This began on a lazy July evening, while I was seated on my chair and enjoying my moments of idleness. I entertained myself by spying on the activities of my various neighbours. The sky was dark, very dark, and the lingering daylight was quickly sapped up and devoured by that ever-increasing mass of grey. My window, well actually my favourite window, overlooks a busy street, and although the converging branches of two trees block the view inside, protecting my own privacy, I have a clear view of the proceedings of the narrow street. I watched carefully…
In one corner women were busy exchanging and reprocessing gossip while chaffering with vegetable vendors; young mothers were trying to pacify and discipline boisterous children; a dog chased a cat up a tree and a group of young children were frolicking in a puddle of water much to the annoyance of the bystanders… just then, it started drizzling. My attention shifted to a very old balloon seller who was slowly ambling down the street. His forked beard as white as snow was unusually long. Despite his age and corpulence, he walked with relative ease. He stopped just next to the puddle and engaged the children in a conversation.
I was much too far to eavesdrop on the words which were exchanged, but could clearly see the children laugh. At last, after much bargaining, cajoling and many toothless grins, the balloons exchanged hands. The children, pleased with their colourful new acquisitions, surrounded him. Just then, a stray ray of light illuminated the street. I quickly ran into the next room to grab my Nikon, but before I could shoot the scene, he disappeared. Later that night, I dreamt a strange dream, and a few moments later, I penned the first paragraph of “The Peddler of Stories”. Thanks to the balloon seller, the character of ‘Motu Chacha’ was impregnated in my psyche that night. Although the draft was penned in a week, I never found the time to edit it. When I rediscovered the manuscript years later, I was elated, as it differed from my Ciceronian style. The storyteller ‘Motu Chacha’ was finally delivered after a tortured pregnancy of a few years.
Probably all of us have someone who plays the role of ‘Motu Chacha’ in our childhood. When I was young, my father played this role; though being thin, his physical semblance to the ‘Motu Chacha’ in the story is little or none.But I probably owe to him my ability to imagine. After all, until the age of five, I firmly believed in the existence of pink flying elephants that wore blue shoes, and used their tails as propellers. His stories were always accompanied by drawings in crayon. When I would ask him why we never managed to capture and tame one of these elephants, he would go on to say that they flew by only on full moon nights when I was fast asleep! Despite my hardest tries, I never managed to stay awake to capture even a fleeting glance of these magical creatures.
I believe that all young readers should find some resemblance to themselves with the characters in the story. A good story is a reflection of the readers’ and the writer’s soul. In a good children’s story, the common fantasies and dreams of every child should be captured.
This book is a tribute to all those young children and their insatiable thirst for adventure. I dedicate this book to all those street children, the many Ramadans who we often choose to forget. I fondly hope that all their dreams and aspirations come true and that, one day, every child in India will be able to read and write.