It was Maymo’s eleventh birthday. An 11th birthday was special and so Joshi Ma had arranged
for balloons and a big cake with eleven candles. All the children helped Maymo blow out the candles and eat the cake. It was just after this that Maymo felt a sudden stab in her middle.

Oh no, Maymo thought, clutching her stomach. She knew what it was, of course. She had eaten too much cake and now here was the stomach ache, just like Joshi Ma had warned her. She drank glasses of water and then, because her best friend Jumo thought it would help, ran around the room.

But the feeling of being stabbed in her stomach grew; it spread around her middle and climbed steadily. It rose in her throat, thick and strong, and Maymo gasped, certain she was going to throw up. Why, she wondered angrily, couldn’t she have thrown up on any of the days the cook served them one of his ghastly dishes? She would have been happy to throw up after eating pumpkin methi rice or the
cook’s special lauki dal. Why now, when she had just enjoyed her birthday cake?

But there was no arguing with the thick column rushing up her throat, up and up and up, forcing
Maymo’s mouth open. She felt a moment’s sorrow at the wasted birthday cake, then a vast hiccup erupted out of her mouth, and she heard her own voice saying: “Once upon a time there was a king.”

Maymo stopped, astounded at what she was saying. But the words were pouring out of her mouth now, forming sentences that followed each other, building a story about a king and a queen. And in the noise and confusion of the party, someone heard her and shouted excitedly, “Maymo is telling a story!”

There was a moment’s stunned silence. Then there was a stampede as everyone ran across the
room towards Maymo. “Story! Story!” they chanted.

“Story! Story!”

“Sssssh!” Jumo tried to shush them. “Joshi Ma will hear you!”

But it was too late. Joshi Ma had heard the noise and she stood over Maymo, frowning horribly and announcing, “No stories!” The smaller children burst into tears. “But why?” the other children wailed.

“We never get to hear stories!”

“What do they teach you at school?” Joshi Ma grumbled. “Don’t you know that the Story Law bans
stories in the kingdom of Songarh?”

Of course, they all knew about the Story Law.

Like Jumo said, only someone who had lived under a stone or inside a deep dark cave for many years would not know about this Law. For as long as they could remember, the children had heard people say, “No stories!” How could telling someone about what happened at school be a story? And what about a joke? How did a joke become a story and make people shush them angrily?

But that was how it was and there were times when the children felt that they hated the ruler of their kingdom, Rani Renu Mata. But Joshi Ma didn’t like them saying anything against Rani Renu Mata. The Rani had been forced to implement the Law because the ruler of Achalgarh had wanted them to. And how could the Rani ignore the wishes of their nearest and very powerful neighbour?

There were angry mutters of disappointment and the older children groaned, “Horrible horrible Story Law!” This earned them another frown from Joshi Ma. “Rani Renu Mata made the Law,” Joshi Ma reminded them. “Her father introduced it, but it was the Rani who implemented it the year she became the queen of our kingdom. And we should respect it!”

“Just one story,” the children begged. “The Rani will never know!”

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” Joshi Ma demanded. “The Rani Mata has to deal with the war
with our neighbour, the kingdom of Achalgarh. She must be so worried, wondering why Prince Parash suddenly decided to attack us. And why now, when she has done everything to keep the peace!” Joshi Ma looked severely at them. “We are not going to cause the Rani any worry by breaking the Story Law. So, no stories!” she said with an air of finality.

The Story School

Excerpted with permission from The Story School, Nandini Nayar, Talking Cub.