What’s new! We all know that.
I can see/hear your reactions.
Hear me out before you agree to agree to your thoughts.
I decided to get into the world of storytelling armed with a certificate to that effect. Without a certificate who believes you nowadays (of course, that is for another day).
I take my baby steps into this wonderful world by proceeding to a lake where World Wetlands Day is being celebrated.
I walk on to the dais armed with a lot of confidence or should I say attitude because I had been one of the best trainers in my corporate training centre and not a novice in public speaking.
Telling stories to a bunch of small kids is nothing but ‘ju ju bi’ (slang, read child’s play). My journey as a storyteller has begun.
I narrate the story of how a hummingbird tries to put out a forest fire and also tells his animal friends that if everybody does their bit then the fire could be put out. Here I pause and I ask the kids whether they would be like the hummingbird and the kids start talking about what they would do etc and a discussion starts and I start patting myself that the kids understand the values in that story.
With my chest puffed up, I await the thunderous applause when this question “What happened to the fire?” pops up from nowhere so to say. I look down at the four-year-old, who has asked the question and then at the audience sheepishly. I soon conclude the story ‘and the fire was put out’. The child looks at me smilingly fully satisfied.
My chest collapses. OMG!! I have forgotten to end the story and here the kid is reminding me. Phew!! Am I not supposed to tie up all the loose ends? As adults we would have guessed and ended the story in our minds. But here children are taken through the imaginative world like a movie and hence a reasonable ending is necessary, which like a true-blue adult I have overlooked. The children expect a sense of completion. This my lesson number 1.
Now, how would you describe four dragons which have names like yellow/black/long/pearl? As a normal adult I would say the colour of the first two dragons are yellow and black, the third dragon described as a very long one and the fourth, maybe having pearly white teeth. All you adults are thrilled with my description, this storyteller has so much imagination, wish we could think like her. Unfortunately, my audience is a group of five-year olds and I am narrating a Chinese folk tale of four rivers.
“What is the colour of the long dragon?” Colour, what colour, I have perfectly described with actions that it is a long dragon. To humour the little girl who had asked the
question, I say, “Green.” The girl sits down with a satisfied smile. The story continues with the description of the fourth dragon having pearly white teeth. For a moment I am taken aback when one question is asked in chorus by four kids, “What is the colour of the fourth dragon?” I just say blue and continue the story.
As I am mulling over the day’s events, I realise that when a storyteller weaves a story, the audience imagines the characters based on the inputs given by the storyteller. If I had not given colours to the first two dragons, instead just given the names as yellow and black, the audience would have their own colours for the dragons. By giving the colours to the first two dragons, I have restricted the imagination of the audience who are forced to know the colours of the other two dragons. The children, in their own fashion, pointed out, “How can we imagine the character if you have not described it completely?” This is a narrative style of storytelling and there should be logical consistency. Lesson number 2.
Can one show a puppet of a pig and tell an elephant story? I did. Now don’t laugh. Listen to what happened.
I decide to use hand puppets and the story is ‘How the Elephant Gets its Long Trunk’ by Rudyard Kipling. The story goes that elephants earlier had very small noses like that of a pig and I show a puppet of a pig. I continue the elephant story with the pig puppet in my hand. My great idea is that I would show them the actual elephant puppet at the point where the elephant gets the long trunk. What originality!
Thud! I am brought to the ground roughly when a little girl asks me, “Why are you showing a pig while telling the story of an elephant?” Immediately, I put the pig puppet down and continue the story with the actual elephant puppet, of course, with a folded trunk. Any erroneous representation is a big ‘No No’. Lesson number 3: with kids, be true in every sense.
You now agree that Storytelling is no child’s play. This is serious business.
My lovely journey in storytelling continues and so does my learning. The children keep me grounded.
Parvathy Eswaran is a Storyteller by passion and by choice who conducts storytelling sessions for children and adults. She believes that stories are a way towards knowledge.