Thursday, September 9, 2010
Nostalgia: THE ART OF STORYTELLING
We – my sisters and I – used to hear a lot of stories from all the elders in our house. There were tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as many individual stories that my mother, grandfather and grandmother had to tell us. What we heard from our father were the tales from his own life – they made a number of interesting stories by themselves.
Amma used to tell us about Arjuna’s (the third Pandava prince) focus, determination and courage. I remember hearing about the contest the Pandavas and Kaurava princes had. This was conducted by their Guru, Sage Drona. They had to pierce the eye of the toy parrot perched on the branch of a tall tree. My mother had told us this story so many times. Then there were the stories about the many kings and sages of those days – the passions that ruled them. I have heard about this young boy who turned wise every time he sat on King Vikramaditya's throne. Tales of Shakunthala, Nala Damayanti and more were first heard at home and later on I used to be fascinated to check them out on the pages of Amar Chitra Katha.
We heard about Sibi Chakravarthi parting with the flesh on his thigh from Thatha. King Harischandra was a hot favourite in those days. I have shed many a tear hearing about Dhuruvan (Dhruva) and his mother being exiled by the vile stepmother, the king’s second wife. My grandfather was a fountain of information that Amar Chitra Katha could have tapped into. Thatha used to tell us about the birth of Lord Murugan and his teaching to his own father, Lord Shiva. Then there was this story about how Manmadan or Kamadeva (the lord of love) was burnt down by Shiva’s temper and later on revived as per his consort Rathi’s request. Manmada was made visible only to her eyes. There were stories of Avvai Paati and then one about Ganapathy taking away the precious mango from Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi by outwitting his younger brother, Kartikeya.
I recall Paati telling me many small stories. I heard about the snake and the mongoose from her. There was this cute tale she used to tell – about an old lady living all by herself. She used to be half blind. While she was cooking, a black pepper escaped the pounding stone. Later, the pepper became a great help and used to do all the household work for the old lady, making her one happy person indeed. This story was as good as the one about the little elves making shoes as told by Brothers Grimm, or so I believe.
Rajamani Chippa (my dad’s brother) used to tell us – rather enact to us – the antics of NS Krishnan, a famous comedian of his times. When chippa’s family used to visit us, he used to entertain us and our cousins with very many stories. We used to roll on the floor laughing, as he used to speak the dialogues and sing the songs in a sequence. Chippa can do this till this very day.
I remember laughing and shedding tears depending on the emotions faced by the many characters. The elders at home used to give so much expression to the tales, that I could imagine every scene there was. It touched my little heart so much that I recall most of them till date.
There was this aged cousin of my grandmother’s – Gnanam Paati by name. She had no one to take care of her and used to stay with her many cousins in turn. She has spent many months at our home at different points in time. I remember those days when we used to hang on to her every word as she told us stories after stories from the many books that she had read. She told us tales of King Vikramaditya and many magical tales. In large families in those days, especially where there are many children, evenings were spent together. Rice and sambar used to be mixed in a large vessel. We used sit around in a semi-circle and the food was served in turns on the palms of our hands. This is one of the times when Gnanam Paati used to weave her tales. Some of them used to be so long that she needed to tell them in parts over weeks at times. You can guess how much we must have nagged her the next day for the continuation. A wonderful experience indeed!
There was Padhu, the owner’s daughter at our home in Chetput. She was Suja’s and my best friend. There used to be a big terrace at the back of our house. We used to sit there at every opportunity to hear stories from her. She had so many to say and she also loved the way we used to hang on to her every word. She used to read a lot and while I cannot recall the tales, I remember the feeling of joy just listening to her stories.
When my kids were growing up, I tried reading to them from fairy tales, Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. But I realised that more then the reading, they enjoyed listening when I told them stories of Kumba karnan and the other characters from the epics. I used to make them laugh by making them imagine about the demon. He was as tall as our building (four floors in all) and he used to eat a rice mound as huge as the hill garden near our home – so on and so forth so that they could relate to what I meant. Vinitha and Vignesh used to listen with wide eyes and at times roll on the floor laughing. It was a treat to watch and the tales used to get taller with each subsequent telling.
Thus, storytelling had a lot to do with developing our imaginations and made for a very enjoyable growing up years indeed. I am sure all these experiences have culminated in my becoming a writer of fiction.