Vizhattamaa? Shall I Drop Down On Your Head?

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a 2 day celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life – sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent in by Mala Kumar who is an editor and author at Pratham Books. When Mala isn’t busy eavesdropping, she is busy reading books, typing at the speed of light and growing a little mini forest on her terrace.)


Once upon a time there was a grandmother – always smelling of goodies, always making great crunchy-munchies for her grandchildren. At night, when the coconut tree’s large fronds swayed above the children on the open terrace of her house, she told them stories. And the story she said best was that of the GHOST. Actually it wasn’t a ghost, and we still don’t know what it was. But the story went like this: 
A poor man lost his way and reached a strange village. It was raining hard and he needed shelter. He knocked on several doors but no one let him in. Finally he reached a dilapidated house and walked in through the creaking gates. “Don’t go there, there’s a ghost there!” cried a villager from inside his locked house. The man went in, and lay down on the floor, glad for the shelter. Midnight —and there was a booming voice. “Shall I drop down on your head? SHALL I FALL ON YOU? Shall I???” The sleepy man said, “Oh, please do whatever you want to do!” 
Immediately food, gold coins, gems and wonderful things fell down from the roof. The surprised man waited for the ‘rain’ to stop, and then picked up a few gold coins, changed into a new pair of clothes and walked out, a happy man.
A villager noticed this and asked him what had happened. “Oh, some voice asked if it could fall on me. I said yes. And gold, silver, gems, food and clothes fell on me.”
The villager went to the house the next day. And waited for the voice. And it came. The greedy villager replied, “Yes yes, do fall on me. Fall in plenty!” And things did fall again. But this time there were snakes and bedbugs and scorpions and other things that bit the man. He ran for his life, understanding that greed never pays. 
The grandmother would finish the story with a flourish and the kids used to go off to sleep, dreaming many happy, idealistic, wonderful things. One of those children grew up and became…me. We heard the story in Tamil. ‘Shall I fall on you?’ just does not have the drama and aural quality that the Tamil word ‘Vizhattamaaa?’ has! 
Like most people, I treasure these experiences of a happy childhood. When I told it to my kids, the details changed. For instance, along with gold and silver, BAGS also fell! And the good man could carry off a bag of goodies. During my daughter’s pencil craze, the story included sets of colour pencils falling down. For my second daughter’s benefit, the goody list included a puppy that the good man could take away and live happily ever after with. My grandmother’s booming voice saying, “Vizhattamaa?” still rings in my head. And the way we grandchildren repeated the words in our best ghostly voices makes it even more memorable. 
The story has a hook, a happy resolution and is open to endless embroidery. That makes it very special for me as a student of storytelling, working in the area of multi-lingual publishing.

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