ഓർമ്മച്ചെപ്പ് തുറന്നപ്പോൾ (When the memory chest is wide open….)
“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”~An old Native American proverb
As children, we grew up listening to stories. It is indeed a matter of pride that everyone in the family,the old generation and our generation, excelled in the art of telling stories. Elders and youngsters had their unique ways of spinning and weaving stories. Characters from the epics, classics, folklores, movies, novels came alive and paraded and danced in front of our eyes and inner eyes vividly! Ancestors, members of the family, neighbours, friends, acquaintances were all parts of the stories and they all fascinated us. We were well acquainted with our neighbours and others in the neighbourhood unlike the children today. Sprinkled with speckles of humour they all came into our conversation! Those people whom we have never met got forms and shapes. Such is the power of story telling, of narrative skills! That experience of listening to well narrated stories is beyond description!
Some of my early memories include the image of my father’s elder sister telling a tale spiced up with a verse. She repeated this same story of a wicked step-mother, every time we were on our Summer vacation and the story never bored us. Another flash of memory that comes to me is my great-grandmother sitting with her long stretched legs ( Oh my! how could she sit like that without bending her back or leaning against a wall!) singing and telling stories…
Then there was this fragment of a memory : the gathering of all the cousins in the spacious ‘poomukham'( living room) and the eldest of the cousins Usha chechi telling us the story of a Malayalam movie, ‘Veendum Prabatham’ (she even sang the songs from the movie while recounting the story). The tragic sequence of events that the good people in the story met with, left me devastated. To hide my tears I struggled to prove that a small fly went into my eye!
None of the cousins was less competent. All were ace story tellers! Each one was good at telling film stories scene by scene event by event. Jaysree chechi and Lathu would come from Madras with Tamil movie stories and Hindi ones. Mohanettan, Rajettan and Induettan would test our patience with all the dramatic details from the movies and other stories and kept us wait with bated breath till the end. Murali had a special talent of inventing stories impromptu. We used to be amazed at his talent! Unniettan who never had the patience to tell a complete story used to focus on the bits and parts, expertly mimicking people leaving us in splits of laughter! In an age when television, mobile phone, computer and all the paraphernalia were unheard of, we children never had a dull moment in our lives. We revelled in the simple joys of childhood.
College days were enriched with Girija chechi’s and Nimmi chechi’s story telling skills. Both were masters of telling movie stories in a very interesting, detailed way. My much awaited monthly weekends during college hostel life turned out to be enjoyable ones watching movies with them and listening to their stories. All that’s simple and ordinary got transformed into extraordinary and special those days. We the siblings also used to weave hundreds of stories and the beautiful realm of imagination knew no boundaries.
Stories! doors to an enchanting land….
And then there was the master story-teller -our Father..The epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha are etched in our hearts with his unique style of story telling. The characters strutted the corridors of our hearts with glory and grace and with Epic magnitude. Karna became my favourite character. Neither Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayana nor Chopra’s Mahabharatha could change the images of those towering forms. Most of the evenings were a celebration. Stories unfurled like magic carpets and lifted us and took us to magical realms of imagination. Achan opened the doors to a marvelous world; he inculcated and nurtured the habit of observing the surroundings, men and manners; helped us develop a sense of sympathy and empathy, polished our aesthetic sense. He taught us how to appreciate and enjoy a poem or a piece of prose .
My all time favourite story – ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. (picture borrowed from Google).
The impact it had on me as a child was tremendous!
Listening to the tale of ‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’ was an unforgettable experience, so was ‘The Three Musketeers’. We just admired Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan. Joseph Wilmot of ‘Joseph Wilmot : the memoirs of a man servant’ by Reynolds (a novel spread in seven volumes) became a man of flesh and blood and we considered his misfortunes and disappointments as our own! Dinner hour was an impatiently waited time of the day to listen to Joseph’s adventures. Now while looking back, I really appreciate our mother’s immense patience to bear with the marathon story telling evenings…Achan sometimes used to enact the events in the stories well. When Jonathan got a jolt of fear and cut himself with his razor blade the moment he realised that Count Dracula was standing behind him with no reflection in the mirror, I too jumped from the bed! Count Dracula, the bat, the lone ship wrapped up in mysterious mist all filled me with an eerie excitement for many days! The blood curdling experience used to be a hot topic of discussion amongst cousins! Step by step Achan introduced us to the wonderful world of literature; both Malayalam and English. He created a magic land for us, which he knew would last for a life time. Probably he thought if his children had to meet with any hardships in their future life, those halcyon childhood days would strengthen them and equip them well to face them all and move forward in life with ease and confidence.
I was made to read ‘Marthandavarma’, one of the first novels in Malayalam at the age of ten and the language left me baffled. My father told me to go slow and then it would help me to grasp the soul of the novel. And it did…
There were long interesting discussions on literature and current affairs at my mother’s house where my grandmother, grand-uncle all used to take part. All forms of literary works and all humorous stories of people known and unknown were brought to our attention .
The main source of knowledge those days was libraries, curious minds, a keen eye and attentive ears.
”In the end we’ll all become stories.” When I came across this quote of Margaret Atwood, I recalled Achan’s words. He too used to say that everyone becomes a story one day… Let us keep telling stories and let us be good stories…
It was my friend Usha who has enlightened me about this profession called story telling. I read more about professional story tellers and how well this art is gaining popularity nowadays when children live in a virtual world and have no time to read nor parents have time to tell stories… I feel so happy at the revival of this art! And I was thinking of a company of story tellers the family could have launched!!
“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds.” ~ Janet Litterland