Chaikhana: The Art of Storytelling

Stories teach us that the future can be lit by articulating lessons of the past. Today, in a technologically advanced world, we deal with tales differently

Tell me a story where I have a stake that will merge into my psyche. Sticky stories can be cautionary, exemplary, inspirational or even tragic. A good storyteller manages to communicate the essence without preaching. Very often, the silence, the untold, or the material left to your imagination is what absorbs and grabs your attention. Most stories carry the essence of change as what started somewhere, in time, transforms the actors, the storyteller and the audience, and leaves an indelible mark on the psyche.

One of the greatest storytellers, George Lucas, talks about the universal themes in the classic Star Wars movie series. He says “Star Wars has always struck a chord with people. There are issues of loyalty, of friendship, of good and evil … the theme came from stories and ideas that have been around for thousands of years.”



Finding oneself


Roxanne J Coady remarks, “Everywhere, everyday, someone is changed, perhaps, even saved, by words and stories.”

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 jewellery and the lifestyle they led. There were 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, my aunt 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 gods and goddesses, their dramas, and cliffhangers, which decided the balance between the three worlds.

Fast forward to the present day and I realise that we rely more and more on the idiot box, and sadly, have lost the art of story telling. The gathering, the passing of knowledge and wisdom from elder to the young has dissipated. We live such harried, hurried lives, striving constantly to fight time that we have sacrificed the ritual of storytelling, which is a key element of the rites of passage. Something that provides children with a cultural and personal map highlighting critical bends, stop signs and detours. Stories teach that the future can be lit by articulating the lessons of the past.

According to Harriet Goldhor Lerner, “Telling a true story about personal experience is not just a matter of being oneself, or even or finding oneself. It is also a matter of choosing oneself.”

Diverse narratives

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 emphasises individuality. The hero’s journey is never without allies.

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. 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.” Personal stories carry the weight of revelation. They shine a mirror to our growth within an increasingly alien society where isolation is enhanced by technology.

Updating myths

Visionary Joseph Campbell underlines, “We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet”. The myths that we have grown up hearing are still relevant in the digital age.

When we were in India a little while ago, I saw a statue of Ganesha 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 Caroline Joy Adams says, “Our stories matter… Your stories matter… For you never know how much of a difference they make and to whom.” 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.

(Shaku Selvakumar is a US-based marketing and digital communi­cations expert; and founder of Coeuredge, a digital experience company)

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