Updated: Apr 9
“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution -- more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.” - Lisa Cron, Wired for Story
And so it remains today and always will.
As a story-educator and a library educator, I use both oral storytelling techniques and read-aloud from books, in my sessions with children.
As I thought about what I should share this World Storytelling Day, I realised that I was partial to books and stories about stories.
Stories and storytelling are absolutely fascinating because while they may entertain, they are also fundamental to the way in which we human beings understand the world. When we listen to or read another’s story, we are exposed to and a range of experiences which allow us to see the the world from different perspectives.
I guess this is why there are stories about stories. These old tales are often foreboding…warning about the dangers of what could happen when we don’t share stories.
So it is in A Story and a Song by Manasi Subramanium which warns of the revenge that stories can take on you if you don’t share them.
I had long been sharing another folktale from Vietnam which also underlined the importance of sharing stories in a similar revenge filled plot and I marvelled at how across cultures, we share the same stories.
There could be two reasons, one is that stories travelled…across the land and seas and on the wings of birds and the tail of a wind…adopted and adapted by the people where they land.
The other reason, and the one that appeals to me most, is our underlying humanity. Across cultures, languages, features, skin colour, beliefs…we are the same…which explains why our stories tend to have similar themes.
I allow my imagination on how stories travel, run wild with the lyrical words of Sandhya Rao in her book Stories on the Sand.
When we tell our stories, we share our culture and values, we share the social, political and economic narratives we hold close to us. We share our history.
In Stitching Stories - The Art of Embroidery in Gujarat by Nina Sabnani, Raniben tells the story of her experiences crossing the harsh desert during partition, through her embroidery. A story about resetting and rebuilding their lives, losing everything again to an earthquake and picking themselves up to rebuild again.
In Noon Chai and a Story by Adithi Rao, Deidi, in the process sharing a family story, gives Amiya a peek into not just her family history, but that of her people and country...the stories interwoven as stories often are. Amiya takes these stories forward, by writing them down and getting her sister to illustrate them, stitching the pages together to create a book.
As humans, stories make up our very fabric, and are deeply interwoven in how we learn. They instil a sense of belonging, identity, pride, knowledge and all the mores and norms of the group/family we belong to.
They also open open out our view to cultures and people so different from us, so different from anything we may ever experience, helping is ‘see’, feel and learn.
The traditions of our communities are stories that both teach and soothe.
In Yuvan Aves’ Shorewalk, little Kadalamma learns the secrets of the sea as she walks along the sea shore with her grandfather. Stories carry our traditions and wisdom…in this case the need for coexistence with respect, not just with those from our own species but also with the natural world.
Weaving a traditional Gond Fable into his question “Do we take more than our due?”, Subash Vyam uses a story from his culture, to deliberation on city folks relationship with water, in his book simply titled - Water.
In Where is Mr. Thookam?, author Anusha Veluswamy draws from the stories made up by her mother to help soothe her to sleep as a child.
Roles are reversed in M. Mukundan’s ‘The Glass Tree’, where Unni helps his Mutthashi go to sleep by weaving stories. While the books tells of a beautiful storytelling relationship between a child and his grandmother, it also shares a strong environmental message.
I believe in the power of stories, especially family stories...those stories from our own lives, often forgotten in today's time. The telling of these tales are a blessing to both the teller and listener, building connections across the generations.
Nothing is more exciting to children than to learn about the lives of the adults around them, as children.
‘Mother Steals and Bicycle and other Stories’,
Mother shares about her childhood with her daughter…all the escapades and adventures, that are a wonderful introduction to children to reach out and draw out all those delightful tales from their parents and grandparents.
Across history, stories have served to not only educate, but to also entertain.
Humour always does so, often gift wrapping a message in a barrel of laughs.
In The Tallest Tale by Anushka Ravishankar, Bundal loves telling tall tales, but what happens when he meets someone who can tell even taller tales?
In The Rumour, also by Anushka Ravishankar, we may see a bit of truth in the Chinese whisperesque power of stories/tales/gossip.
Much of my childhood stories were either songs or peppered with songs. Folk-songs and even today’s popular songs tell stories. Like stories, music connects with the rhythm of our hearts, and connects to the pulse of our shared consciousness.
With her character Ostroo in The Jungle Storytelling Festival, author Janaki Sabesh, tells a story about stories, how sharing stories can help us heal, find strength and self belief and connect to the power of song.
As I celebrate these stories about stories, I hope for a world where all stories matter.
Where our stories are told with honesty and pride.
When we hear or read a story, ask…whose story is this?
Share the rarely heard voices, give them space, celebrate them.
Stories have the power to make us laugh, to make us cry, to make us act.
They have the power to show us different perspectives, while taking pride in our own culture.
They also have the power to shape the political and social narrative that affects all our lives.
What are the stories we choose to share today?
“Think about the word destroy. Do you know what it is? De-story. Destroy. Destory. You see. And restore. That's re-story. Do you know that only two things have been proven to help survivors of the Holocaust? Massage is one. Telling their story is another. Being touched and touching. Telling your story is touching. It sets you free.” - Francesca Lia Block, author
This World Storytelling day 2023, the theme is 'Together we can'.
Together let us be conscious of the stories we tell. Let us tell stories that re-story, not de-story.
Stories can and do inspire change.
And change sings