If there is something that can get the attention of almost anyone, irrespective of the age, it is a good story. And what breathes life into a story is the art of storytelling. How I missed those storytelling sessions from my childhood? If anything, storytelling is an underrated art form, fighting for survival in this world of quick fix entertainment.
My earliest memories of the captivating power of storytelling are from my childhood. During the lazy afternoons at my grandparents’ house, my great grandmother (yes, I was lucky to have her around for many, many years) used to round up all the children and start off with some stories.
Her favourites were from the Indian mythologies but that didn’t stop her from telling us tales from her childhood, her experiences, about the king who ruled that region, or even an occasional neighbourhood update. From the monkeys feasting on the guavas and bananas in the backyard, to the morning scenes at the neighbourhood temple, each story kept us glued to our seats.
My personal favourites were the stories from her childhood, her marriage, life during those days. The way she would narrate even the most mundane of events, it could captivate the restless audience.
The Ancient Oral Tradition of Storytelling
In India we have a rich oral tradition of storytelling. Men dressed in colourful traditional costumes, sometimes like a mythological character, roam the streets singing aloud stories, accompanied with a simple iktara (single string instrument) or a khonjuri (cymbals) or even a wind instrument. It’s a complete one person show.
We don’t get to see such performances in the urban centres or big cities but it’s still a popular art form in the smaller towns. Especially during festivals like the Dussehra and Sankranti, these minstrels would go from house to house singing about the relevant stories from the mythologies. Down South these singers are often accompanied by a heavily decked bull swaying its head from side to side with the tiny bells tied to his horns jingling along with the songs. It’s a sight to behold.
Before the visual mediums like TV and movies took over, it was these arts that provided entertainment to the masses. Not just in India but the world over. But in India it has an even more significance because it is said that our epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were originally developed as oral renditions. It was much later that the written scripts developed; hence the different versions. I don’t know about the veracity of these claims but it goes on to prove one thing – that oral traditions are as old as human beings.
The Written Word and Literature
Once the written word evolved, the art of storytelling also transformed from oral to written form. No longer restricted to the limited audience, the stories found new patrons far and wide. As a natural progression, handwritten pamphlets and books were created. The invention of the printing press revolutionised the whole process and more books became available to millions. Now, all one has to do is ask and there is a whole wide range of genres, authors, styles, age groups, formats to choose from.
Doesn’t matter what the progress and how many books are available, storytelling is still the most engaging medium. I’m not comparing it with the digital medium or movies or OTT, I’m just talking from the perspective of the personal connect. Ever seen a classroom full of charged up little adventurers? The most effective way to manage them is to start narrating a story and you have the most receptive audience in front of you.
Social Change Through Storytelling
Storytelling is not always about fun and entertainment. It is a powerful tool which can be an effective vehicle for bringing about social change. Yes, you heard me right, social change. Every small change can lead to bigger changes but it has to begin with educating and creating awareness in the people. No one likes to be told they are wrong or that they should change, especially if we are looking for social change.
Storytelling can be used to package the message in creative ways so that the message gets conveyed and the audience is open to the idea. Issues like nurturing the girl child, abolishing dowry, women’s rights, have gained audience through such innovative and creative methods. It can create empathy and foster deeper appreciations. Our mind conjures images from the words it hears. And slowly triggers a thought process that can enable change.
Benefits of Storytelling
There is no dearth of the benefits of storytelling. Storytelling fuels imagination and creativity. It enables us to improvise and modify our thinking when dealing with different situations. It motivates and inspires us to move ahead. It’s the simplest of art form which needs a head full of ideas and a heart open to accept all or any possibilities. It encourages freedom of thought and unrestricted creative expression.
Storytelling is great way to develop your communication skills. It enables you to develop your vocabulary while also improving your oratory skills, voice modulation, and expressions. Storytelling allows for active participation from everyone involved, be it the narrator or the listener. It surely triggers and fuels the imagination in the listener who is soaking in every word. And most importantly it improves focus. When listening to stories, you’ve to listen carefully to process understand and then appreciate the narration. All this is possible if you’re focussing on the story.
Storytelling creates a bond between the listeners, bringing them together. For all of us who have grown up listening to tales from our mythologies, we share the bond of common knowledge. We have learned the same lessons (which may have surely undergone changes with time and age). It’s the shared platform for learning about the world.
Education and Learning
I have seen the power of storytelling during my teaching days. Sometimes to spice up the boring lessons, I would start reading the lesson, and then ask the students to continue the story in their own words. While some (or most) would stick to the story line (can’t blame them for that), I discovered some natural storytellers in the class! They had the ability to spin the story on its head. Of course they needed some assistance with words and expressions but on the whole it was a fun activity. It was a matter of time before I had a class full of storytellers.
Storytelling can be a fun and effective way of teaching younger children. Their natural creativity and imagination allows them to comprehend things faster and more easily. It improves their focus and develops their communication skills. If they enjoy storytelling, you can encourage them to read more to improve their vocabulary and creativity.
Storytelling is an ageless, timeless form of entertainment, embracing all age groups.