A Story is Not a Story Till it is Heard: A Story of Story, Storyteller and Storytelling

“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-

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 !!!!

20 Replies to “A Story is Not a Story Till it is Heard: A Story of Story, Storyteller and Storytelling”

  1. Wow…written beautifully Sulagna! And really…so much true.

    1. Thank you so much Ruchika. Glad you liked it. 🙂 Keep reading 🙂

  2. Awesome my love

    1. Thank u so much 🙂 😀 😀

  3. Wonderful! I totally agree with every word written here. In fact, just last month I had a similar discussion with my elder brother, I was requesting him to read stories to my nephew so that he can build a habit of listening to stories and loving them. Unfortunately, its unlikely to ever happen given the way people are nowadays. We don’t have respect for our own treasure of stories and yet we go ga-ga over the nonsense that we are fed these days in the name of entertainment. That is primarily because no one has the time to tell or listen to a beautiful story these days. If I have a child ever, I will definitely make it a point to fill him with all the stories that I love.

    I don’t know about the others (frankly, I have stopped caring) but I still have a deep and undying love for folk tales, fables, and the likes and still read them from time to time. And will continue doing so. They help me in so many ways.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the write-up. It’s made me think how can I, too, can contribute towards keeping alive the legacy of stories. It’s also made me grab a storybook from my shelf – ‘ Stories of Vikramaditya’. Looking forward to soaking in the world of those charming, little stories of our past. 🙂

    Nice work. Keep it up!

    1. Thank you very much Bhavesh 🙂

  4. awesome mam..!! loved it..!!

    1. Thank you so much Niharika. Keep reading 🙂

  5. mam…now you made me cry. you have written about my mother. yes mam this internet era will end the magical strings of stories if we would not do something else for it. elders should try to read stories to their children for that, they would understand the touch. thank you mam..thank you so much. its an honor.

    1. Sulagna Mohanty Anything for my students and specially when their moms love my stories 🙂 🙂 I m honored 🙂

  6. ଗଳ୍ପ କିମ୍ବା କାହାଣୀ ପଢିବା ଦ୍ୱାରା ମନୁଷ୍ୟର ସୃଜନଶୀଳତା ବୃଦ୍ଧି ପାଇଥାଏ। ଏକଥା ସତ ଯେ ସମସ୍ତଙ୍କ ମନରେ କିଛି ନା କିଛି ଭାବନା ପ୍ରକାଶ କରିବାକୁ।

    1. Thik kahichanti. 🙂

  7. Beautiful mam..loved it!!!

    1. Thank u very much 🙂

  8. jyotsnamayee biswal says: Reply

    Mam jaha lrkhichanti bilkul sata ktha. Mu v semiti vabe. Mo pila dina ku banchei rakhibaku try kare. Aau jebe mo next generation asibe tanku v mu mo pari pila dina banchibaku debi boli nijaku promise karichi. E internet duniya thu dura re jou dhuli khela achhi bisa amruta, pili badi aau bohu chori khela achhi se sabu sikheibi mo pila nku. Tv mobile ru cartoon dekheiba badalare semananku varieties of story suneibi. Bt dukha lage ki apananka pari or mo pari samaste kain vabu nahanti. Jadi v vabuchanti bahut rare. Samaste kahuchanti ama pila dina vala thila. Bt nija chhua nku sei pila dina dabaku kehi prastut nuhanti. It’s very pathetic…

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely words 😊

  9. Thik lekhichu.piladine Bapa 0 Bou samastanku gapa sunauthile.pari kahani tharu Bhagabata parjyanta. Som o Sharma ku Madhya mu bahut gapa sunaichi.gapa kahiba asthe asthe kamijauchi.u r writing in this topic is very good & well deserved.God bless.

    1. Thank you so much baba for the wonderful words. Thanks for reading 😊

  10. Saurav Sandesh says: Reply

    Superb work Ma’am.How you come with new new interesting topics everytime.Whenever you post something it attracts every one towards your post.Its like a persons favourite team playing cricket and they can’t resist themselves from seeing the scorecard again and again.I think of you in two ways one is a new batsman who came to bat for the frst time but still hit back to back sixes of the toughest bowler of the opposite team and the other one is a new actor who gave back to back superhits.Your every post has some message and that to about the current situation of the world.Story telling is not a handy job.Everyone has not got the capability to write stories the way they​ occurred.Hats off to you ma’am.No one can ever match your potentiality.I wish you should have been with us for some more time so that we could have learnt various other things of life from your experience of life.Missing you ma’am.Hope will meet someday somewhere again and I will try to learn whatever I can from you in that short time.All the best maam.Keep writing but sometimes do oblige us by writing in English so that we the mere creatures of God can understand what the story is about.

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely words Saurav. Even I enjoyed my time with you people. Hope to see you people soon. Even though we all are apart but we are connected through technology and that’s why we can always share our thoughts. Thanks for reading. Take care

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