In Kaabuliwala, a gem from Rabindranath Tagore’s collection of 84 stories, Tagore speaks through the voice of a town dweller: "There were autumn mornings, the time of year when kings of old went forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in Calcutta, would let my mind wander … to weaving a network of dreams: the mountains, the glens, the forest." That’s what stories do for us: They take us to distant lands and times …
We are captivated by stories: characters, situations and places, and the interweaving of all of these into a plot. We wait with baited breath for the twist in the tale. We become a part of them and they become a part of us. We see the universality of human experience amid the uniqueness of each character, the lessons we never learn from history and the truths we must discover for ourselves. The story may be from a dim past or paint the distant future but when we make a connection to our own lives the purpose of the story is served.
Short stories, as a genre, date back to the age-old, oral traditions of story-telling across the world: from fairy tales and stories of legendary love to accounts of unsurpassed bravery of kings and queens and folktales, often, with an explicit moral lesson. The original treasure troves in India are provided by the Rig Veda, the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Buddhist Jataka Tales. The tradition in Europe may be traced to Aesop’s fables, Greek mythology and the Bible. Written stories began to develop in the early 14th century, most notably with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This laid the foundation of the modern short story, as a distinct genre, in the 19th century - Brothers Grimm, Edgar Allan Poe, Gogol, Pushkin and Chekhov.
Dastangoi, an art form that has seen a revival in recent years, would be a good example of the oral tradition: The Dastango (story teller) is at the heart of the story, telling tales of adventure, magic and warfare, from the life of Amir Hamza, brother-in-law of Prophet Mohammed, using only one prop, his voice. Persian came to the sub-continent in the 8th century, but according to Frances Pritchett, an Urdu scholar, “… of all the Persian romances, only the story of Amir Hamza took firm root in the new soil.” Emperor Akbar, with his own quissa-khwan (court narrator), conceived the immense task of illustrating these stories. Hamzanaama, the illustrated manuscript thus created, became the supreme achievement of Mughal art. Today, there is an attempt to include contemporary themes and reach out to larger audiences.
Watch Ankit Chaddha on Kabir, in “Dastan Dhai Akhar Ki.” You will be hooked for life.
Storytelling is a powerful tool of communication and learning. According to Kamal Pruthi of Kabuliwaala, a story telling company, his purpose is to bring about behavioral change in audiences through meaningful content. His Kabuliwaala stories provide that intellectual nutrition to children and parents with the right proportion of entertainment.
When children listen to stories at a Mobile Creches center, for instance, it involves all of the following, and more:
Encourages Creativity and imagination power
Introduces new vocabulary to children
Enhances listening skills of children
Encourages development of emotions and feelings in a child
Absorbing words and meanings – language development
What works for children works for their parent! Storytelling is at the heart of community communication at Mobile Creches. Traditional folk media is used for disseminating information to the community members. Kawad an ingenious piece of craft unfolds the stories by revealing pictures from the episodes in a particular tale, as the audience listens. It is much like a pop up story book with wooden doors unfolding and revealing new twists and turns in a story, and the final message hidden beneath all the layers. This ancient art of storytelling is culturally appropriate and is effectively used by Mobile Creches to ensure that the parents support, understand and participate in the child development process and build a deeper understanding of the young child’s needs.
There is, afterall, a thin line between fact and fiction. The autobiographies of famous people are full of fiction! Then there are the stories we tell ourselves. Memory as story – we remember selectively, block the pain, paint ourselves as always on the right side, and so on. It is certainly not - the truth and nothing but the truth. Some of you may have seen Akira Kurosawa’s path-breaking film, “Rashomon”; it borrows the title from one short story and the plot from another and raises the eternal question: What is truth? The four main characters in the film provide alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident.
Remember, when you tuck your child in with a favourite bedtime story, you are being touched by this rich legacy, carried forward in the 20th Century by Tagore, Munshi Premchand, Mahashweta Devi, Ismat Chugtai, Saadat Hasan Manto, R.K. Narayan and Amrita Pritam, to name a few, reflecting contemporary reality of India.
Story teller Kamal Pruthi, of Kabuliwaala, has the last word: “Kahaniyan sunayi jaati hain, bachhon ko pataya jaata hai, unhe hansaya jata hai, khilkhilaya jata hai, gudgudaya jata hai. Bachhe, kahani sunne ke dauran, kahaniyan bun bhi rahe hote hain, aur ye kahani sunane ka sabse mazedaar hissa hai. Unke chehron par chamak, raunak, rangat aur muskan laayi jaati hai … Us chamak ko jhole me samet phir naye bachhon me romanch ke taur par bikher deta hoon …”
“The World of Premchand: Widows, Wives and Other Heroines/Nirmala/Gaban/ The Stolen Jewels”, Oxford University Press, 2004
http://thekahaniproject.org/kabuliwala/ - blog by Ajay Dasgupta
Pritchett, Frances W. (1991). The Romance Tradition in Urdu : Adventures from the Dastan of Amir Hamzah. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231071642.
Its online link http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00litlinks/hamzah/index.html