For the love of stories

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Sharing imaginative tales is one way to give children a break from technology, says storyteller Priya Arun

BY: Nahla Nainar

How long has it been since you heard or narrated a story? Not the visual kind, pre-imagined and set in a shared digital space, but the old-fashioned type, whose opening lines are usually ‘Once upon a time’ or ‘Long, long ago …’?

Storytelling, the oral transmission of real and imagined narratives, has become a new way to engage children in a technology-free activity that once used to be an integral part of growing up. “If you want to convey life values in an entertaining manner, then there’s no better medium than telling stories to children,” says Priya Arun, a professional storyteller from Bengaluru who was in Tiruchi recently.

The driving force behind her ‘one-woman-team’ organisation Kathapriya (‘Love For Stories’), Priya opted out of a career in information technology to become a storyteller. “I took my daughter to a storytelling session one day and found that she was enjoying it a lot. My husband’s close friend is a storyteller, and when I met her, I felt I could do something similar, as I also like to interact with children. I haven’t looked back since I learned storytelling professionally,” says Priya.

Fun unlimited

With just her voice as prop, Priya launches into stories and gently assists children to come up with their own narratives. Naturally, logic has to take a backseat. “Imagination is key in storytelling,” she says. “I make it very clear to my young audience that they are not attending a class, and I’m not a teacher, but more of a grown-up friend. I don’t correct their language mistakes, or announce winners. Storytelling is all about developing the child’s self-confidence in a public space. In fact, it’s the parents who tend to get a little competitive.”

At the Tiruchi event, where Priya coordinated a storytelling workshop in three sessions at the Unlimited apparel and accessories store in Thillai Nagar, participants had a ball while narrating stories that they had thought up on the spur of the moment, or had carefully written out on notebooks.

“Most classroom story sessions tend to end with a moral, but I don’t like to highlight it in my sessions,” says Priya. “When you pinpoint one, you automatically kill the other four or five values that the story speaks about. Stories have a long-lasting effect on the human thought process. Sometimes, their moral messages can be realised years after we have heard them!” she adds.

Time to switch off?

She feels that parents bringing up children in the Internet age have let them get divorced from reality by allowing them to use communication devices from an early age. “We think we are helping our kids by gifting them tech products like electronic readers and mobile phones, but it has actually worked against their growth and their perception of reality. When they see cartoon characters like Chhota Bheem in a televised story, saving villages in a matter of minutes, they cannot understand why they have to spend so much time on things like brushing their teeth, for example,” says Priya.

A narrated story, on the other hand, tends to calm children down, and triggers their imagination into associating the character with other self-created scenarios, she says.

“I am totally against giving children electronic readers like Kindle,” she says. “You cannot savour the smell and feel of a book on Kindle. And when you look at the collection on your bookshelf, you feel proud. That sense of achievement is missing in an e-book compilation.”

Filling a gap

The very presence of professional storytellers for children is an indication that the traditional players of that role in a family — the grandparents — are no longer in the picture.

The growing communication gap between parents and children in nuclear families leads to an unnatural pressure on the school, says Priya. “Parents expect the school to remove all the shortcomings that they see in their children, but this is not possible. They are actually blaming the child for their own inability to connect with them. If they reach out instead by switching off the TV and spending quality time with each other, families would be happier on the whole.”

Storytelling groups are having something of a boom now, says Priya, who has held workshops in places like Chennai, Erode and Coimbatore besides Bengaluru. “I do a lot of reading and attend workshops as an audience member with my daughter. There are training sessions, and also courses where you can learn new skills. I’m growing as a person and children show you how to handle them,” she says.

Operating through a Facebook page, Kathapriya is a member of the Bangalore Storytelling Society (BSS). Priya hopes to incorporate dance therapy into storytelling one day and create a new and safe form of expression for children.

Courtesy The Hindu

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