“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
Just two days back, I received a wonderful picture-quote on my Whatsapp that goes as follows-
Little did I knew that I would be writing on the same topic after 48 hours of receiving that beautiful message!!! Since my first Odia flash-fiction has gone live on Facebook, I am over-flooded with messages in regard to my stories; adoration, adulation, exaltation, suggestions including condemnation. I got to know how not only my friends but also their family and acquaintances are going through those mini stories, reading them, enjoying them and relating to them.
I was overwhelmed to be notified that now I have a little fan following that includes the enthusiastic mothers of my peers who look forward to my fictions every week. As I was told, few of my friends, including the mom of a dear student, had shed tears after reading those stories. May be it was quite a big compliment for a rookie like me. But more than these lovely words what pleasantly surprised me that these stories had unconsciously brought out a powerful practice that was almost extinct in our everyday subsistence.
While interacting with my friends, I discovered that few Odia people in my FB friend list were interested to read those stories but they did not know how to read Odia (may be owing to the contemporary convent education!!). And those who could read odia stories wanted to share them with their near and dear ones who did not own a FB account or may be a Smartphone!!! So what did these people do??!!! How did they read those tales?? I was amused to know that they started telling stories, they started reading out those stories!! The kids read them aloud to their smartphone-deprived-parents (mostly moms). And the parents read those mini-fictions to the odia-deprived-kids. And I was amazed to realize that they all, inadvertently, by doing so, had retrieved the age-old tradition of storytelling and oral narratives.
Storytelling and oral narratives are usually found in the forms of stories, rituals, songs and dances. They negotiate between history and the present, reality and dream, truth and fantasy. Culture lives and survives through stories and oral narratives that pass from generation to generation. As they are deeply rooted in ancient cultures and traditions, our culture is significantly dependent on stories and oral narratives for its existence and continuation.
Around the world, in the traditional storytelling, storytellers are often figurative. The figure of an old woman is the most popular image of a storyteller across many cultures. It is applied to the Indian context where one can identify the storyteller with the image of a grandmother who is popular for entertaining children with her magical box of stories. I am quite sure that we all, more or less, can recollect one of our most beautiful childhood memories was to listen to various fables, folklores, and mythological tales, in the lap of our grandparents, before sleeping; while being transported into a fairy world of prince, princess, witches, monsters and warriors.
Apart from this, many Indian and Arabic collections also have a frame story about different storytellers. Sometimes it is the storyteller who is telling stories to a group of travelling companions. Sometimes it is the young prince who receives his education from a wise teacher instructing him about the wisdom of life entirely in the form of stories.
Oral narratives in India can also be found in the 3rd century BC where Indian scholar and author of the famous Indian fable Panchatantra, Vishnu Sharma had used the device of oral narrative to teach life lessons to the three unruly princes of Patliputra hence making Panchatantra a powerful example of imparting education through storytelling. Indian storytelling tradition also includes Jataka Tales which is a voluminous body of stories native to India and which contains the stories of the previous births of Bodhisatva, an avatar of Lord Budhha. Baital Pachisi (Twenty Five Tales of Baital) is another example of the Indian tradition of storytelling that is written in Sanskrit and is a collection of twenty-four tales within a frame story.
Thus, stories serve as a significant instrument to relive the history, keep the past alive and establish identities in an existing setting. The voice of the old culture, in the guise of stories, tries to make itself heard through the oral tradition that passes from generation to generation. The storyteller serves as a link between her/his culture and the larger community. Storytelling has served a social purpose, acting as a medium wherein various difficult social issues are presented.
But unfortunately, for today’s generation, the art of storytelling is almost extinct, thanks to our addiction to Television, internet and social media. The children are spoilt with choices and so are the adults. Mothers are busy with Facebook and Whatsapp, rarely getting time to tell or read out a story to their kids. Owing to the nuclear family, children have access neither to their grandparents nor to their amazing world of fantastic stories. In the world of Doremon and Pokemon, the likes of Jungle Book, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast are merely movies as the kids are blissfully ignorant of its printed counterparts.
Recently, I asked a small kid to learn a few stories from her mom (for a competition) and what I got as a reply was, “Mummy ko toh kuch bhi story nahi pata, woh kya mujhe sikhayengi??? (Mom herself doesn’t know any story, how can she help me out!!!). And it was his mom who came to me, cribbing for her son not getting a prize in the storytelling competition held in his school. So don’t we lead by example? Aren’t our kids the exact mirror of us, of the clueless parents?
Therefore, in such a pitiable scenario, I feel it is fair enough to rejoice if my stories have contributed its part, no matter how little, to reignite the passion for storytelling. It’s high time storytelling and oral tradition find its way back to the mainstream education and most importantly to our contemporary lifestyle. Let’s tell stories to our kids. Let them tell us stories. Let’s read out stories to them.
Let them read out stories to us. Let’s be old enough to believe in fairytales again; let’s be wise enough to make our kids do so. We must remember that our generation is the only thread between our past and our present. If we let our folk tales/lores and lullaby die, neither our forefathers nor our descendants are ever going to forgive us. So let the stories speak for themselves, let the lullabies sing for themselves, let the lores flow for themselves. Let the spark of the stories never die. Let the passion for storytelling never die. Let the STORY itself never die because no story LIVES unless someone LISTENS to it !!!!