SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mythology: are we ready to dismiss it?

Telling stories from mythology to small children is a bit tricky.

Do we need to discuss the gore and brutality that is sometimes included in these stories?
Do we need to actually speak about the heavy romantic sentiments which gets included in these stories?
Or do we really need to tell children about cheating and deception, betrayal and loss of faith?

Now Myths are a part of every society...we have Nordic Myths, Celtic Tales, Indian Folklore, and Greek Heroes. Where strange fantastical beasts, half human/ half God, perform crazy feats with such elaborate story lines, that even I get lost.

I do tell a lot of mythological stories to my children and of course Amar chitra katha is a great educator. Whichever stories I have not told, they get from Dr.Pai's innovative idea, which has raised generations of avid readers like me ( and my kids). In our country Hindu mythology is engrained in every child's learning process. Somewhere they come to hear of the story of Ganesha, or the story of Mahishasuramardini, and of course the eternal favorite Krishna is popular as it is televised. So a 2 year old is as knowledgeable as any adult when it comes to this particular character.

So my take on the trickiness goes like this:

We need to perceive these stories from the context of time. In all probability ( like Shakespeare did), the sages/ scholars who wrote these myths (not actually wrote, as most of these were stories passed down word of mouth), wanted to keep the audience entertained (an audience that may not have been educated) and any other message of piety or patience had to be subtly woven into the stories along with dramatic/ melodramatic overtures. So you have Shiva severing the young Boy's neck only to repent at his haste and his lack of restraint, and then rectifying his mistake by creating a Vigneshwar, a divine form whose grace helps a person to overcome sorrow/defeat.

Yet another angle I would like you to perceive is that many of these stories were tailored for a much older audience and telling stories to children was not the sole purpose. Children were only a part of the audience and it is only contemporary society that has started analyzing the "appropriateness of stories" for children.

Surely from my story telling experience I can say that children enjoy Mythology, but there is a way of telling. That way is to highlight the appropriate "take home" for the child rather than the gory bits. But frankly I know that some kids enjoy the fighting and war and weapons....and I don't blame this fascination on Myths / Stories from mythology. In all probability it's got to do with the heavy dose of "crime" related cartoons and movies that have cropped up now.

So do you tell or not tell.

Again I leave it to your discretion. I was raised on a heavy dose of mythological stories, some I enjoyed, some I have discarded. Yet many times I can actually relate to the stories in terms of my current life situation and I smile to myself. Some days I tell myself I feel like Trishanku....suspended between heaven and earth, neither here nor there and on other days I feel like a Rakshasi, screaming and swearing at every one.

We belong to a post modern rationalist society and all we need to do is sift the chaff from the grain and take what is suitable for us in our present thinking.

Can't dismiss 5000 years of our glorious mythological heritage as meaningless.

But the bottom line for any story teller... I can also say that the Golden Rule for any story teller is to Never tell a story that you dont believe in. By this I dont mean you have to believe the story, but you have to believe you want to tell the story! It works only this way.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just a thought

We are born with some traits and then we acquire some through interactions, experiences and habits. I can't say I have a brilliant analytical mind, I wish I did,because that is the skill required in today's world.
Analytics runs Google
System analysts run the systems that run Google
and...brilliant Analytical minds run the system in the analysts....

Just having some fun with words!!
What I have is logical thinking, some creativity, patience and high tolerance for anything that doesn't function.
In terms of how the world is moving I would say I am the turtle in the Hare story!

I'll get there but I have to put in effort and I take my time!

Friday, August 5, 2011

At the festival; Day 2

 A Pot-Pouri of distorted images. Sorry that's all my Nokia cell camera could do.But the main players of the second day are all here.
Geeta, Ola and Ulaf ( I hope I got that right).
Geeta needs no introduction, she is a master storyteller, and barely uses props. Her voice is her greatest prop! She modulates and mimics with no inhibition and carries us all through one and half hours of stories. The ease with which she moves from story to story, stands for her deep involvement in the field and I can say she lives and breathes the stories. Each one narrated differently; each one with a quirk of its own!

Ola Henrikson is a story educator at Sweden and uses stories to work with immigrant children in 10 schools, in and around his district.He uses folktales and traditional stories for team building and to integrate kids into their groups. He says that language is not much of a barrier, if you try and connect to the child's imagination! I liked the way he narrates, its gentle, simple and very clear. I can imagine how kids will be drawn to this gentle giant!

Ulaf, aah! He was a surprise to us. He runs the Burattino Puppet theatre in Sweden ( Burratino, itself means Puppet in Italian;... hmmm I thought Ulaf was Swedish!!).His daughter and he gave a small performance with their lion and ringmaster puppets. The puppets came alive in their expert hands. A treat!     
For me it was a refresher. Performance Storytelling as against Storytelling in the Classroom.The two are vastly different and though I love performance stories,  the interaction during and after the performance is what adds value to the telling. 

Another surprise element was a gentleman who enacted a shadow story for us. The story was of Punyakoti,a cow that holds truth above all else. Love, sacrifice and truth is the basis of this story, so check it out when you get time as it is a very popular story from Karnataka. That is the third image you can see on the blog.

Again I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hours insight ( thanks to a friend for pointing it out!). If you do something with interest/ passion and repeatedly, you will surely gain mastery. 10,000 hours of story telling awaits me and I have just started!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

At the Festival! Day 1

A festival is a time to celebrate!
And when we have a festival of stories, hosted by Kathalaya (the place where my journey in Storytelling began), it is really an experience I do not want to miss.
In the mundane, humdrum of routine and schedules, chores to be met, a space was created for people like me to rejuvenate and refresh our committment to this art of Storytelling.
A two day event on August 1st and 2nd/ 2011. The first day had Dr.Mirella from Sweden; she is an educator, puppeteer and puppet maker. She uses and teaches children to make puppets with easy materials such as sponge and cloth.Here you can see the pretty little Butterfly Puppet we all got to make with material especially imported from Sweden.  Yet what I loved about the session was her coaching us on how to use the puppets! Simple easy techniques of puppet behaviour behind the screen and in front. Awesome.
It was a glimpse only but it left me thirsting for more!!

The purpose of a puppet is to engage the child and draw out questions and that is really my take away from this session. Though I use puppets, I use them mainly as props for the story. I do have my Buddy (Sukhi) who introduces my tale and the session, but I realise how much more effective I can make Sukhi and  I am all eager to try out this new found insight at the next session in my library (Brainvilla).  

As educators and as resource people who work with children, (or even as parents), we do a lot of Telling, but hardly Listen to the child. We also believe as adults we must have all the answers and being wrong or goofing up (messing up) is just not permissible. It is difficult if you come to think of it to own that wrong and tell kids so, because we see ourselves as role models, I know...

Well then....use Puppets!!

If you can make sense of what I am saying, then through Puppets we can project an other world (a topsy-turvy one maybe) which gets them to question the existing norms; (this was beautifully illustrated by Dr. Mirella, a she introduced her Frog puppet, that did not like to get wet and used a rain coat and umbrella!).
Shyness, fears, and resistances are all what we can address using our Purpose Puppets!!

Puppets are great tools but how you use them is what is important.
Practice and planning goes into making any Puppet a show stealer!

Some more about story telling in my next post....

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