- Kevichüsie Nakhro
My grandmother is a fabulous story-teller. She has a story for every moment of life; for sadness and joy, for spring and monsoon, for summer and winter. She has stories for bedtime and mealtime. Grandma would weave stories that would make you cry, laugh or shiver in fear. Late at night, after dinner, grandma would recount tales from the folklore, from religion, from mythology and from her past; about the British soldiers stay at her place during the Second World War, about her paddy fields, about the mountains that explained sunshine, rain or your fear of the darkness. It wasn't enough that everything had a name. For grandma everything also has a story.
Grandma stories were an invitation to join the people in my past; the tales recounted the intellectual and bloodlines of the family. They gave me a historical and social context for my individual identity. Later, I learned that, according to most folklorists, stories are intended to link generations, preserve and hand down knowledge and build links. Grandma knew that instinctively.
When we fell down and hurt ourselves, grandma would sit beside us massaging and telling fabulous tales of persistence and bravery. Her words are often too low to decipher and seemed like witchcraft that would spin away the pain. Even when one of us would come home upset or depressed, grandma would talk of ancestors who did some equally bizarre or worse things. Then she would look at us and burst into a raunchy, excessively contagious laugh that would soon have all of us laugh. "Stories give us comfort, stories give context to our lives, they reflect our values, our ideals and explain why we act and react in certain ways."
Andrea Sattler, a cultural anthropologist working with Indigenous American Culture explains, "We seem to think culture is something monolithic, handed down in great volumes from one generation to the next. Instead, our cultural patterns are encoded and passed in many ways. Among many Hispanic communities, boys aren't told to be macho. The message is put through stories - of reckless cowboys, of beautiful princesses, of a certain brand of masculinity … and is very effective in communicating values and pattern of behavior."
Stories often formed a parallel culture that is passed orally from generation to generation. Of course, in our hectic juggling of careers, relationships, families and social lives, there is little room for such old fashioned story-telling. Today Television soaps play the part of the grandmother who kept the family entertained. But this doesn't mean that story-telling has lost it relevance today. In fact stories are more relevant to our lives than ever.
Amod Modak, a friend suffered from acute anxiety attacks after all his failure in business. "I lost all hopes until I remembered the story of the king and the spider taught during my schooldays - try, try again until you succeed, when I remembered the words, I realized it was a story about the things that were happening to me, I was so relieved." He was thrilled to find not only success but his hope and confidence back. More importantly, stories have a way of creating connections. Bader Ahmed, an Omani friend, and I had been going through a rough patch in our personal lives, but we were reluctant to seek comfort from our friendship until the day Bader invited me to dinner to meet his father who was at that time visiting India. Over a richly filled platter of goodies, we began swapping family stories. Suddenly, the distance of geography, languages, culture, and generation disappeared. We became three people with oddly similar backgrounds and stories. After that night, confiding and seeking help became easy for Bader and me. Oddly enough, I became even closer friends with his father.
Today, we have our identity, our history and our culture - all because of the stories that were told and retold to us by our forefathers: Now for us, if we were to lose these stories it would signify a traumatic break in our story-telling genealogies, we will have no support system, no home grown counselor or guide. Furthermore, without our stories we can't be guide to our future generation. It will be a catastrophe for the future generations who would be rootless. Luis Yglesias, a Cuban-born expert on comparative folklore says. "Share stories of your families, your own growing up with your children. Let them see the difficulties, the frailties and the joy of being a unique human being who is also an essential link in the history of humans."
A few months ago, I tried recounting a traditional tale to a young boy. Somehow, it didn't work, worse still was my realization that the little ones in the family would have been deprived something more wonderful than words, had it not been for grandma's intervention. I am grateful that we have a story-teller in the family. Can you believe it? I chance upon my sister, just the other day telling story to a niece. Do we have another story-teller in the family?