Jan 25, 2013

Chal re bhoplya tunuk, tunuk (Go pumpkin go)

In part 2 of Go Pumpkin Go Chatura had safely crossed the forest and her daughter was about to reveal to her the plan she had come up with while picking vegetables in the garden.

“Well, I saw this pumpkin growing in the corner of the yard and I thought, what if we let it grow as big as it can get. We will have to nourish it and take care of it for a few months. If we can let it grow big enough to be able to hide you inside it…” Samajh quickly finished. She looked at her husband and mother, expecting them to laugh at her idea.
To her surprise, her mother nodded her head and smiled at Samajh. “I think it just might work. We will have to figure out the finer details in the days ahead but I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to pull it off.”

As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Chatura and Samajh planned and plotted of ways to get through the jungle safely. Meanwhile, Chatura enthralled her grandkids with stories of her adventures, some true, some embellished and some imaginary. The kids couldn’t get enough of their nanima.

The mother daughter took care of the house and kept a watch over the pumpkin. They tended to it every day, nourishing it with water and fertilizing it with compost.  In a few months, their hard work harvested the biggest pumpkin the town had ever seen. It was almost three feet tall and about two feet in diameter. Chatura was a small woman and it was easy for her to fit inside the giant pumpkin. The problem was to transport the pumpkin through the forest.
Since nobody in the town was foolish or brave enough to do it Karma came up with a plan clever enough to match his wife’s. I should mention that Karma was a carpenter by profession but in his spare time he liked to invent little contraptions for the amusement of his children. The neighborhood kids were always hanging around the workshop in the hopes of catching him in his spare time. That was when he would whittle a piece of wood in the shape of a monkey, add some springs and wheels to it and viola, the little monkey would start cartwheeling on the ground.

A few days before the pumpkin was to be harvested, Karma set on building a little round cart that would fit snuggly beneath the giant gourd. He added four wheels underneath and added a few levers for Chatura to steer. The next day, the neighbors helped Samajh and Chatura hollow out the pumpkin and carve two eyes and a nose for the old woman to see and breathe. They cut a hole at the bottom, big enough for Chatura to get in.
Chatura hugged her grandkids and her daughter, said farewell to her son-in-law and sat down on the cart he had built for her. The neighbors handed her all sorts of eatables for the journey ahead. Then they lowered the pumpkin over her, taking care to align the slits over her eyes and nose. Samajh arranged some leaves and pumpkin vines around the cart to camouflage it. Then they all gently pushed the cart to the edge of the forest, whispered their goodbyes, said a silent prayer and watched as Chatura bravely steered her pumpkin cart on the rough forest path. Now it was up to Chatura to survive the one and a half day journey.

Inside the stuffy pumpkin Chatura steered the cart all the while keeping an eye out for Sher Khan. Around mid-day she thought she heard a roar but it seemed to fade away in the distance. Around two in the afternoon she decided to take a break and eat some lunch. Steering the cart was hard on her old bones and she was hungry. She deftly steered the pumpkin behind some bushes and started eating her lunch.

Suddenly, she heard rustling on the other side of the bushes.  She stopped eating and tried to stay as calm as possible. The rustling stopped and Chatura heard voices talking in earnest.

“We need to get rid of that lion,” said a raspy voice.
“But Sardar we have tried so many times. Sher Khan is cunning. He stays away from our part of the jungle,” a squeaky voice said timidly.

“Well, we will have to do something. No one comes through the jungle anymore for fear of him. We haven’t looted a single traveler in months. The last one who came through was the old woman and she didn’t have a dime on her,” Sardar said angrily.
Chatura could not believe her luck. These were the bandits who had waylaid her a few months ago. They were a rag tag bunch of village misfits and bullies who made their living robbing defenseless travelers. But they could be useful to her in escaping the predator. She decided to get their attention.

“Excuse me,” she said aloud from inside her pumpkin.

“Who is there?” shouted the Sardar, clearly alarmed to hear a voice coming out of nowhere.

“Here, I am behind the bushes,” Chatura said.
The gang cautiously peered around the bushes, their knives and daggers drawn. The superstitious ones trailed behind the brave ones, clearly not wanting to be the first ones to confront the mysterious voice behind the bush. They almost bolted when they realized the voice was coming from inside a pumpkin.

“Who is there?” the Sardar asked again, his raspy voice rising to a high pitch. He was not a superstitious man but he could see no one else behind the bushes but a giant pumpkin with a nose and two eyes.
Chatura suddenly realized that the Sardar and his gang seemed to be thinking that the pumpkin was talking to them. She stifled a giggle and said in as grave a voice as she could muster, “I am a pumpkin bewitched by an old hag.”

This time, the gang was sure the voice had come from the pumpkin. Didn’t it just say it was the pumpkin speaking? The gang shuddered including Sardar.
“What d…do y…you want pumpkin?” he asked, trying to sound brave.  

“Well, I couldn’t help overhear you fine gentlemen talking about Sher Khan. What if I were to tell you his hiding place?” the pumpkin asked.
The bandits forgot their fears for the moment and listened intently as the pumpkin told them where to find Sher Khan.

“Now off you go before the old hag returns and turns all of you into pumpkins too.”
At the mention of the hag the bandits turned on their heels and took off. They had liked the pumpkin’s plan but they did not want to linger in the vicinity in case the curse rubbed off on them.

With the bandits gone Chatura started back on the trial. She had sent the bandits off to the hollow tree where she had first met Sher Khan. It was almost night-time before she decided to stop off and rest. She steered the pumpkin behind a clump of trees and went to sleep.
Early next morning, Chatura started off towards her village, fully expecting to encounter Sher Khan that day. Not a lot happened in the jungle without him knowing about it. He was sure to know of the mysterious pumpkin travelling through his domain. Sure enough, an hour into her journey she heard a loud roar as Sher Khan sprung forward from the bushes.

The rolling pumpkin came to screeching halt to avoid a head on collision with the lion. If Sher Khan seemed surprised to see a giant pumpkin rolling through his forest, he did not show it. He growled once again, assessing the situation. He did not want to eat the pumpkin, him being a non-vegetarian. But he wanted to know what was going on.
“What kind of pumpkin are you?” he growled.

Chatura started recounting her bewitched-by-an-old-hag story to Sher Khan. Not fully knowledgeable in the ways of the humans, Sher Khan didn’t care to think too much about her story. He was interested in only one thing and if this pumpkin had the answer, all the more better.
“Hold on pumpkin,” he growled, cutting Chatura off in mid-sentence. “I don’t care for all this bewitching nonsense. All I want to know is have you seen an old woman cross the forest? She owes me every pound of flesh she has on her old bones and I will have it if that is the last meal I ever have.”

Now, this was the moment the old woman was waiting for. She took a deep breath and said in a calm voice, “I know the old hag you are looking for. She is the one who cursed me and turned me into a pumpkin. Unlucky for her, I saw her taking shelter for the night in a giant hollow tree. I can’t point you to it, me being a rolling pumpkin and all. But I am sure you know where it is since you are the king of this jungle.”
“I know exactly where the hollow tree is. Thank you for the information pumpkin. I will see you around,” and with a hurried growl, intended as a thank you, Sher Khan leapt around and started running towards the tree.

Chatura did not need any prompting to hightail out of the jungle. She steered the pumpkin as fast as she could and had cleared the forest before noon.
A few weeks later, some travelers came across four bodies injured and killed by what seemed to be wounds infected by a lion. A little further ahead, by a giant hollow tree, they found the body of a giant tiger whose cause of death seemed to have been several knife and sword wounds.

The original story is simple enough. The old woman meets the lion while crossing the jungle. The lion wants to eat her. She convinces him to let her go and promises to come back all fattened up for him. He agrees. She goes to her daughter’s, stays a while and finds a giant pumpkin. She sits inside and rolls it through the forest singing, “chal re bhoplya tunuk, tunuk” (go pumpkin go, tunuk tunuk).” When she meets Sher Khan she tells him she is just a pumpkin and being a non-vegetarian, he lets her go.
The story is intended to show the courage, intelligence and bravery of older women who deserve our respect and admiration.


  1. Lovely post...Loved the way you have elaborated the story! i remember reading this story when I was a child and now my hubby tells the same to our son

    1. Thanks Uj. I hope he tells him this one version too.

  2. wow; will tell this story to my daughter :)

  3. Liked the story. Nice. Should tell my niece some day.

  4. I felt like a child listening to its grandmother telling her a story. Thanks, Jaya!

    1. I hope you were imagining my aaji's face and not mine for the grandmother. :-)

  5. Thanks for reminding us about this beautiful story. I had forgotten about it and when I read the title I was wondering what this story could be about. Beautifully written and yes two themes woven into this story. Loved and touched by the last couple lines. Our elders do deserve all our respect and admiration.

  6. What a great version! Must read out loud for my Li'll Man :)
    The last line brought back a million memories of my dear Aaji, who was a beacon of hope, love, warmth and everything positive all her life and how, even after she is no longer with us, all these things inspire us and how well loved and respected she is, even today. Thank You.


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