Will Storytelling Disappear?

Posted on March 14, 2013 in Society

By Abhinita Mohanty:

It is widely believed that one’s personality is framed during one’s childhood. The psychological structuring and attitude patterns invariably are the culmination of the socialization process that starts within the family of a child. Ideas that are imparted become opinions, ethics that are taught constructs the value system of the personality and rituals shape the religious beliefs. Thus, the way socialization is done, determines the type of culture of a nation and gives it a distinct identity. The question that I want to analyse is how the process of socialization is initiated into a little, inquisitive child? There are many answers to this question but I want to speak about the ‘art of storytelling’ that is not only declining as a verbal mode but also it has been substituted through newer forms in the globalized India. Not long ago, when I was a child, my best memories still circles around the stories that my grandmother would narrate me verbally. Those were the days! Through long afternoons and cold nights, they lulled me into the arms of a dream-filled sleep. It relieved my mind, shaped my ideas, gave wings to my imagination and unfolded an innocent view of my cultural ethos. The folk tales that my grandma told me made me see a world beyond my constrained surroundings of home and school. They came quite spontaneously from her mouth, with a serene flow. Storytelling sessions were my first avenues of socialization .A folk story, from whichever region, has its own unique fragrance. My grandma would swiftly move from mythology to magic, from fabled kingdoms and queens to the humble farmer. She would swiftly adapt stories to suit my childish moods with amazing skill and dexterity. Storytelling is an art that is dying a fast death and that’s what makes me aware of how much we have left behind in our pursuit of ‘advanced entertainment’.


I remembered every story she told me and even today when I am home, I pester her to tell me these stories. When an event is narrated in the form of a story by someone it has a greater impact on the child than the stories that are told on televisions and virtually seen online. Alone with knowing the society and learning the child also develops his/her listening capabilities and the ability to concentrate and develop within him/her self patience. Today the world has largely become concentrated within pictures and ideas gets constrained within these pictures. Children listen to videos on the net or watch cartoons that often take them far from reality instead of making them a part of it. I see the children today watching the western cartoon channels online as their mothers hurriedly feed them. As they will grow up they will find a ‘disjuncture’ between the values these characters impart and the real ‘oriental society’ in which they will live and grow up.

In the folklore that I heard about the humble farmers, poor villagers, kings, gods and their ire, etc. brought me closer to the world that I confronted as an adult. While listening to these stories as a wide eyed innocent listener I did not had even the faintest idea that it gave about the power relations in Indian society or the class status or for the matter the religious orientations. Years later, as I took Sociology as a course for my graduation I realized that these stories reflected our social realities. Although my grandmother can never comprehend complex terms like ‘class’ she gave the idea of its existence. But watching ‘Scooby-do’ and ‘Tom-n-Jerry’ will only entertain the children and make them gulp down their food easily but will not impart the novelty of knowledge. Some of the most wonderful folk stories are never written, they are passed through the mouths for generations because the intensity of their narration was so powerful that it is remembered even after a child becomes an adult. They gets institutionalized within us.

We all grow up and ruffle all the feathers of childhood. In pursuit of studies, career and family, those childhood years seem like a dream or from another life. But no matter how busy one becomes or how far one travels, most of us cling to the nostalgia of our childhood. Looking back, I remember those days that I have spent hearing all those quaint little stories from my elders. Not only did those stories comfort me then, during bland afternoons or cold nights, they formed the connecting link to my childhood. They introduced me to an altogether different world full of starry eyed joys.It would all start quite spontaneously. I would go and pester my grandma, ‘Tell me a story’ — a short, peremptory demand, a demand which has been made by millions of little Indian children since the beginning of civilization. And then the story would begin, ‘Once upon a time….

Technology has made the world exciting yet too mechanical. It has affected social institutions like the joint family, shattering them first into large nuclear families and then into small nuclear families consisting of just two to four members. For many children, the ‘grandparent’ has become quite an alien! The kids are brought up on a diet of YouTube,  Pogo and cartoon network. Moreover, when the child’s grandparents sit by themselves in far flung homes and parents remain busy in their duty, who really has the time?

Today, when I watch my cousin’s children gulping down their dinner absorbed in the latest ‘Tintin’ or the latest ‘pokemon’ videos on YouTube, I wonder how can they know what they are missing? They have an astounding number of choices but divorced from culture, reality, depth and humanity .I remember when I was very small and made faces at my food, my mother would tell me tales that made me gulp my dinner without even realizing it! Even when I was too young to understand her every spoken word! The sound of her stories had a unique hold over me which cannot be compared to digital entertainment.

Materialistic values, disintegration of the joint family, kinship ties, time constraints, availability of alternatives have all contributed to the decline of folklore and the art of storytelling. I assume that the practice of storytelling and folk tales started in earlier times, when people gathered around fires to save themselves from biting cold. In order to distract themselves and make children sleep, they used to weave stories from their imaginations. This ability of man to imagine has led to unbelievable strides in the field of technology today .It is not the emperors that gave birth to history and culture; rather, our culture and history was created by those villagers beside the fireplace. In future, it won’t be democracy or technology that will give birth to the tradition of a country, rather the ideas that bring man closer to his own kind and his environment.

Folk tales are stories that have been passed from generation to generation, inextricably intertwined with our culture and our past, where our identity is derived from. The parents of this generation are well aware of these stories but many do not have the time or will to pass it on to their children. I fear that when this transmission has almost died, the folk stories will also die. Will this be the end? Time can only tell, but I still hope and imagine that even today in some far off remote corners of our society there is still a parent or a grandparent telling stories to an inquisitive child (like I once was!) and saving this art of storytelling from being buried in the graveyard of history.