Thursday, April 28, 2005

Hey Grandma, tell me a story

Storytelling captures an aspect of childhood experience when being told a story was a common ritual. It's a warm place for most of us and in some ways represents our first experience in really listening. Paul Lansky

Whatever happened to the stories of the thirsty crow, the fox and the vadai, the monkey and the chapathi, that came alive in our imaginations? Since when did video games replace wizened hands demonstrating a story?

In short, where have all the story-telling grandmothers gone?

Is ‘patti kadhai’ a thing of the past like ‘paavadai dhavanis’ and ‘pallankuzhi’?

Grandmothers, considered for long as storehouses of tales, fables and many a mythological adventure, have given way to professional story-tellers in schools and activity centres. Is the emergence of the nuclear family responsible? Maybe, but let’s also delve a little further into the subject to find out what some Chennaiites have to say about it.

Vinita Sidhartha, the brain behind Kreeda, a company that has revived many forgotten Indian games, says, “Children living with their grandparents are a lucky lot. But for those who don’t, there is no common ground where the two can come together. Computers and technology have driven a chasm between children and their grandparents. And really, it’s nobody’s fault. The beauty of storytelling in the old days, was that it went beyond stories and was one-on-one. This is something that professional story-tellers cannot capture.”

Rangashree Srinivas, who is Manager & Coordinator at Goodbooks, says, “Storytelling has seen a revival. There are birthday parties where the theme for the party is woven into an interactive storytelling session. Firstly, storytelling is being used as a tool for therapy, awareness etc., even for explaining complex concepts simply. Secondly, the method of telling a story has changed. Today, depending on one’s forte, one can use dance or music as a medium to tell tales to children. While the magic of story telling still exists, the method has changed. As for grandmothers, they seem to be quite busy themselves, these days!”

Mrs. Ramani Bai, who is 80, and has 11 grandkids (the youngest being 2 years old) finds stories necessary for children. “It’s a change for children from school. I used to tell my grandkids stories when they got home from school, and only after that, they would do their homework. A story is also a great way to distract children. When one of my grandsons used to insist on my spending time with him while I was busy in the kitchen, a short tale would usually make him happy and he would move on to something else, while I finished my work. Also, as far as the stories are concerned, some children like to hear new stories every day and some would like to hear the same story again. In the case of the latter, one had better remember the details of the previous day’s story!”

Shirani, a story-teller, considers grandmothers’ tales as priceless. “Nothing comes close to even matching that experience. But as childrens’ schedules are so hectic these days, storytelling is slipped in as another activity. When I do storytelling sessions, I try and incorporate some movement and parts of the story, where the children get involved instead of just listening to me. Learning also happens in the process of these sessions, but very unlike the regimented educational learning. It’s like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – children learn a little at a time, and somewhere along the way, the complete picture falls into place.”

While there are storytellers aplenty, what can one do to bring into a child’s life, the experience of grandmothers’ tales? How does one even set about incorporating this aspect into the lives of today’s children? One way, feels Vinita, is for grandparents to reeducate themselves to see what interests their grandkids. It’s hardly fair to expect a child who’s interested in Pokemon, to relate to the adventures of Hanuman. The other suggestion, offered by the grandmother in this article, Mrs. Ramani Bai, is to create a storytelling ritual, even if the kids visit grandparents only over weekends or in the summer holidays.

Where do parents fit into all this? Well, that’s a different article altogether.
(edited version published on April 30, 2005 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai. Pic courtesy Seven Shots as published in magazine)

No comments: