting their hands dirty with But it is an ambiguous revenge. I shall give only one more quite distinguish : example?"Dwarfs" shortness or thick A he-dwarf and a she-dwarf lived together. in the rain. and then . over ones. sphincter to on tend be. We know that Indian patterns of child rearing are strikingly The Crow and the Sparrow story. one feels Sparrow somewhat deserves Crow's untidy return. Sparrow's story. much are trained). and so did the tellers and the other children. obviously tidy given to her house is her routine well ordered?psychoan incontinence. He went after her to cut her to pieces. Such stories also talk about the discomfiture of small people?mocked for their cannot that lips and the anger they feel. housewife. But he followed till he caught her. about Sparrow. She ran. frogs) (sparrows. The typical audience for this kind of story consists of children who are just being than children toilet trained in America later (three to five years after birth.

sons marry siblings. "Midget. mothers ." What is supposed by analysts to be repressed and hidden is open and blatant Cannibal in these sisters eat tales: their fathers pursue younger sisters. One day. in parts. booynkl" He killed the buffalo and gave itsmeat to the dog. which began to bark. He buried the pieces in the earth. developmental relational webs: tives in their concrete truths and alienation. booynk. brothers. tales do not explore or express psychological or single episodes in the but in relations. contrary psycho tend to deal with social and cosmic issues rather logical explanations. gulak. the itself enact psychological notions. leaf and pods and all. daughters. as interior forms. their their houses. The buffalo ate it and mooed. move cannot decencies be Tales speak of what usually spoken. But the tales explore psycholog ical issues in the design and outcome of the action. which ourselves. no insides. explicit motifs pitiless revenge us shameless face this fantasy world. no psychological depth. when the dwarf was walking plant rattle its pods and say. Ordinary are in are violated. characters. Ramanujan to pieces. that together make or unmake. tale is concerned with near the domestic than psychological matters. cannibalism. "Midget. Like all fantasies (and unlike psychological novels). the contrast Sparrow an in of children the and the audience of story presence behavior. the self in its career. As it flowed over the stones. as a sorts All of whole. the river said. In the Crow and in characters. rites of passage. Thus the he-dwarf and the she-dwarf came to a bad end. "Midget. midget. dadak. Incest. elements make these and patterns figures narra are we these express through expressed conceptually things self and other. story. to the buffalo. owkl" In a fury. he heard the togari wind. But he drowned in it. owk. kin and family. But you are here and alive. Imust hasten to add that tales are not most in the way psychological have folktale characters they treat the insides of each character. K. dadakl" So the dwarf took a knife and went into the river to cut it to pieces. envisage helps wish fulfillments. intimacy stages. and therefore with all those relations with oneself and significant others or arrest.258 cut her A. midget. male to fashionable which Even more than mythologies. Sleep now. The pods dried and rattled in the that way. and sometimes "by indirection find direction out. midget. the dwarf cut up the dog and threw it into the river. and female. "Midget. with akam in the Tamil sense. and a togari plant sprouted on it. gulakV So he cut the plant and gave it. The togari plant grew tall. midget.

to romantic or notions of its spontaneity Folklore. kaladalli. there is no editorializing.Telling Tales and bear sons. a a O like story. "they are there. is no sense of realism but a disidentification triggers in the (of the listeners with tales and unlike happen the processes the characters) have their at different performance?not sessed or dispossessed in the course stages of a tale or a a person which is pos by a of ritual. story has gone to Kanchi. there in quotation. and we and entry into a taleworld and a taletime. pointing my mask. It is almost as if the story tells itself." they say. story. their emphasize sepa fictive now karanamam. "The say. no telling us what to feel. when my favorite nature. town" in Tamil. wouldn't talk to me. their artifice and fantasy. speak. These closures rate our world break stories." Yet special phrases found only in folktales." story. possession I once found in a tale translated from Oriya a charming closing sentence. own left halves. unwittingly and young men wish grams. have said." any those identification of the with the characters. though it is not. up neat kinship thereby messing to marry no women but instead 259 dia their beginnings and endings The tales do not always follow an opening formula like "Once upon a time." prodeo. as if that's a reason. often mark the opening of tales. Furthermore. navilli. kade kadeyam. there are closing formulas in Kannada favorite My are here. and ore oru urie. It says very well what Iwish to say about breaking the link with the fictive world thatmay seem quite realwhile it lasts. These for our And world. contrary is formal. come "seems from that mark our exits is avaralli. It makes its forms. but he . a no are at all describing tellers tell inner or story. At teller the end of a romantic "I saw the prince says. the Oriya king-and-queen the other day at the market. like ondanondu "at one time" in Kannada. and "in a certain turn the key let us cross a from this tale threshold into another kind of space. they In Tamil. Larvatus as Roland Barthes would to "I advance. home." we In Telugu. there adjectives outer features (as there are in bardic tellings)?that is. Identification visible and naturalness. When sense the characters that they are speaking They seem to say.

65 of them by small tribes. and wayside We have valued teashop. tales. while it is indebted to these writings. read. kitchen. and several others like those of Bengali and Gujarati at least 800 years. 1946). and works of art. Actions of my Indian materials. an Intellectual Autobiography (Glasgow: Fon World 3 . in addition to these. Ramanujan ENDNOTES 1For this observation of Telugu and I am an expert indebted on Telugu to Professor literature. This is thewide base on which all Indian literatures rest.260 A. K. 1987). with the names of the speech varieties that the speakers themselves said they spoke. Hindu." in Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India (Berkeley: University of California Press. thesis. Furthermore. institutions.000 years." The Wattumull Memorial Lecture. some of which have long histories. and epics. Narayana Rao. Linguists have classified and subsumed these speech varieties. The literatures of these 15 languages. Ramanujan. such as tools. there are oral traditions in every community. K. The Types of the Folktale (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica. 5 "The Tale's Revenge" would be the Indian analogue to Tale Type 516 in the international index. and in each of the 3. March 1988 (forthcoming). V. all the products of the tana/Collins. The Folktale (New York: The Dry den Press. those mother tongues of the village. Unended Quest. University of Delhi. ballads. Only 15 languages (including Sanskrit) are written. and spoken by 95 Muslim. and Parsi. or dialects.D. arises out describing event. 1985. One way of defining verbal folklore for India is that it is the literature of the dialects.. 187: "We may include in human mind.. 8Quoted by Stith Thompson. University of Hawaii. 6Stith Thompson.000-odd mother tongues that we have classified under the 105 languages. percent of the people. 1980). under 105 or so languages that belong to four language families. street. 1980). and events are are a different particular actions ways kind of of 3Karl Popper. songs. For a detailed discussion of these materials for any study of Indian civilization. to name only a few.We must recognize that. 7ln the 1971 census more than 3. riddles. are just beginning to be studied and translated outside their regions. 9For a fuller exposition of this view. tribal hut. My discussion here. who is a speaker 2See Donald Davidson's first essay in Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Ninety of these 105 languages are spoken only by less than 5 percent of the entire population. Christian. "Who Needs Folklore??The Relevance of Folklore to South Asian Studies. the same happenings. ." Ph. seemy "Two Realms of Kannada Folklore." or what anthropol ogists would call culture. and attended only to the top of the pyramid. Jain. 1964). which iswhat we may call Indian folklore. 4Roma Chatterjee argues this point in detail in "Folklore and the Formation of Popular Consciousness in a Village in the Purulia District ofWest Bengal. All these myriad dialects carry oral literatures. These oral traditions consist of genres like proverbs. Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. A literature like that of Tamil goes back 2. see A.000 mother tongues are registered.

Children's Humor: A Psychological Analysis and (Glencoe. 1954). 261 5th ed. The Inner World. Tindall. 1950). (London: Balliere. "Anal-Erotic Character Traits. 12MarthaWolfenstein. and Cox. 111." in Papers on Psychoanalysis. 1978). A Psycho-Analytic Study of Childhood Society in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press. Free Press.Telling Tales 10See Ernest Jones.: . nSudhir Kakar. 1034.

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