Everyone loves to hear a good story. It can be cautionary, exemplary, inspirational or even tragic. A good storyteller manages to communicate the essence without preaching. Very often the silence, the untold, the material left to your imagination is what absorbs and grabs your attention.
When I was growing up I loved to listen to my grand aunt’s stories. We knew she added many layers to keep it rich but it enthralled us anyway. We loved it most when she talked about their days in British India. She had us spellbound when we listened to her father’s exploits, the exotic clothes, the jewelry and the lifestyle they led. Big houses, wide open fields, joint families and fates that were often decided by the elders. We would rush to corroborate the story with my Dad, who would absentmindedly say “Oh your Chinnama talks too much”
From my mom’s father, I learnt about the Partition days, when there was fighting and how Delhi was in turmoil with families torn apart and living in fear. We also heard the stories of the Gods and Goddesses, their dramas, and the cliff hangers which decided the balance between the three worlds.
Fast forward to the present day and I realize that we rely more and more on books and sadly have lost the art of story telling. The gathering, the passing of knowledge and wisdom from elder to the young. We live such harried, hurried lives, striving constantly to fight time that we have sacrificed the ritual of storytelling. That which is a key element of the rites of passage. That which provides children with a cultural and personal map which highlights critical bends, stop signs and detours. That which teaches that the future can be lit through the teachings of the past.
As poet David Antin says “Stories are different every time you tell them – they allow so many narratives.” Retelling is also a reminder to ourselves…not to forget that which should not be forgotten. The connection that there is mystery in this universe, that thread that binds us, helps our children appreciate community in a world that increasingly emphasizes individuality. The hero’s journey is never without allies. Cantadora, Jungian poet and writer, Clarissa Pinkola Estes notes "The craft of questions, the craft of stories, the craft of the hands - all these are the making of something, and that something is soul. Anytime we feed soul, it guarantees increase."
Dig deep enough and each family has a treasure trove of triumph, heartache, joy and love. There are black sheep, everyday heroes, love stories and adventures. “How uncle got kicked out of school for cheating on his exam” is as relevant as “How your grandfather migrated to America with $25 in his pocket”. Narration and interaction also helps them understand the principle of cause and effect.
Similarly, the myths that we have grown up hearing are still relevant in the digital age. When we were in India last year, I saw a statue of Lord Ganesh with a laptop instead of the traditional book. We had a good laugh but it also brought home the fact there is nothing wrong in updating our myths. As the visionary Joseph Campbell underlines “We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet”.
As we delve deeper into the stories, personal and multi cultural, we can truly understand that which binds us together is far stronger than that which isolates.