A Storyteller’s Voice from India

A Storyteller’s Voice from India

Chris King’s Introduction: Storytellers, story lovers and story listeners live all over the world. You can imagine my delight when I received a message from a storyteller who lives in India. I asked her to write me about her storytelling and about herself. What follows is the portion of an article by Srijaya Char and her short autobiography.

Storytelling is indeed an art. But once parents master this art, it pays to use one’s imagination. I have evolved my own strategies of story telling, first for my children and later the grandchildren.

My background in storytelling.
During my early school years, our grandmother told us stories from our epics. My sister and I would sit on the threshold of the kitchen door with a book in our hands, and she would narrate stories. It never bothered us that she was not sitting next to us or that the pictures in the books were not attractive. It was the story that mattered. Whenever we had a query, she used to cast a backward glance and continue the story. In the present cultural context, this is not storytelling. Eye contact is a must with today’s children. My grandson demands that I sit next to him while telling the story from his book, which is very attractive and colourful. He also wants me to ask him questions. Further, he wants me to mimic while I am reading.

Excerpts from an article about storytelling written by Srijaya follow:

With the growth of nuclear families, parents find it difficult to come up with original ideas for telling good stories. However, Indian fables, myths, folktales and epics provide an incredible source of children’s stories. Therefore, we must ourselves read enough stories to find what appeals to our children. We should not forget that voice modulation and mimicking is more enjoyable for children than the mere content.

One-lined picture book stories are the ones that are most appealing to the two to three year-old kids. There is paucity of such books in our country. The Dr. Seuss Books (USA) and Scholastic Books for kids have become very popular in the United States, mainly due to eye-catchy visuals.

Repetitive tales: Repetition is particularly popular with the young. Typical of the repetitive story is the familiar Ginger Bread Man story. The hero repeats, “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me I am the Gingerbread man.” A similar story is told in our own country called The Crow and The Sparrow story. The crow asks the sparrow to open the door and the sparrow gives many reasons for not responding.

Animal tales: These deal with animal exhibiting human faults and qualities, so that children can identify with them easily. Nowadays many of the popular cartoon characters that have taken over Indian television are animals. Quick movements and violent actions of these characters have a hypnotic effect on children and I would not advise them getting addicted to viewing them for more than 15 minutes at a stretch.

How and why stories: These are called “pour quoi” stories. Most of these stories are closely related to myths. They tell us why an eclipse occurs, or why the sun and moon live in the sky etc. While the eclipse story is taken from the Hindu mythology with Rahu and Ketu as characters, the latter one originates from Africa. A charming Chinese story tells, “How the Camel Got His Proud Look” and a Norwegian story explains “Why Sea Water is Salty.”

Literary tales: These stories are more appropriate for the older children. For instance, the fantasies of Hans Christian Andersen or the Greek collection of Aesop’s Fables are enjoyed by children and even adults the world over. Aesop was a Greek slave who lived about sixth century BC.

Fables of India: The “Panchatantra” stories contain the earliest recorded fables of India originating prior to sixth century BC. The “Hitopadesha” is another rearrangement of “The Panchatantra” with a few additional stories that date from the tenth century. Next come the 500 “Jataka Tales” which are a series of animal stories describing the lessons of life that Gautama Buddha preached.

Myths: Myths are attempts of primitive people to explain the nature of the world around them. Many of them are a part of religions and ancient cultures. Since they relate to mythology and religion, they are a bit heavy to understand. But, the interplay of human emotions in these myths have universal appeal.

Hindu mythology: The Ramayana and Mahabharata form the backbone of Hindu heritage. They have many stories within themselves which immensely appeal to kids of all ages. Every kid has a rough idea of these epics. And parents can weave some original modern-day stories around them.

All these and much more! We can enthrall children with stories made up at the spur of the moment. Stories which will inculcate the right values in them.

This lovely storyteller, Srijaya Char, writes about herself.

I am basically a teacher. Started teaching in the year 1960. I am ancient, you know. I am now 62 years old. I have been publishing articles since the time I was a girl. Most of the Indian magazines know my name. Even newspapers. I have an MA in English Literature and an M Ed. I have risen to the position of a Joint Director in a Progressive High School, in charge of Academy and Administration. I am aware of the ethics of journalism. I have a diploma in Book Publishing and also in Mass Communication and Journalism. I have also published a book. I have two children – one son and one daughter. My daughter lives in USA with her husband and two kids. My son stays with us on the first floor. He has a kid (girl). My son, daughter, son-in-law and daughter-in-law are all Engineers. All earning and independent. Grandkids are in the age group of four and a half, one and a half and two and a half. I love telling them stories. That’s my best pastime. I still work. My husband retired as the chief engineer of the Indian Railways. We are a very happy family. I have been married for the past 40 years. That’s me. Anything else you want to know. I live in Bangalore the capital metropolitan city of South India. The State is Karnataka. My father was a Professor too. My three sisters also teach. We are a teaching family. How do you like that?

Note from the Editor: I know that your have enjoyed this article as much as I have. If you would like to get in touch with Srijaya Char, you may e-mail her at srijaya1940@yahoo.co.in Thank you, Srijaya!

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