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Posted at: May 20, 2018, 2:09 AM; last updated: May 20, 2018, 2:09 AM (IST)

The storytellers’ story

Lend them an ear and they will tell you tales of yore and present. Experts in the artform also tell you how an interesting narration can evoke diverse emotions and responses

Sarah Berry

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” — Steve Jobs

An animated voice narrates the history of the Mughals in India. The events we have read about many a time in many history books. While the text remains the same, the way of telling is experimented upon.  The narrative, interwoven with facts and figures, is high on intrigue and interaction. The lovely voice that magically modulates to paint a picture of the Mughal era belongs to Girija Rani Asthana, vice-president of the Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children, and the president of the Bachpan Society of Children’s Literature and Culture. The pep in her voice defies Girija’s age.  She is in her seventies and has held several storytelling sessions, both in India and abroad. 

Reading as a hobby is losing its thrust and that makes the job of storytellers even more relevant. They are like the audio version of the written word, which people neither have the time nor the patience to read. To address the issue, she started the ‘library in the neighbourhood’ initiative, where children from all backgrounds were invited to select and read books. The initial challenge, she adds was that hardly anyone could read. So, she adopted the technique of storytelling, and the results were rewarding.

One tale, many takes

Yashika Chandna, assistant professor, Lady Shri Ram College, Department of Elementary Education (B.El.Ed.), tells her story of taking to storytelling: “As a part of my research in the college, I experimented with this artform. It helped me understand the impact of storytelling.”

She adds that in Hindi, a word like lomri (fox), is feminine, though it includes both genders of the animal in general speech. There are many stories which have fox as the central character, resulting in associated characterisation — for example, slyness. “When I asked the class to rewrite a story on lomri and attribute it the male gender, a wide number of variations emerged, enabling an insight into perceptions imprinted on the minds.” Stories handed down over generations, hence, play an important role. 

Practice of voice modulation during the narration of a story and weaving one from plain words encourage language and analytical thinking skills, vital for our all-round development. Amit Chandra is the national coordinator, National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA). His career has primarily focused on evolving, advocating and operationalising market solutions for the key social problems of India: education and livelihoods. He feels that storytelling is not only an important didactic tool of education, but can also be very effective in the field of advocacy, especially when people need to understand complex concepts.

If stories become an integral part of the growing-up years, these can also affect our value system. “I enjoyed listening to all kind of stories — historical, mythological and even those from everyday lives. These always had a precious learning attached to them,” adds Amit. 

Besides everything else, stories  spread happiness.  Siddha Murada, a student and budding writer, recalls how the after-dinner storytelling sessions with her grandfather were sheer joy. “My first memory of storytelling is associated with the Alibaba and the Forty Thieves.” That was when the first seeds of creative writing were sown. “For me, storytellers are artists, psychologists, actors and what not,” adds Siddha. 

Let the imagination soar

When the mind and the soul wish to relieve itself of the pain of an experience, transforming it into a story can work as a balm. Maitri Gopalakrishna is a drama therapist, trained in the US, practising in India for over 10 years. As a part of her doctoral research, she worked with women, who had been abused in childhood, and who still carried ‘residual injury’. “We conducted the workshop in two stages: drama therapy of  three-months duration and stage performance.” The idea was to engage participants, where they chose what they wished to tell, how much, and how. The response was exhilarating. The exercise gave the victims a chance to vent out troubled emotions.

Therapy for souls

Swiss theatre practitioner and storyteller, Peter Rinderknecht, is also an author, actor and director, who has written, produced and acted in theatre for over 35 years. His works are principally for a young audience. He develops and performs his projects under the banner ‘Theatre for a Growing Public’. His love for storytelling primarily stems from its deep impact: “I am a practitioner, not an academician. At times, it is difficult to express feelings, which is why I invent and present stories,” says Peter. Loneliness, complexity and chaos reign around us. Imagine how young and developing minds deal with a world like this. He adds that storytelling helps us to understand ourselves as a link in a long chain, as a small part of something big. “We want to understand a little of that what surrounds us. This gives us a sense of security and stability. Maybe, I tell the same story, but I always try to tell it in different ways, and there are ‘n’ number of ways.” 

Storytelling also demands leaving enough space for interpretation. Through this medium, people share their hopes and fears, making it a gratifying experience.

’cause age is inconsequential

     It does not matter if you are seven or 70, storytelling can heal a bruised heart. In a storytelling format, the protagonist willingly shares her memories, pleasant and otherwise, which makes the process therapeutic.

It can be described as an artform that draws inspiration  from people’s personal experiences or is handed down the generations. Imran Khan, artistic director, I-Entertainment, has been associated with theatre for more than 20 years, and storytelling for almost 10 years. He says that the influence of local culture and style is inherent to storytelling, besides the elements of music, and the central character — the storyteller. 

 Khan believes that the artform is perhaps one of the strongest tools that can cement the human-to-human connect. “Besides this, it facilitates exposure to diverse traditions and cultures, enhancing the global perspective of a human being.” 

Next time you want to learn a difficult lesson from a book or life, try the guise of a storyteller. 

It may open up a whole new world of imagination.

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