Kaamaskatka!

I had just then settled down to write a story1. As if waiting for me to sit down, Muthup payal2 called out!

Athimber3, what does kaamaskatka mean?” “Eh, what?? Kaamaskatka!?”

“Yes, athimber! Next-door Balu says that it’s an animal.” “No way! There’s no such animal!”

“Why??” “There’s definitely no such thing!”

“Balu is a very smart chap! He always comes first in class. If he says something, it has to be correct.” “Don’t blabber! He doesn’t know everything.”

“How?” “How what?”

“How can someone not know everything?” “Okay okay. I don’t know. Go!”

“If you don’t know, how can you say that someone doesn’t know everything? He must be knowing everything. You don’t know!”

“No no. I know!” “Then why did you just now say that you don’t know?”

I sat back to make another attempt at the story. Took out the paper and checked whether pen had ink …


Athimber, what will happen if I fall with a thud here?” “Your skull will break!”

“Why so?” “Because of the fall.”

“From where?” “From here.”

“Why should I fall?” “Adei! You were the one who told just now!”

“Then what do we do?” “We visit a doctor.”

“What will he do?” “He will bandage up your head.”

“What will happen then?” “Adei, let anything happen! Won’t you go down now?”

“Why such anger, athimber? Will it take very long to tell?” “Yes!”

“Go ahead and tell. I will stay patiently. I don’t have any other work right now.” “But I have!”

“What?” “I am going to write a story.”

“Shall we see? I say you cannot write a story!” “Can!”

“How?” “That I cannot tell.”

“Why not?” “It will take months on end to tell you how.”

“But I’m going to be with you for years on end!” “I have other work!”

“Why work?” “Aren’t we supposed to eat? That’s why I work!”

“Why eat?” “Adei! Go downstairs and talk to your akka4 for a while!”

“She was the one who shooed me away to you!” “Why?”

Muthu was dumbstruck!


Muthu is six. From the day he stumbled upon speech, he has been pestering people with “What?” “Why?” “How?” “Where?” “What for?” … making people run for cover. But have I stumbled upon a way to silence him now? Muthu was standing as if in a trance!

But he recovered in a minute. “It seems I talk too much.” “How?” I didn’t give up!

“How what?” “How which?”

“How what why?” “… are you talking?”

He was all at sea!

He tried to divert me with “Where is my flute?” “Why?”, I persisted!

“What?” “Why?”

He made faces at me, and kicked my chair hard. It looked like he wanted to behead me!

“Very nice!”, I said.

“What?” “If you bend your flute like this, it will break.”

“You can die!” “Then if you try to play it, it will not produce any sound.”

“Ayyayyoh!” “Why?”

The same question again! His anger knew no bounds. My chair got two more kicks. “I shall go tell akka”, he said.

“What?” “What what?” “Why what what?”

Muthu couldn’t bear it anymore. Tears welled in his eyes. He ran to the doorstep.

Dei Muthu!” “What?” “Animal!” “What?” “Kaamaskatka.”


I wrote up the above story in three hours after that. He didn’t show his face to me till I finished!


1. This is a translation of a very short, very cute story in Tamil by Devan, written in the early 1940s perhaps. He adored children, but had none of his own. Many of his stories feature delightful children. This one is a treat!

2. Payal means ‘boy’, literally. But it’s just an affectionate form of addressing kids.

3. Elder sister’s husband (in this story!). It also means father’s sister’s husband.

4. Elder sister.

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2 comments

  1. Nice story, and I can imagine it’s cuter in the original :)

    The layout makes it a bit hard to tell who’s saying what, though… some of the quotation marks are confusing.

    I don’t know an easy way to insert footnotes in WordPress: you can insert them manually, with something like (replace ≤ and ≥ with normal angle brackets)

    ≤a name=”upfn1″ href=”#fn1″≥≤sup≥1≤/sup≥≤/a≥
    ….
    ≤a name=”fn1″ href=”#upfn1″≥↩≤/a≥

    1. Thanks a lot, Shreevatsa! The original is indeed very cute!

      I have introduced the footnotes now. I thought I had taken enough care to make it clear who was saying what. But evidently it’s not enough! Please tell me how I can improve on the layout. Another question … what is the best way to break a piece into many segments. I have used the hr tag above to introduce the horizontal lines, but there has to be a better way!

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