Tuesday, July 3, 2018

If There Is a Title, Will the Needle Come Out of the Well? – The Neverending Stories of My Childhood

This is a guest post by Sharanya D.G., editorial intern at Tulika. 

For a child reluctant to fall asleep – like I was – no bedtime story is ever long enough. Children want stories that go on and on – “without an end… neverending…” like the little girl in The Neverending Story asks of her Ajji. If the bedtime story doesn’t end, then the child need not go to sleep, right? They can just listen to the story forever and ever…

The Neverending Story is a picture book published by Tulika in 2006, written by Ashwini Bhat and illustrated by Chinmayie. This book has in it not one, but two neverending stories similar to the folk stories that Ajjis are fond of narrating – the kind of stories that I grew up with. It was a pleasant surprise to see these stories in a book, and to almost read those very words. These are not stories that can be written or read; these are stories that are told, whispered into your ear as you are lightly patted to sleep – stories that morph into dreams as you doze off midway. Yet, Ashwini Bhat’s writing, along with Chinmayie’s illustrations, managed to transfer these words and emotions into a picture book, cleverly using the conversation between a little girl and her Ajji.

What I loved were the loops and repetitions which are an important facet of children’s tales. There is some sort of amusement and comfort we all receive from such loops and repetitions. They prove to be helpful especially when it is time to sleep. Some tend to count sheep, others concentrate on white noise but for a child like me, bedtime stories with repetitions seemed to work wonders — at least according to my parents! One of the deadliest stories they would draw out (yes, much like a weapon) when I was being a handful was the one with the grandmother’s needle in the well – the same grandmother, the same needle, the same well as in The Neverending Story

This story is about an old woman with a single sari that needs to be mended. Unfortunately, the only needle she has falls into the well. At this point in the story, the narrator waits for the listener to respond. No matter what the listener says, the narrator retorts by repeating everything the listener just said, asking if the needle would come out of the well, if those words were said. This goes on and on, and the story never ends as the conflict is never resolved — the old woman and needle are never reunited. There is nothing the listener can do about it, and nothing the narrator will do about it.

This naturally became my parents' go-to story when I was in the mood to blabber on and on, refusing to go to sleep. It was the only way they could get me to shut up. The only way I could stop them from repeating the same question over and over again was to keep quiet, close my eyes and stay that way until I fell asleep.

Predictably, I soon began to dread this story. It stopped being fun. I might even go to the extent of saying that this story would have been the first (sort of) existential crisis I remember having. What was the point of anything if the needle did not come out of the well? Nothing I could do or say would make the needle come out of the well.

But I refused to let such stories defeat my purposes – of not falling asleep and of irritating my parents. So I had a list of ways to try and outsmart the story when drawn out.

I told my parents to go help the old woman out if they cared so much, but being older and wiser, they threw that statement right back at me (quite coldly, I might add)!

I called them names that I was sure they wouldn’t repeat.

I even gave them smart alecky suggestions (like using a strong magnet to pull the needle out).

But they were passively repeated too. The story seemed resolution-proof. There is nothing the listener can do about it, and nothing the narrator will do about it.

I had almost given up trying to win this tug of war when I realised that my parents weren’t doing anything to help the needle come out of the well. So I turned the tables on them, “If you say ‘if you say so and so will the needle come out of the well?’ will the needle come out of the well?” I asked them one fine night. That was the last time I heard them tell the story so smugly.

However fifteen years later, nostalgia hit me unexpectedly as I read The Neverending Story at the Tulika Bookstore. It was the same feeling one gets while reading an old diary. Each word being read carries with it a trunk full of memories. As children, we listen to a lot of stories that are passed down through generations in our cultures. By making these stories into books, not only is the story endemic to that culture that is documented, but also the feelings these stories carry — the feelings of home, of love, of belonging and of familiarity. It is the same kind of comfort one finds in repetition. One naturally wants their child to grow up with the stories that shaped them during their own childhood. One wants to express their love to their child in ways familiar to them, like narrating the stories that they have heard from their own parents and grandparents. 

And for me, this feeling of familiarity and comfort was validated when I held The Neverending Story – a published book that accurately encapsulates the story so close to my heart. Now that such tales from various cultures are being written and published, these neverending stories will, in fact, never end.

Sharanya D. G. is an editorial intern at Tulika and was so moved by finding her childhood story on the Tulika bookshelves that she wrote about it.


  1. i also wanna share stories like these

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