Ever since my granddaughter was born, I have been dreading the day when I will have to start fulfilling my paramount duty as a grandfather. Yes, I am talking about bedtime stories. Right now, she'll go to sleep on my shoulder happily, when I sing to her something like "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" in my preferred singing style — out of tune. I know that the day is not too far, though, when she'll pop the question, "Grandpa, will you tell me a story, please?". It's not that I don't have too many stories to tell, but like grandpa, like granddaughter, you know. What if she asked troubling questions? Here's how I think it will go with the first part of Ramayana, a story from the subcontinent.
Once upon a time, long, long, ago, there was a king called Dasaratha, who ruled the kingdom of Ayodhya. He had three wives, Kausalya, Sumitra ...
But, grandpa, daddy has only one. Why?
Well, my dear, for one thing, your mommy is going to get very, very angry, if he had three. Besides, Dasaratha was a king, and your daddy is not, okay. Now, let's get back to Dasaratha and his three wives, Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi.
Just a minute, grandpa, did queens have many husbands, too? Back then?
Absolutely not, queens could have only one husband...
But, that's not fair, grandpa, I don't like this story!
Bear with me, kiddo. I promise you it'll get better. Now, the king and his three wives didn't have a baby for a long time.
My friend, Tony, said that his uncle and aunt couldn't have a baby, too. So, they went to see this doctor, you know, psychologist or something ...
Yeah, that's it ... and he gave them twins. Did Dasaratha and his wives go to a doctor?
You are getting ahead of me and the story, Amy. No, there were no doctors then, and so they went to a priest...
Priest? Like the Pope? Can the Pope give them twins, too?
May be, may be not, but this priest asked them to offer a prayer to the gods ...
But, grandpa, you always say there's no god...
Yes, Amy, there isn't, but in those days they thought there was one... er... many gods. It's just a story, Amy, so don't ask too many questions, okay. Otherwise, I'll stop here ...
No, please don't, grandpa. I promise I won't ask too many questions, only a few. Is that okay?
Okay. With his wives beside him, King Dasaratha offered a special prayer to the gods, so he'd have sons.
Sons? Why not daughters? Didn't he like girl babies? [pouting] Did you and daddy want a boy, too, grandpa?
Oh, no, honey, we were very, very happy when you and mommy were born. We love you soooooo... much, pumpkin. We won't trade you for a million sons!
Then, why didn't this king ask for... hm... three wives and he didn't ask for even one daughter! Why, grandpa?
Because, he was a dumb fool, Amy, that's why.
And, he was a king?
Yup. As Dasaratha prayed ... er... how do I describe this ... there was this genie that emerged from the fireplace...
A genie? like the genie in Aladdin?
Yes, like the genie in Aladdin.
From the fireplace? Like Santa Claus? Grandpa, why does Santa Claus always come through the chimney and fireplace? Why doesn't he use the front door like everyone else?
That, too, is just a story, Amy. There is no Santa Claus, like there are no genies or gods, but that story is for another night. So, moving on, this genie gave Dasaratha a cup of pudding for his wives to eat. He promised him that they'd have babies, if they did.
Pudding? Like the one that grandma makes? I love pudding. Will I also have a baby if I eat pudding, grandpa? I am sort of getting bored with these dolls now!
Sorry, sweetheart, you won't. As I have told you several times already, this is just another story like Aladdin and his Magic Lamp.
Oh! It was a magic pudding...
Yes, now, let's get on with the story. Dasaratha's wives shared the pudding, and lo and behold, in nine months Kausalya and Kaikeyi each had a baby, and Sumitra, twins.
Wow, four babies! All at once? The gods in these stories must be better than Tony's psychologist. Do they also make a lot of money like him? Tony says his psychologist does.
Gynecologist. And, they named them Rama, Bharatha, Lakshmana, and Shatruguna ...
I kissed her goodnight, and heaved a sigh of relief. Oughf, that wasn't so bad, was it?