Saturday, February 25, 2012

Story Telling and Grandparents

Air Vice Marshal VM Tiwari on retirement from the Air Force along with Commander Chopra from the navy, started an NGO ‘Bal Vikas Bharati’, which is devoted to overall development of children. One of the aims of the NGO is, ‘to tell stories to children for their all round development’. He delivered a lecture in JVV in early February 2012, highlighting their cause. During the course of his presentation Tiwari noted that they chose story telling as it is the most inexpensive method of inculcating the spirit of enquiry and imagination in children. They have set up libraries in 60 locations all around India and conduct story telling sessions for the under privileged children, igniting their imagination. He added that story telling is a very effective tool to make children imbibe culture, mythology, science and so on.

In my generation, children grew up listening to the stories that their grandparents and parents told. In the absence of any radio or TV, story telling developed as an art form and thrived. Stories from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Panchatantra, the Vikram and Betal series were very common and frequently narrated to children. The purpose of storytelling was many. Probably it was a carry forward from the days, when there was no print and all prose was committed to memory. In any case stories filled the gap till children learnt how to read for themselves. In school we had our Hindi teacher DRS and Sanskrit teacher KST (Kamapala Story Teller) keeping us endlessly occupied with gripping stories from mythology and history.

Apart from all these high value benefits, storytelling created a bond between children and their elders. All my outstation cousins used to congregate without fail in our grandparents place for the summer holidays in Gavipuram. Dinners were invariably on the terrace, with all of us sitting in a circle on the floor and having ‘Kai Tuthu oota’ ( a Kannada phrase, meaning ‘hand fed food’) The dish is centrally mixed in a vessel and the nominated elder feeds the children one by one by hand, each receiving a helping of food. While ‘Kai Tuthu oota’ was in progress, we would listen to endless stories and later fall asleep contented and dream the night away.

We continued the same traditions with our children. Whenever we visited my B I L’s house in Bangalore in Jayanagar during the summer vacations, all the children used to be fed ‘Kai Tuthu oota’ accompanied by endless stories.

With our children growing up and their marriage, storytelling took a back seat. With the arrival of grand children, the art of storytelling once again came to the forefront. All children love stories – more the better. Children love simple stories with a happy ending and preferably a story which never ends. Both Ayaan and Samara enjoy hearing stories narrated by their grandparents. My wife prefers to take the traditional route and read out well known stories from books. I on the other hand invent stories and make up as I go along. In my earlier blog - I wrote “Our GS needs to hear at least 3 stories prior to sleeping. In the manual of "Roles and Responsibilities of Grand Parents Vol I - Apr 2007" issued by our daughter, storytelling is my part of ship. I enjoy story telling. It’s unlike answering questions. Here you have the liberty of letting your imagination run wild and a few inaccuracies are allowed. Normally I start with the 'Bad Wood Cutter' story which is very loosely structured; it can take on many other sub stories without losing sight of the main story. These sub stories change every day. The characters and the plot vary according to the mood and there is a very high chance of making our GS sleep. Sometimes you get caught and GS says, "Tata, last time you told me that the crow went to the sparrow's house and now you are telling it all ulta pulta”. One has to be very alert and on guard to protect one’s reputation as a good story teller. Never attempt any story telling after a good beer session - continuity and plot are generally the victims. 

Samara on the other hand wants stories devoid of any violence. People or animals getting hurt is a big ‘no no’ or else she will say, “Tata I don’t want this story, it’s scary” and so on. Her favourite story is about Tata losing all his hair– how the crow wanted to build a good nest for her children and plucked all the hair of Tata’s head. The crow built a lovely nest wherein all her chicks lived happily ever after.

I find story telling extremely therapeutic. During my retirement farewell drink, when called upon to say a few words, I said “I will miss the navy very much … the thing I will miss the most is a captive audience” – meaning a posse of juniors who would gather around whenever you narrated an incident or a story or a joke. One thing good about the navy or for that matter the army and air force is the unfailing regularity with which your narrations become interesting and successful – especially if you are their reporting officer. The juniors are forever ready to listen attentively to your jokes, laugh loudly and appear to enjoy themselves. On retirement you disinherit this great privilege and have to make do with wife and children. It’s common to see your dear ones showing three or five fingers meaning, “Baba, we have heard this one five times and so on.”

Suddenly all this isolation comes to an end with the arrival of the grandchildren. You are their hero. They love the closeness and the attention you shower on them and they are proud and happy to be in your company. They earnestly ask you to tell them stories which they genuinely enjoy listening. They have, with one loving smile, restored your status to ‘being wanted’.

My advice to all grandparents – spend as much time with the grand children as possible, go on walks, picnics, treks, tell stories – they make you feel wanted and important. It is the best healing touch one can get at your age. Enjoy them, for before you know it, they are reading on their own or are out in the world living out their own stories.

A good soup for your aging soul.