1. Iswaran the Storyteller Introduction


Iswaran the Storyteller

By RK Laxman

Iswaran the Story Teller Introduction

"Iswaran the storyteller" indicates that this is a storey about Iswaran. He is known as the storyteller because storytelling is an art form that he excels at. Iswaran uses special effects, voice modulation, and body language to make the storey realistic, so that the listener, Mahendra, is attracted in and captivated by it. The writer wishes to emphasise Iswaran's ability to tell stories so convincingly that they appeared to be true. Mahendra found his stories to be entertaining.

Iswaran the Story Teller Summary

Mahendra, a junior supervisor at various construction sites, told Ganesh about Iswaran's storey. Mahendra was able to live in the construction company's temporary shelters because he was unmarried. Mahendra was always accompanied by Iswaran. He was useful to him because he entertained him, cooked for him, and even washed his clothes. Mahendra claims that Iswaran will quickly gather all of the ingredients needed to prepare a meal. Every morning, Mahendra would get ready, eat breakfast, pack his lunch, and leave for work.Meanwhile, Iswaran would clean the house, wash his clothes, take a bath, eat his lunch, read his favourite Tamil storey book, and nap. Iswaran would entertain Mahendra with his stories in the evening. He possessed the gift of storytelling, as he used body gestures, facial expressions, and voice modulation to bring his characters to life. Despite the fact that the stories appeared to be false, Iswaran told them in such a unique way that Mahendra listened to him with interest. Iswaran would begin a storey with an introduction, then lay out the character's backstory, followed by the storey. He described a simple incident in such detail, including actions, that the listener was left with a sense of suspense.

He once told Mahendra about an elephant that had escaped from the jungle and entered town. The beast made its way to Iswaran's school. Because it destroyed the school property, all of the students were locked in the classroom. Iswaran was in one of the junior classes at the time. From the rooftop, he was observing the incident. He took a stick from the teacher and stepped the stairs, landing on the ground. As the elephant threatened to attack him, he walked towards it. Iswaran was unafraid of it. He gathered all of his strength and pounced on the elephant's toe. This attack stunned the elephant, causing it to faint and fall to the ground.

He went to get dinner, but Mahendra was intrigued by what happened next. Mahendra had to remind Iswaran of the story's conclusion because he did not continue with it. Then Iswaran announced that a veterinary doctor had been summoned. He reawakened the elephant, and after two days, a mahout was summoned to return the elephant to the jungle. Mahendra inquired of Iswaran how he managed to overcome the giant beast. Iswaran responded that he used a Japanese martial art technique called Karate or Jujitsu. He'd read somewhere that the martial art could render a person unconscious by paralysing the nervous system.

Every day, Iswaran would narrate a storey that he found entertaining and filled the void left by the lack of a television in his living quarters. Iswaran asked permission to cook a special dinner one morning because it was the day they cooked for the family's deceased elders. That evening, Mahendra ate a delicious meal and complimented Iswaran on his cooking abilities. To Mahendra's chagrin, Iswaran began narrating a storey about ghosts and supernatural powers as he was relaxing after the meal. He claimed that the factory area where they lived was once a burial ground. He'd seen a human skull lying around on the first day.

He went on to say that he was not afraid of ghosts and had seen a lot of bones and skulls. He saw an ugly ghost of a woman with a shrunken face, matted hair, and an unborn baby in its arms on a full moon night. Mahendra was uneasy and taunted Iswaran for his nonsense. He denied the existence of ghosts and ordered him to be examined because he suspected he had gone insane. Mahendra had been feeling uneasy since that day, and he would peer out the window to check for the presence of any ghosts. Mahendra awoke from his sleep one night when he heard someone crying. At first, he thought it was a cat looking for mice.Mahendra couldn't ignore the sound as it became more harsh and deep, and he succumbed to the desire to peer out the window. He noticed the white moonlight and a dark shadow holding a bundle in its arms as he looked out the window. As soon as he saw the ghost, he began sweating and breathing heavily, and he collapsed back onto the bed. After a while, Mahindra realised that his subconscious mind was probably playing a trick on him and that there was no ghost. He got ready the next morning, having forgotten the previous night's incident. Iswaran smiled and handed him his lunch bag.He stated that Mahendra had taunted him a few days ago for talking about the ghost, but that he had seen it himself last night. Iswaran had overheard Mahendra crying in the middle of the night. It was confirmed that Mahendra had seen the ghost the night before and that it was not a trick of his mind. Mahendra was terrified once more, so he left quickly and resigned from his job. He couldn't stay in a haunted house for a single day.

Iswaran the Story Teller Lesson Explanation

The story was narrated to Ganesh by a young man, Mahendra by name. He was a junior supervisor in a firm which offered on hire supervisors at various types of construction sites: factories, bridges, dams, and so on. Mahendra’s job was to keep an eye on the activities at the work site. He had to keep moving from place to place every now and then as ordered by his head office: from a coal mining area to a railway bridge construction site, from there after a few months to a chemical plant which was coming up somewhere.

  • Supervisor: a person whose job is to check the work of all the other people

Mahendra told Ganesh a storey about his cook, Iswaran. Mahendra worked as a junior supervisor for a company that rented out junior supervisors to various construction firms. He was assigned to various construction sites such as factories, bridges, and dams. Mahendra's job was to keep track of all the workers on the job site. He had to relocate frequently and worked in a variety of places, including a coal mine, a railway bridge construction site, and a chemical plant construction site.

He was a bachelor. His needs were simple and he was able to adjust himself to all kinds of odd conditions, whether it was an ill equipped circuit house or a makeshift canvas tent in the middle of a stone quarry. But one asset he had was his cook, Iswaran. The cook was quite attached to Mahendra and followed him uncomplainingly wherever he was posted. He cooked for Mahendra, washed his clothes and chatted away with his master at night. He could weave out endless stories and anecdotes on varied subjects.

  • Bachelor: a person who is unmarried
  • Makeshift: temporary
  • Quarry: mine
  • Asset: advantage
  • Anecdote: A short amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person

Mahendra was able to live in these temporary quarters provided at construction sites because he was unmarried and did not have a family. He adjusted well in the circuit houses, which lacked basic amenities, and even in the tents, which were only temporary. Mahendra had an advantage: he was accompanied by Iswaran, his cook. Iswaran was close to Mahendra and accompanied him wherever he went. He never complained about the difficult circumstances under which he had to live. He cooked for him, washed his clothes, and gave him company at night by talking to him. Iswaran had a quality in that he was good at telling stories, and he entertained Mahindra with his stories about various subjects.

Iswaran also had an amazing capacity to produce vegetables and cooking ingredients, seemingly out of nowhere, in the middle of a desolate landscape with no shops visible for miles around. He would miraculously conjure up the most delicious dishes made with fresh vegetables within an hour of arriving at the zinc sheet shelter at the new workplace.

  • Desolate: uninhabited, empty
  • Conjure up: to gather or create with magic
  • Zinc sheet shelter:  a temporary place to live with the roof made of metallic sheets

Mahendra mentions to Ganesh that Iswaran was a fantastic cook. Whenever they moved to a new location, he would quickly gather all of the vegetables and other ingredients he needed to cook. Because they lived in remote areas, in temporary shelters with metallic sheet roofs, it appeared as if he would perform some sort of magic and summon all the ingredients from nowhere.

Mahendra would be up early in the morning and leave for work after breakfast, carrying some prepared food with him. Meanwhile Iswaran would tidy up the shed, wash the clothes, and have a leisurely bath, pouring several buckets of water over his head, muttering a prayer all the while. It would be lunchtime by then. After eating, he would read for a while before dozing off. The book was usually some popular Tamil thriller running to hundreds of pages. Its imaginative descriptions and narrative flourishes would hold Iswaran in thrall.

  • Muttering: speaking in a low voice
  • Dozing off: falling asleep
  • Narrative flourishes: detailed descriptions
  • In thrall: The state of being in someone’s power

Mahendra would get up early in the morning, dress, and leave for work after eating breakfast. He would bring his lunch with him. After he left, Iswaran would clean their house, wash Mahendra's clothes, and take a nice bath. He'd take several buckets of water and pour it on his head while mumbling a prayer. After that, he would eat his lunch and read his favourite Tamil book. Iswaran was carried away by the details and descriptions in the books he read. He'd then drift off to sleep.

His own descriptions were greatly influenced by the Tamil authors that he read. When he was narrating even the smallest of incidents, he would try to work in suspense and a surprise ending into the account. For example, instead of saying that he had come across an uprooted tree on the highway, he would say, with eyebrows suitably arched and hands held out in a dramatic gesture, “The road was deserted and I was all alone. Suddenly I spotted something that looked like an enormous bushy beast lying sprawled across the road. I was half inclined to turn and go back. But as I came closer I saw that it was a fallen tree, with its dry branches spread out.” Mahendra would stretch himself back in his canvas chair and listen to Iswaran’s tales uncritically.

  • Arched: curved
  • Gesture: A movement of hands for head to indicate something
  • Deserted: empty
  • Enormous:  huge

Iswaran narrated stories with detailed descriptions in the same way he read them. Mahendra recollects that he would narrate even minor incidents with suspense and surprise, making it very interesting for the listener. Then he gives an example in which, instead of saying that he was walking down the highway when he came across a tree that had broken and fallen on the road, Iswaran would narrate it using his facial expressions and bodily gestures. He would claim that the road was deserted and that he was all alone. The listener's mind would be filled with suspense as a result of this. Then he'd say something like, "All of a sudden, I saw a huge beast lying across the road." His mind was telling him to turn around and go back as he walked ahead. As he got closer, he realised it was a tree that had fallen and was lying on the road. The tree's branches had spread out, making it appear to be a massive beast. Iswaran's talent, according to Mahendra, made the simple storey very interesting and captivated him. Although he was aware that some of the stories were not true, the manner in which Iswaran told them was so captivating that Mahendra remained silent and listened to him quietly.

“The place I come from is famous for timber,” Iswaran would begin. “There is a richly wooded forest all around. The logs are hauled on to the lorries by elephants. They are huge well fed beasts. When they turn wild even the most experienced mahout is not able to control them.” After this prologue Iswaran would launch into an elaborate anecdote involving an elephant.

  • Timber:  wood that has been processed for commercial purposes
  • Hauled:  transported
  • Prologue:  an introductory speech
  • Elaborate:  detailed

Mahendra recalls another storey Iswaran told him. Iswaran stated that his native village was surrounded by a vast forest densely forested with trees. The massive timber logs were sold for commercial purposes. Elephants were used to transport them to the vehicles. They were massive elephants, and if they became agitated, they would become uncontrollable, and the mahout would be unable to tame them. This warm-up session was followed by a detailed storey about an elephant.

“One day a tusker escaped from the timber yard and began to roam about, stamping on bushes, tearing up wild creepers and breaking branches at will. You know, sir, how an elephant behaves when it goes mad.” Iswaran would get so caught up in the excitement of his own story that he would get up from the floor and jump about, stamping his feet in emulation of the mad elephant.

  • Tusker:  an elephant
  • roam  about: move around
  • Stamping:  hitting with force
  • Emulation: Effort to match or surpass a person by imitation or copying

The following is how the storey was told. An elephant escaped from the timber yard and roamed the forest one day. It crushed the bushes, tore the creeper plants, and broke the branches of trees that got in its way. Iswaran inquired of Mahendra whether he was familiar with the antics of a crazed elephant. To make his storey more interesting, Iswaran stood up and jumped around the room, hitting his foot on the ground in imitation of the mad elephant's actions.

“The elephant reached the outskirts of our town; breaking the fences down like matchsticks,” he would continue. “It came into the main road and smashed all the stalls selling fruits, mud pots and clothes. People ran helter skelter in panic! The elephant now entered a school ground where children were playing, breaking through the brick wall. All the boys ran into the classrooms and shut the doors tight. The beast grunted and wandered about, pulling out the football goal post, tearing down the volleyball net, kicking and flattening the drum kept for water, and uprooting the shrubs. Meanwhile all the teachers had climbed up to the terrace of the school building; from there they helplessly watched the depredations of the elephant. There was not a soul below on the ground. The streets were empty as if the inhabitants of the entire town had suddenly disappeared.

  • Outskirts:  outer area
  • helter skelter: here and there
  • Panic:  sudden fear causing unthinkable behaviour
  • Grunted:  Made a loud sound
  • Depredations: Attacks which are made to destroy something

The elephant tore down the fences as it approached the town's outskirts. The fences appeared to be matchsticks for the massive elephant. When the elephant arrived at the main road, it destroyed all of the stalls selling various items such as fruits, mud pots, and clothing. People were caught off guard and fled here and there. Then it smashed through a school's wall and into the playground where the students were playing. All of the students dashed back into their classrooms and shut the doors behind them. The elephant made loud noises and roamed the school grounds. It broke the goal post in the football field, tore the net in the volleyball court, stepped on the water drum and broke it, and tore many plants. The teachers had climbed onto the school's roof and did stand helpless as the elephant destroyed the school's property. There was not a single person to be seen anywhere. Because everyone was terrified of the rogue elephant, the streets of town were deserted.

“I was studying in the junior class at that time, and was watching the whole drama from the rooftop. I don’t know what came over me suddenly. I grabbed a cane from the hands of one of the teachers and ran down the stairs and into the open. The elephant grunted and menacingly swung a branch of a tree which it held in its trunk. It stamped its feet, kicking up a lot of mud and dust. It looked frightening. But I moved slowly towards it, stick in hand. People were watching the scene hypnotized from nearby housetops. The elephant looked at me redeyed, ready to rush towards me. It lifted its trunk and trumpeted loudly. At that moment I moved forward and, mustering all my force, whacked its third toenail on the quick. The beast looked stunned for a moment; then it shivered from head to foot — and collapsed.”

  • Hypnotize: to influence, control or direct completely as by personal charm, words or domination
  • Mastering: putting together
  • whacked:  hit noisily
  • Collapsed: fell

Iswaran was in one of the school's junior classes at the time of the incident. From the rooftop, he was watching the elephant. Suddenly, he grabbed a stick from one of the teachers and dashed downstairs to the schoolyard. When the elephant saw a small boy approaching it, he made a loud noise. It lifted a tree branch in its trunk, landed on the ground, and threw a lot of mud and dust into the air. The elephant was threatening Iswaran, but the boy was unfazed. He moved slowly towards the elephant, holding the stick in his hand. Many people had climbed onto the roofs of their homes to observe the incident. They were stunned and stood motionless, waiting to see what would happen next. Iswaran noticed the elephant's red – coloured eyes, which were filled with rage. It lifted its trunk once more and made a loud trumpet sound as it prepared to attack Iswaran. Iswaran quickly gathered his strength and struck the elephant's third toenail. The elephant was taken aback by what had occurred, and it reacted by shivering all over, fainting, and collapsing unconscious on the ground.

At this point Iswaran would leave the story unfinished, and get up mumbling, “I will be back after lighting the gas and warming up the dinner.” Mahendra who had been listening with rapt attention would be left hanging. When he returned, Iswaran would not pick up the thread of the story right away. Mahendra would have to remind him that the conclusion was pending. “Well, a veterinary doctor was summoned to revive the animal,” Iswaran would shrug casually. “Two days later it was led away by its mahout to the jungle.”

  • rapt attention: completely fascinated or absorbed by what one is seeing or hearing
  • pick up the thread of the story: would not restart the story from where he left in order to arouse curiosity
  • veterinary doctor: a doctor who specializes in treating animals
  • Summoned: called
  • Shrug: to raise one’s shoulders slightly and momentarily to express doubt, ignorance, or indifference

Iswaran would then leave the storey unfinished. He would say in hushed tones that he would return after lighting the gas stove to warm the dinner because they were going to be late for the meal. Mahendra would be interested to learn what happened next and would be disappointed that Iswaran had left the storey unfinished. When he returned, he would not continue with the storey because he wanted to arouse Mahendra's interest. Mahendra, who is curious about the ending, would ask Iswaran to wrap up the storey. Iswaran would simply state that a veterinary doctor had been summoned to bring the elephant back to consciousness, and that the mahout would return the elephant to the jungle after two days.

“Well, how did you manage to do it, Iswaran — how did you bring down the beast?”

Mahendra was intrigued as to how the young Iswaran managed to overcome the massive elephant.

“It has something to do with a Japanese art, I think, sir. Karate or jujitsu it is called. I had read about it somewhere. It temporarily paralyses the nervous system, you see.”

Iswaran claimed to have practised a Japanese martial art. It was either Karate or Jujitsu, he said. He'd read somewhere that martial arts could render a person unconscious by disrupting the nervous system.

Not a day passed without Iswaran recounting some story packed with adventure, horror and suspense. Whether the story was credible or not, Mahendra enjoyed listening to it because of the inimitable way in which it was told. Iswaran seemed to more than make up for the absence of a TV in Mahendra’s living quarters.

  • Credible: able to be believed; convincing
  • Inimitable: Unique

Every day, Iswaran would tell a storey full of adventure, horror, and thrills. Mahendra had the impression that the storey was a work of fiction at times, but he enjoyed listening to it because of the unique way Iswaran narrated it. Mahendra was entertained by these stories because there was no television set in the house where they lived.

One morning when Mahendra was having breakfast Iswaran asked, “Can I make something special for dinner tonight, sir? After all today is an auspicious day — according to tradition we prepare various delicacies to feed the spirits of our ancestors today, sir.”

  • Auspicious: good
  • Delicacies: tasty food
  • Spirits: souls of the dead
  • Ancestors: elders of the family

Mahendra was eating breakfast one morning. As it was a good day, Iswaran asked him if he could prepare a special meal for dinner. He went on to say that on that day, they prepared special food for the souls of the family's deceased elders.

That night Mahendra enjoyed the most delicious dinner and complimented Iswaran on his culinary skills. He seemed very pleased but, unexpectedly, launched into a most garish account involving the supernatural.

  • culinary skills: related to cooking
  • Garish: something which is too colourful and fancy that it is disliked
  • Supernatural: related to ghosts and spirits

Mahendra praised Iswaran's cooking skills after he had prepared a delicious dinner. Iswaran was pleased to be praised, but then began narrating a detailed storey about ghosts and supernatural powers, which Mahendra disliked.

“You know, sir, this entire factory area we are occupying was once a burial ground,” he started. Mahendra was jerked out of the pleasant reverie he had drifted into after the satisfying meal. “I knew on the first day itself when I saw a human skull lying on the path. Even now I come across a number of skulls and bones,” Iswaran continued.

  • Reverie: a state of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts; a daydream

Iswaran informed Mahendra that the factory site was previously a cemetery for the dead. After the delicious meal, Mahendra jerked out of his pleasant thought. Iswaran went on to say that on the first day, he saw a human skull lying on the ground on his way back from buying vegetables. Even later, he discovered a number of skulls and bones scattered around the place.

He went on to narrate how he sometimes saw ghosts at night. “I am not easily frightened by these things, sir. I am a brave fellow. But one horrible ghost of a woman which appears off and on at midnight during the full moon… It is an ugly creature with matted hair and a shrivelled face, like a skeleton holding a foetus in its arms.”

  • Shrivelled: wrinkled and shrunken
  • Foetus: unborn baby

Iswaran also mentioned seeing ghosts at night. Although he was not afraid of them because he was a brave person, he once saw a horrifying ghost of a woman. It appeared at 12 a.m. on a full moon night. It was ugly, with matted hair and a shrunken, withered face. It appeared to be a skeleton holding an unborn child in its arms.

Mahendra shivered at the description and interrupted rather sharply, “You are crazy, Iswaran. There are no such things as ghosts or spirits. It is all a figment of your imagination. Get your digestive system examined — and maybe your head as well. You are talking nonsense.”

  • Figment: production

Mahendra was dissatisfied with the storey and abruptly interrupted. He scolded Iswaran and stated that he had gone insane. Ghosts, according to Mahendra, do not exist. He went on to say that it was all in Iswaran's head. He told Iswaran to get himself checked out – to have his digestive system and brain examined because he was talking nonsense. (Mahendra advised him to have his digestive system checked because constipation causes nightmares and dreams of ghosts and supernatural powers.)

He left the room and retired for the night, expecting Iswaran to sulk for a couple of days. But the next morning he was surprised to find the cook as cheerful and talkative as ever.

  • Sulk: be silent, morose, and bad-tempered out of annoyance or disappointment

Mahendra had expected Iswaran to be quiet for a few days after scolding him the night before. The next morning, he was surprised to see a cheerful and talkative Iswaran.

From that day on Mahendra, for all his brave talk, went to bed with a certain unease. Every night he peered into the darkness outside through the window next to his bed, trying to make sure that there was no movement of dark shapes in the vicinity. But he could only see a sea of darkness with the twinkling lights of the factory miles away.

  • Vicinity: nearby area

Mahendra demonstrated great bravery, but he was uneasy because of the storey Iswaran had told. Every night before going to bed, he peered out the window next to his bed to make sure there was no ghost nearby. He didn't see any ghosts, just darkness and the factory's twinkling lights.

He had always liked to admire the milk – white landscape on full moon nights. But after hearing Iswaran’s story of the female ghost he avoided looking out of his window altogether when the moon was full.

Before to hearing the insurance storey Mahendra light was watching the White coloured landscape on a full moon night because Iswaran had told me that on a full moon night a female ghost haunted place, but he stopped looking out on that night because he was afraid of bumping into the Ugly ghost.

One night, Mahendra was woken up from his sleep by a low moan close to his window. At first he put it down to a cat prowling around for mice. But the sound was too guttural for a cat. He resisted the curiosity to look out lest he should behold a sight which would stop his heart. But the wailing became louder and less feline. He could not resist the temptation any more. Lowering himself to the level of the windowsill he looked out at the white sheet of moonlight outside. There, not too far away, was a dark cloudy form clutching a bundle. Mahendra broke into a cold sweat and fell back on the pillow, panting. As he gradually recovered from the ghastly experience he began to reason with himself, and finally concluded that it must have been some sort of auto suggestion, some trick that his subconscious had played on him.

  • Moan: crying sound
  • Prowling: searching
  • guttural: sound produced in the throat; harsh sounding
  • Wailing: crying sound
  • Feline: relating to cats or other members of the cat family
  • Panting: breathing heavily
  • Ghastly: causing horror and fear
  • auto suggestion: subconscious adoption of an idea which one has originated oneself

Mahendra was sleeping one night when he was awakened by the sound of someone crying. He tried to go back to sleep, thinking it was a cat looking for mice. The sound became harsher and resembled a human voice. Mahendra wanted to look out the window but stopped himself because he was afraid he would die if he saw a ghost. The crying sound became more audible, and it did not appear to be that of a cat. Mahendra couldn't help himself, so he knelt down and lifted his head slightly to peer out. Mahendra noticed the ghost in the white moonlight. It held a bundle in one hand. Mahendra panicked, his breathing became unsteady, and he slumped back onto the bed. After a while, he recovered from the terrifying experience and reasoned that his subconscious mind was probably showing him the ghost as he was thinking about it. He convinced himself that there was no ghost and that his mind was playing a trick on him.

By the time he had got up in the morning, had a bath and come out to have his breakfast, the horror of the previous night had faded from his memory. Iswaran greeted him at the door with his lunch packet and his bag. Just as Mahendra was stepping out Iswaran grinned and said, “Sir, remember the other day when I was telling you about the female ghost with a foetus in its arms, you were so angry with me for imagining things? Well, you saw her yourself last night. I came running hearing the sound of moaning that was coming from your room…”

  • Grinned: smiled broadly
  • Resolving: deciding
  • haunted place: visited by ghosts

Mahendra had forgotten the ghostly experience of the previous night by the time he awoke, took his bath, and went out for breakfast. Iswaran greeted him and handed him his lunch and bag. As Mahendra was about to leave, Iswaran smiled and said that the other day, Mahendra had scolded him for talking about the ugly ghost, but last night, Mahendra saw it himself. Iswaran had heard Mahendra's cries the night before.

A chill went down Mahendra’s spine. He did not wait for Iswaran to complete his sentence. He hurried away to his office and handed in his papers, resolving to leave the haunted place the very next day!

  • Spine: back bone
  • Resolving: deciding
  • Handed his papers: resigned

Iswaran's remark frightened Mahendra once more. He didn't say anything else and dashed off to his office. He made the decision to resign from his job and leave the haunted location. He couldn't continue to live there.

About the Author

R.K. Laxman , Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman (born October 24, 1921, Mysore [now Mysuru], India—died January 26, 2015, Pune), Indian cartoonist who created the daily comic strip You Said It, which chronicled Indian life and politics through the eyes of the "common man," a bulbous-nosed bespectacled observer dressed in a dhoti and a distinctive checked coat who served as a silent point-of-view character for readers.