Hanuman Story For Kids: Read this story with your kids to celebrate the occasion of Dussehra.
By Deepa Agarwal
Anita clasped the shiny string of beads round her neck and examined herself in the mirror. The reflection wasn’t too clear because the mirror, which hung on the soot-grimed wall of their one-room tenement, was old and tarnished. All the same, what she saw satisfied her. Her new (well, almost!) yellow satin kurta worn over a matching salwar brightened up her peaky little face. So did the gold and red bindi she had borrowed from her mother. Amma had grumbled a bit, saying that at twelve she was too young to dress up so much, but had finally agreed.
Flinging a spangled chunni round her neck she ran and peeped out of the window. The brilliant October sunshine was slowly dissolving into a shadowy dusk and the narrow lane seemed noisier than usual. Vendors pushing handcarts laden with vegetables and fruit competed with those hawking shimmering glass bangles, toy bows and arrows and
Hanuman and Ravana masks, all yelling to draw attention to their wares. The festival of Dussehra, which commemorated Lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon Ravana, was just a few days away and the excitement seemed to infect everyone.
‘He’ll be here any minute,’ her mother’s voice came from behind her. Amma was kneading dough for their evening chapattis in a big brass platter, even though Anita had said that she’d like to eat at the Ramlila she was planning to attend.
It was the Ramlila that made Dussehra so special for her. The enactment of the story of Rama’s adventures went on for ten days and kept Anita enthralled. Rama was so good, so brave, his wife Sita so gentle and pretty, Lakshmana such a devoted brother. Rama’s exile to the forest brought tears to her eyes as did Sita’s abduction by the wicked Ravana. Rama’s loyal follower, the monkey-god Hanuman, performed feats of strength which quite took her breath away, while the capers of his monkey army made her laugh till her stomach ached. And when Rama finally defeated the monstrous Ravana, she cheered as loudly as she could.
On these ten days, the daily drudgery passed by as pleasantly as a song from one of her favourite Hindi movies. Rushing home from school, quickly bolting down a cold chapatti and then dashing off again to help her mother with her afternoon round of cleaning and washing dishes in rich people’s houses hardly seemed a grind as she waited for the evening to come.
And this evening was going to be special. Her older brother Mohan had said he’d return home early from work to take her to the big, fancy Ramlila which was far more elaborate than anything she had ever seen.
‘Hundreds and thousands of rupees are spent on the sets alone,’ Mohan had said. ‘They say Hanuman ji actually flies!’
‘How do they manage that?’ Anita had asked, wide-eyed.
‘They have ways,’ Mohan had shrugged. Anita suspected he didn’t know either but thought it better to keep quiet. If Mohan got irritated, he might just call off the plan or go by himself.
‘Anita didi! Anita didi!’ An all-too-familiar voice wiped the smile from her face. It was
Veena, her young neighbour, who lived close by. Though she was barely seven years old, she was quite attached to Anita. Anita was fond of her too, but sometimes she got fed up of babysitting Veena—especially when her mother dumped her at their place while she was busy with something else.
Had Veena got wind of their plans? If she saw Anita all dressed up, she’d insist on tagging along.
How would they look after her? Veena was hard to control. She might even get lost in the crowd.
‘Aren’t you going to open the door?’ her mother scolded as Veena rattled the door chain loudly.
Anita’s thin face bunched into a mask of irritation as she stomped to the door.
‘Oh—h! Just look at you!’ Veena gasped. ‘All dressed up? When did you get this salwar suit? I know—you’re going to the big Ramlila!’ And sure enough, just as Anita had been dreading, she whined, ‘I want to come too! Can’t I, Mausi?’
Amma smiled. She doted on Veena—actually few people could resist that pest, all because of her pert features, big eyes and curly mop. ‘Of course, child. But you must go and ask your mother first.’
The moment Veena left, Anita exploded. ‘Amma! Why did you have to agree? How will we take care of her?’
‘She’s not a babe in arms,’ her mother replied, frowning. She continued in a gentler tone. ‘You know how much her father helps us. It was he who got Mohan that job in the grocery store and loaned us money for the rent when we were short last month. It’s a small thing to do in return.’
Anita’s face went still. She knew very well how dependent they were on Veena’s father, Shivdas Chacha. He had stood by them, ever since her father had died in a road accident. Well, she thought sighing, the pest would have to be tolerated as best they could.
But why was Mohan taking so long? Amma was lighting the kerosene stove, preparing to roll out the chapattis. Normally, Anita helped her but she didn’t want to get flour all over her nice clothes.
She went and sat outside near the door so she could spot Mohan the moment he turned the corner. The delicious aroma of onions being browned with spices came to her, making her stomach rumble—one of the neighbours cooking dinner, perhaps. Then the heady scent of jasmine filled the air. Nagamma, who lived next door, stepped out, carrying a basket full of the little flower garlands women liked to wear in their hair. She sold them at the traffic lights. Suddenly Anita longed to buy one to decorate her skinny plait.
She had four ten-rupee notes rolled up in a handkerchief—money Amma had allowed her to keep when she was paid last month. She had planned to spend it at the Ramlila, on chole, aloo tikki or whatever other mouthwatering goodies were on offer there.
Of course, Mohan would have enough cash for their bus fare and the snacks. But Anita wanted to spend hers too. The thought of having her own money to do as she wished was so exhilarating! It wiped out that horrid feeling of always being needy and helpless.
Another idea, a rather crazy one, had been buzzing in her mind. She could donate the money for a token award to the best actor, the way she had seen people do at the smaller Ramlila organized near their house. She imagined them announcing it. ‘For the actor playing the part of Hanuman ji, Anita Rani is pleased to announce a prize of forty rupees.’ Her face flushed at the thought. People would wonder who the generous lady was and the applause that followed would be as much for her as for the actor. Yes, she wasn’t too hard up to express her appreciation for something she had enjoyed. So, she resisted the temptation and held on to the notes.
A boy carrying a stand of toy bows and arrows, red, wrapped with silver tinsel, and swords made of foil and cardboard came into view. When they were little, Mohan would always buy a set. She was smiling at the memory when Veena came tearing down the road, her frilly dress flouncing around her. Her eyes were dark with kajal and pink bows, matching her frock, jogged up and down on her head.
‘Hasn’t Mohan bhaiya come as yet?’ she squealed. ‘We’ll be late. Ooh, I want to buy a sword!’
‘What’ll you do with it?’ Anita frowned.
‘Play Ramlila till Mohan bhaiya comes!’
Anita suppressed an exasperated sigh. ‘Don’t be silly, girls don’t play with swords,’ she said.
‘Of course they do! What about the Queen of Jhansi?’ Veena pouted. ‘You told me how brave she was and how she fought the British army. Don’t you want me to be brave?’ Then her large eyes narrowed, ‘Oh, sorry, I forgot. You couldn’t be having any money. I’ll go home and—’
‘No!’ Anita’s voice deafened her own ears. ‘I’ve got some.’ Her throat felt funny and swollen as she took out the much folded notes and beckoned to the vendor. She tried not to think about the grandiose plans she had made for this money and concentrated on haggling with the hawker, managing to save half of it.
Veena began to flourish her sword, imitating the fencing bouts she had seen in the movies and almost missed hitting a woman passing by in the crowded street.
‘Sit down,’ Anita cried. ‘I’ll tell you the story of today’s episode. It’s very sad—Lord Rama is going to be banished to the forest because his stepmother, Kaikeyi, wants her son to be king.’
‘I want to hear Hanuman’s story,’ Veena insisted. ‘How he flew over the seas and brought back a whole mountain to get sanjivani, the miraculous herb, to save Lakshmana’s life. Oh, look—there’s a man selling Hanuman masks. I want one! I want one!’
‘Girls—’ Anita began.
‘Girls can play at being anything,’ Veena said quickly. ‘And I like Hanuman ji best in the Ramlila.’
And I want to give you a good spanking, Anita thought. She pulled out the two ten-rupee notes she had left. Thankfully, the man agreed to sell the plastic mask for that amount. Anita slipped the elastic band over Veena’s curls and said, ‘Okay, sit down and I’ll tell you the story.’ Inwardly she was cursing Mohan for taking so long. She would have saved her money if he’d come on time.
She began mechanically noticing that one by one the lights were coming on in the houses down the street. Disappointment tugged at the corners of her mouth as she continued with the tale. When would Mohan arrive? Suppose Amma said it was too late to go and they should postpone it for tomorrow? As it was she had agreed with great difficulty, saying that the neighbourhood Ramlila was good enough. But would Mohan’s boss let him off early again?
‘Girls! Come and eat,’ Amma’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
‘No, Mausi, no,’ Veena called, springing up. ‘I’m not hungry. Come and watch my Ramlila. See, I’m Hanuman ji! I’m going to carry the whole mountain back so the doctor can look for the herb himself.’
Veena began to scamper about like a monkey.
She picked up a piece of broken brick and hoisted it up, straining and panting as if it were a real mountain. Amma giggled like a girl, hiding her mouth with the end of her sari. Anita couldn’t help smiling too, Veena’s act was so comical. Several other laughs rang out and someone clapped and cried out, ‘Jai Hanuman ji!’
With a start, Anita noticed that some passersby had stopped and were watching Veena’s antics with great amusement. A frown crumpled her brow when she noticed that the mask vendor was among them too.
‘Stop it!’ she hissed, suddenly self-conscious.
But Veena was enjoying all the attention. Her shrill voice drowned Anita’s out as she proclaimed, ‘Anita didi, that Ravana mask will be just right for you,’ pointing to a replica of the ten-headed demon that was among the vendor’s wares. ‘If you put it on, we can play at a proper Ramlila.’
There was a huge outburst of laughter. ‘A proper Ramlila!’ a short, stout man guffawed. ‘But this Ravana is too small and puny, he’ll be knocked down before the battle begins!’
Suddenly a wave of fury swept over Anita. Why did she have to put up with all this? Would nothing go right today?
‘I act Ravana? You horrid girl!’ she burst out, angry tears pouring down her cheeks. ‘I spent all my money buying you a sword and a mask, I’m taking you to the Ramlila too and still you insist on making fun of me!’
‘Arre, arre, what’s all this?’
In the faint half-light, Anita glimpsed a tall, lean figure with a familiar gait coming down the street, white teeth gleaming in a dark face.
‘Mohan bhaiya, Mohan bhaiya!’ both girls called out together.
‘It’s just a game, isn’t it?’ Mohan said, patting Anita’s flaming cheek. ‘And this Ramlila seems even more entertaining than the big one! We won’t have such a pretty Ravana there, nor a Hanuman for that matter,’ he grinned.
Anita wiped her eyes with the corner of her chunni, carefully. Could she go and powder her nose again or would Mohan tease her?
‘Are we ready to leave or do I have a minute to make myself pretty too?’ he went on. Unable to speak, she nodded vigorously. And then a small hand clutched hers.
‘Anita didi, Anita didi, don’t cry.’ Something papery scratched her palm. ‘That short man gave it to me,’ Veena whispered. ‘He said I was the best Hanuman he’d ever seen and he should know, since he’d played the role many times. And—and, he gave me these passes. He said they’re for the big Ramlila and we deserved really good seats. I-I even asked for an extra one for Mohan bhaiya!’
Anita stared at the crumpled note—ten—no fifty rupees! She pushed it back into Veena’s hand but the little girl wailed, ‘You’re still angry with me. I didn’t mean to upset you—I thought you’d have fun playing Ravana!’
Anita sighed and hugged Veena. ‘It’s okay,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sorry for acting so silly.’
The big Ramlila was even grander than Anita had imagined. And when Anita Rani announced her award for the actor who played Sita, the applause was deafening. She had to agree, though, that Veena was not that much of a pest. After all, she was the best Hanuman ever!
(Excerpted with permission from Friendship Stories by Deepa Agarwal, published by Scholastic India.)