SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Saturday, August 26, 2017

To the one who surprised me!

The best mistake I made was to conceive a second time. 'Too soon' is what I said as I sat shedding tears of self pity in front of the gynae. ‘Hmm, better now than never’ said my Gynae quite unsympathetically. So he was born in August 2003. Apparently on the delivery table, in a daze of pain I shouted out I wanted to name him after Krishna the divine clichéd is all I have to say now, yet a perfect fit for my dear sonny boy Keshav.
His father saw him after 5 months (he did manage to come for the delivery but couldn’t stay too long). By which time the puny boy of 3.3 kgs had bloated into a 5kg boxer. Adventures abound in Jorhat, having swallowed a cockroach egg while crawling about and drank powdered milk that tore his insides; we made a super stay over at the Airforce Hospital with dysentery! The doctors then proclaimed he had an enlarged head and I worried and fretted over that too, till my husband put a stop to that nonsense and reassured me every male in his family were enlarged that way too!
We returned to Besant Nagar for a stint in IIT Madras for the pater. Every morning one proud grandparent would carry the curious wide eyed boy for a stroll down Elliots beach road or just stand at the gate chatting and gossiping with the walkers. He ran and never walked, so his right eyebrow bears witness to two injuries that amounted to 6 stitches in all!! His words were anagrams of all that he wanted to say, Computer became “punkitoot” and lollipop was “illapop” and we watched with joy his antics many days.
He completed 3 years in Bangalore and we started preschool. First day of school he vomited all over the class floor and I got a call asking me to pick him up! That was the beginning of many days. Waking him up was really tough and then getting him ready...a herculean task! How we would chase each other over and under the bed!! Many songs to motivate him; many stories to goad him! Brush your teeth and clap your hands, Wheels of the bus, Old Macdonald, Karadi songs and rhymes to entertain him till he got into the bus. He was always the last to be dropped off whilst returning, and the little guy would fall asleep, then just as the reverse horn of the bus would sound, he would wake up and loudly shout ‘red right’, red right’!!
In no chronological order, but as the thoughts come to me, presenting to you Keshav, 15 years of childhood:
He grew so fast, through Karate lessons that he abandoned after his Dan 1 belt and tennis lessons that he still goes to. Learning to cycle like a pro and throw almonds up high to catch them in his mouth, to solve the Rubix cube all on his own, to sketching and doodling with passion, to talking like an express train and refusing to allow me to hug or kiss him. To taking guitar classes and dreaming of his own band someday, to collecting coins like an obsessed Shylock and being an out an out entertainer; learning to swim and keeping at it even though at one point he feared it so. He who is getting better at sitting and studying but reads his books hanging from the sofa, upside down! He who slept through a chaotic night when he locked himself inside the house and we had to break the door to get in! He played Holi with the tiniest of pitchkari, but really never whined for more! He with the kindest heart who stopped to help his friend in an obstacle race and refuses to squash even a tiny bug! He who is growing into a big boy with big thoughts; Happiest Birthday my dearest sonny boy. Happiness and good health to you always!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Storytelling the Future

My first storytelling session was in a Multi Ability classroom of a Special School ( Vidya Sagar) in Chennai. Year 1996.
 I took the children to the garden, we sat around and we had a bucket of water in the middle. Each child had a puppet in their hand – made with simple newspaper; a lion, a rabbit and a few more animals. As we peered into it, we saw our reflection.  So by now you may know what story I went on to tell. The Panchatantra tale of the Lion and the Rabbit and how the rabbit outwits the lion. This experience triggered a series of reactions. The children (a few of them) started noticing and looking at themselves on reflecting surfaces - as that is what they took back from that story experience. It is mind think of this cause and effect in retrospect...
 It was an experience for the children. That story allowed children to experience an idea, a concept, abstract or literal notions within the space of a narrative arc.

As a storyteller I create a safe space for the child to go on a journey, to step into a space that is co- created (a world of our mutual creation), where imagination is the vehicle that drives us through many lands, validating what they know already and introducing new things and at the same time acknowledging every little thing that the child wishes to bring into that space – their thoughts, feelings and experiences in order to reach a destination, a place where they are emotionally stronger.

We all know Humans are hardwired for stories, and storytelling has been the most ancient method existing to pass on knowledge, ideas, values, and beliefs. Yet we in the field of education struggle to include it in our day to day life and curriculum.
The Aha moment for me was when I realised the reason for this is we don’t recognise what Storytelling is about and we have forgotten that we are all Storytellers. We just have to be present to this fact and find opportunities in the classroom to tell stories. We have to create a Climate of Storytelling within the classroom in order to provide an Immersive Storytelling Experience for the child and it starts in preschool.
“Storytelling is a gift of understanding the self, others and the story itself (Dr.Mary F Lenox in an article on telling multicultural tales).

There is the Story, the Storyteller and the Audience.
·        Let me tell you about the STORY - Story is not just Book with pictures, nor is it Panchatantra/ Jataka tale/ Aesop fable with a value/ moral at the end. Most teachers are given a story to tell, and they don’t even connect with the story. Or they tell a story without really understanding why they are telling it. According to Dr. Mary Read Macdonald, the Grandma of Storytelling, all one needs is a good story to tell – but we don’t spend enough time thinking about the stories we are going to tell.
So we need Reading Circles for the Teachers, tell each other stories, practise, and decide what stories you would like to tell. I sincerely believe the Teacher must decide what stories they want to tell. Find the Story

·        Create the Space: Storytelling is a way to facilitate Listening and Awareness – You need to create a space to transport the child – like an orchestra conductor who has a place to stand, a storyteller must create the space for storytelling.
·        Storytelling is a ritual where the story is an offering. Create your own rituals and systems that resonate with you and the audience. Do it every time...sometime just tuning into the audience will help you find this ritual.
·        Tell stories at every opportunity you can get or create opportunities within the class to tell stories.
·        Tell Stories from Personal experience, Traditional Tales, Made up stories
·        Play around with the story – Story Acting, Ask Children to Dictate (Vivian Paley in her seminal work called “Helicopter Stories – let the imagination fly” goes into detail about it).
·        Make up Stories from objects around the class/ house. Even the mathematical operations can be storified (Emperor Equal, Angel Addition, Duke Division – Waldorf Schools use storytelling at every opportunity.Very small children are taught through songs....and then progress to Fairy Tales, Mythology and Made up tales.)

The Teacher has to don the Storyteller persona – feel comfortable in that skin, According to Eleanor Duckworth (a Harvard trained educationist) The teacher must use what she already knows and question what she has and that is the way to becoming better and better at what she does. Building a Storytelling Classroom is essential. We don’t have to invent the wheel again. We need to reflect back in time to the days when Stories were used as didactic tools and then learn to apply it to the ever morphing Chimera that is the 21st century. There are many workable systems available which can be applied into the classroom...all we need is to see value in the methodology and then tell more stories.
Lets gather together to say “Once Upon a Time”.

# This is the presentation given by me at the Panel Discussion on "Storytelling for Preschool" , held at VHD Institute in April 2017. I was giving my perspective as a Storyteller and the other panelists were wonderfully multitalented from the Theatre, Education, Counselor and Content creator spaces.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Perspective - The Rose Bush and the Snail (HCAnderson)

The Rose Bush & the Snail -

by Hans Christian Anderson
A hedge of hazel-nut bushes encircled the garden;  but in the centre of the garden stood a rose-tree, and under it sat a snail--she had much within her, she had herself.
"Wait, until my time comes," said she, "I shall accomplish something more than putting forth roses, bearing nuts, or giving milk, like the cows and sheep!"
"I expect something fearfully grand," said the rose-tree, "may I ask when it will take place?"
"I shall take my time," said the snail, "you are in too great a hurry, and when that is the case, how can one's expectations be fulfilled?"
The next year the snail lay in about the same spot under the rose-tree, which put forth buds and developed roses, ever fresh, ever new. The snail half crept forth, stretched out its feelers and drew itself in again.

"Everything looks as it did a year ago! No progress has been made; the rose-tree still bears roses; it does not get along any farther!"
The summer faded away, the autumn passed, the rose-tree constantly bore flowers and buds, until the snow fell, and the weather was raw and damp. The rose-tree bent itself towards the earth, the snail crept in the earth.
A new year commenced; the roses came out, and the snail came out.
"Now you are an old rose bush," said the snail, "you will soon die away. You have given the world everything that you had in you; whether that be much or little is a question, upon which I have not time to reflect. But it is quite evident, that you have not done the slightest thing towards your inward development; otherwise I suppose that something different would have sprung from you. Can you answer this? You will soon be nothing but a stick! Can you understand what I say?"
"You startle me," said the rose-tree, "I have never thought upon that!"
"No, I suppose that you have never meddled much with thinking! Can you tell me why you blossom? And how it withers? How? Why?"
"No," said the rose-tree, "I blossom with pleasure because I could not do otherwise. The sun was so warm, the air so refreshing, I drank the clear dew and the fortifying rain; I breathed, I lived! A strength came to me from the earth, a strength came from above, I felt a happiness, ever new, ever great and therefore I must blossom ever, that was my life, I could not do otherwise!"
"You have led a very easy life!" said the snail.
"Certainly, everything has been given to me," said the rose-tree, "but still more has been given to you. You are one of those meditative, pensive, profound natures, one of the highly gifted, that astound the whole world!"
"I have assuredly no such thought in my mind," said the snail, "the world is nothing to me! What have I to do with the world? I have enough with myself, and enough in myself!"
"But should we not all, here on earth, give the best part of us to others? Offer what we can!--It is true, that I have only given roses--but you? You who have received so much, what have you given to the world? What do you give her?"
"What I have given? What I give? I spit upon her! She is good for nothing! I have nothing to do with her. Put forth roses, you can do no more! Let the hazel bushes bear nuts! Let the cows and sheep give milk; they have each their audience, I have mine within myself! I retire within myself, and there I remain. The world is nothing to me!"
And thereupon the snail withdrew into her house and closed it.
"That is so sad," said the rose-tree, "with the best will, I cannot creep in, I must ever spring out, spring forth in roses. The leaves drop off and are blown away by the wind. Yet, I saw one of the roses laid in the hymn-book of the mother of the family; one of my roses was placed upon the breast of a charming young girl, and one was kissed with joy by a child's mouth. This did me so much good, it was a real blessing! That is my recollection, my life!"
And the rose-tree flowered in innocence, and the snail sat indifferently in her house. The world was nothing to her.
And years passed away. The snail became earth to earth and the rose-tree became earth to earth; the remembrances in the hymn-book were also blown away--but new rose-trees bloomed in the garden, new snails grew in the garden; they crept in their houses and spat.--The world is nothing to them.
Shall we read the story of the past again? It will not be different.

This kind of story is a fable. Where an animal is humanised and conveys a perspective to life. Gaining perspective is the sole purpose of life I think.
Here the snail admonishes the Rosebush for not looking inward and not having a purpose in life...yet what the rosebush can do the snail cannot, and the rosebush is our typical extrovert and the snail perhaps an introvert.. and then that leads us to the ultimate truth that nothing is permanent...not even a thought...
It is all about gaining perspective in life and being ok with that...for every perspective leads us on a way much like "two roads diverged in a yellow wood".
This character strength is especially useful when trying to make sense of a life choice or make decisions and especially to help us connect our insides with the outside...
What a beautiful story..a bit too deep and perhaps has to be adapted for children. 
What a fable!!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Integrity - The 3 Diamonds - Tamil folktale

Integrity - Is being true to ourselves. Only if we are true with ourselves can we aim to be true to others. So there is  a big element of Self Awareness and Self Respect involved in this. Only if we have this character strength will others trust us. Integrity is about walking the talk!

Folktales have handled Integrity in many ways - cautionary tales that tell you what happens when Integrity is lost. Some tales use sacrifice to illustrate Integrity, where the Hero/ Heroine have to give up something in order to keep their word.
Some wonderful tales such as Punyakoti the Cow and Arputha the Tiger. Though the original version tells us that the tiger jumped off a cliff and sacrificed himself, in order to atone for his sin of desiring such a  virtuous cow as Punyakoti, others have adapted this tale (called as disordered narrative), to have the tiger let go of the cow, in peace.

Another tale is the Boiled Seeds ( Empty Pot story) that is supposed to be Chinese in origin, which tells us about  a little boy who becomes the emperor for he admits that he could not grow anything from the seeds given to him and it turns out they were boiled seeds.

This particular story called : The 3 Diamonds; is a Tamil folktale.
There is an online version by David Heathfield which I have used for my reference. I like this story at many levels for it shows that integrity can exist even in a person who seems to have done something wrong. Yet to evaluate what it means to us is of utmost importance -which is being true and honest to ourselves is more important than any other strength.

Vocabulary for Use


The 3 Diamonds (adapted)
In a village lived a young boy with his grandmother. Having lost his father and mother at a very young age, he was raised by his grandmother and also being poor and with no other means he had turned to robbing as his profession. Weary of his ways, his grandmother begged and pleaded with him to give up robbing or take up an honest trade or atleast to speak the truth.

The young boy confessed that he robbed to feed themselves and as he knew no other trade the only thing he could do was choose the last. He vowed he would always speak the truth even though he followed a dishonest profession.
One day as he was out on his usual rounds looking for a house to rob, he came across a beggar.
Let me tell you that this beggar was actually the Rajah in disguise who ventured out of his palace at times to understand the people of his kingdom.

"Where are you going?" asked the beggar to the thief.

Remember his vow to his grandmother? Well he had to tell the truth to the beggar. So he told the beggar his plan to enter the Rajah's palace and steal something from there.

"HaHaHa, the Rajah's palace? Well I can help you there, Come with me." said the beggar and he took the thief to a street adjacent to the palace and told him in a hushed tone to enter when the guards were changing and to go right to the Rajah's throne room. Once inside, he was to look for a box under the Rajah's throne and to open it for inside that he would find a treasure.

The thief expertly entered the palace and quickly made his way to the Rajah's throne room. Just as the beggar had said he found a box under the throne and when he opened it he saw....

3 shining priceless diamonds!!

He picked up all 3, but just at that moment he hesitated and asked himself the question: "Do I need all 3 diamonds. Even one will give me a lot of money with which I can take care of my grandmother and myself"

Having had this thought and it being a truthful one, he left one in the box and took only two with him and left the same way he had come.

Outside the palace he met the beggar. "Did you find the treasure?" asked the beggar.

 "Yes I did. Thank you for your help and it is only correct that I share this with you" he said and gave one diamond to the beggar and quickly left from there..

The beggar followed the thief silently and saw him enter his humble hut at the edge of the town.

The beggar now went back to his own place. Yes! Went back to the palace.

The next morning he called his Mantri and said: "There has been a robbery last night, search the palace and find out what is missing".

The Mantri searched the throne room thoroughly and soon found the box under the throne open and two of the diamonds missing. "The thief appears to have taken only 2 diamonds, what a strange fellow" he said and quietly instead placed the diamond in his own pocket.

"Rajah the diamonds are missing" he announced grandly and showed the empty box.

"Empty?" asked the Rajah

"Yes. Most definitely" said the Mantri.

"The thief lives in a hut at the edge of town, go and bring him to the Town square immediately. Justice will be done" said the King wisely.

The Mantri hurried to the hut and quickly dragged the thief to the Town Square where the Rajah too reached very soon.

A guard stood ready to chop off the thief's head and the whole town had gathered to see the tamasha.

"Have you stolen 3 diamonds from under the King's throne?"asked the Mantri

"Yes I have stolen, but I took only two, not three" said the thief, for he had vowed to tell the truth to his grandmother.

"Liar" shouted the Mantri, "Which thief takes two when he can take three, show them to us"

" I have one here with me but the other I gave it to a beggar for helping me"

"Again you lie, which thief shares his loot. Off with his head" Shouted the Mantri almost hysterically.

"Wait, he tells the truth. I was the beggar in disguise to whom he gave the diamond" said the Rajah to the shocked people as he opened his palm to show the other diamond.

"As for the third diamond, I think I know who may have it. Guards, search our Mantri's pocket inside out" said the Rajah.

Correctly enough the guards found the third diamond in the Mantri's pocket.

"People of my land, tell me who should I punish now? This scoundrel Mantri or the honest thief?" asked the king.

"The Mantri must be punished and the thief rewarded" yelled the people in one voice.

"This boy's honesty and integrity is worthy of him becoming my advisor, so let him decide what is to be done to the other" said the Rajah.

" Everybody deserves another chance, so let him go, but let him be stripped of all his status and wealth. Let him know what it is to be poor. I too have made mistakes and this is my second chance. I promise to tell the truth always and to serve this land under your wise rule Oh Rajah" said the new advisor.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Prudence & Good Judgement - Folktale from Kashmir - Secret of Traamkhazaan (Tulika Publishers)

Prudence or discretion: A character strength that enables you to do and say things that is well thought out and not hasty. This strength allows you to make choices that you will not regret later.
It falls under the strength of Temperance and allows us practice the ability to monitor and manage our feelings, motivations and behaviour, and protects us from excess.

Cautious wisdom, practical wisdom and practical reason.

Vocabulary to Use

good judgement
common sense

This folktale lends easily to the concept of practicing prudence. Here I have adapted it for telling without taking away the essence of the story. One can always read out the original story from the book as well.

Secret of Traamkhazaan- Folktale from Kashmir –
Taken from the book:
 The Enchanted Saarang 
 Tulika Publishers (Asha Hanley & Proiti Roy)

Adapted for telling here:

Traamkhazaan, Traamkhazaan, Secret treasures in a copper bowl.
Fazli and Humza chanted the lines as they drove their sheep up the mountain which was known to everyone as the Traamkhazaan – Copper Treasure Mountain. It was summer in the mountains and delicious new grass could be found way up on the slopes and that’s where the brother and sister had to take their sheep.
Down below was their dera or camp where families had made their tents and lived together as a community. Mother had packed some lunch for the two of them, rice, spinach, meat and yummy yellow paneer – fried into a golden brown which they carried in a bowl tied up with a cloth.
“Do you think this mountain has secrets and treasures?”Asked Fazli to her brother
“I sure wish it had some treasure for us to find. Then we can give some of it to Abba and he will not have to worry about the winter cold”
Drrr.....Drr...said Hamza as he drove the sheep higher up the slope.
Just as they turned the corner they were shocked to a standstill as they saw a short man standing there, leaning against a rock. He had a grey hair and a grey beard and a rope around his waist just like all the shepherds on the mountain.
“As salaam alaikum bhaisaab. Are you new here? We have never seen you before. Are you a shepherd?” asked Hamza politely.
“I am looking for something, have you ever looked for anything on this mountain?” the stranger asked
“Not really, only sheep and sometimes we look for mushrooms. What are you looking for?”
“A Treasure” said the grey bearded man looking at Fazli and Humza with a twinkle on his eyes.
“Treasure! But that is just a story”, said Fazli
‘Maybe and maybe not...but before that can you give me some food, I am very hungry”
Humza and Fazli had just enough food for the two of them, but in a jiffy, Fazli decided to share the food they had brought along with them. She opened her cloth packet and took out the two bowls of food. The stranger rubbed his hands in delight
“Yummm, this is my favourite food, rice, meat and paneer” and he gobbled up all the food as the two watched him.
Just as quickly as he finished eating, he waved goodbye, thanked them and disappeared around the mountain path as Fazli and Humza stared at each other.
How were they going to explain this to their Mother? No food and nothing to show for their kindness. It was going to be along day.
As the sun set in the western horizon, Fazli and Humza who had eaten nothing but a few berries picked up from the mountain and drunk from the cool mountain spring, made their way back down the slope while trying to count all their sheep.
Suddenly a rustle between the bushes caused the sheep to bleat loudly in fear and huddle together.
Was it a snake or could it be a leapord they wondered and quickly Hamza held his stick firmly in his hand.
The man with the grey hair and grey beard stood once more before them. He also had a peculiar shining copper bowl in his hand.
“Here, you may have this”, he said with a grin.
Fazli’s eyes literally popped out. Was this the copper treasure that could be found on these mountains? She reached out and took the bowl in her hand; it looked so pretty and shiny.
She ran her finger along the smooth edge of the bowl and “cling” a golden coin fell into the bowl.
The old man smiled at them and said “This is a magic bowl. But as you were kind and generous, the Spirit of the Copper Mountain will give you what you wish for. But remember
“Never Ever wish anyone ill, for if you do, the wish will come true, but the bowl will fly over the hill”
“Why should we wish anyone ill? We are so lucky to have this bowl that we will wish for all good things!” promised Hamza and Fazli.
Even before they finished speaking, the old man disappeared and the two drove their sheep back home.
It all seemed like a dream when they woke up the next morning. But can two people have the same dream?
“I saw an old man”
“Me too, and he appeared and disappeared like magic!”
“He also told a rhyme....mmmm...something about wish and ill and fly over the hill?”
Never Ever wish anyone Ill, for the wish will come true, but the bowl will fly over the hill” said Hamza who always had a great memory for words.
“But is he real? Is he the Spirit of the TraamKhazaan Mountain? Will the bowl give us what we wish for?”
Questions tumbled out of Fazli’s mouth, but the copper bowl was there, right in front of them and their only proof they had not dreamed the whole thing up.
“Come let us tell Abba what happened and let us show him the bowl”
With a quick splash of icy cold water, they rushed towards their father’s tent.
But there was someone with their father and the two of them looked very solemn.
“Do you remember Sarai, you played with her last summer?” Said the visitor once he saw them at the entrance and gestured them to come in.
“She is very sick and we are all worried for her. We can only pray now”
Hamza and Fazli looked at each other and they both had the same idea it seemed, for when they stepped out of the tent almost together they both spoke about the magic Copper Bowl.
“Shall we rub the bowl and wish for Sarai’s good health?”
“We can try, but last time it gave money, I am not sure it will give her good health now”
But without any more talking, Fazli, rubbed the rim of the copper bowl and made a wish under her breathe. The watched and watched for something to happen, but nothing did.
Disheartened they had to start the evening duties and soon went over to their mother for some roti and noonchai.
Next morning the two decided to visit Sarai and made the long trek down the hill.
As they neared the dera, they were surprised, in fact shocked to see Sarai sitting outside her tent with a shawl around her shoulders and actually smiling at them.
“It is a miracle” said Sarai’s mother. “She was very sick last night, but this morning she got up and sat down like everything was fine and she has even asked for some roti and chai!”
“Spirit of Traamkhazaan, Thank you”, said Fazli under her breathe and when no elder was around they even shared their wonderful secret with Sarai, their friend.
But not everyone can believe all that is told to them and Sarai was of that nature.
“Spirit? Copper Bowl? What rubbish! How could he cure me? Does he speak Kashmiri?” she interrogated them and asked them many many questions. Finally she forced them to show the magic bowl to her.
Hamza looked at Fazli and both of them knew they must not tell Sarai about the gold. So when he brought the copper bowl from where he had hidden it, he quietly gave t to Fazli, who thought of the first thing that came to her mind and gently rubbed the edge of the copper bowl.
A large blob of yummy white paneer fell into the bowl, much to Sarai’s amazement!
They waved goodbye to Sarai and left back for their dera, but did not realise that they had left Sarai, thinking and thinking.
The next morning Sarai left her home very early and walked all the way to Fazli and Humza’s dera way up on the hills. She waited for them to leave their tent and drive the sheep further away and quickly when no one was looking went into their tent.
Simple children that Fazli and Humza were they had left the copper bowl just under their folded clothes and in no time Sarai had found the bowl.
“You are my slave now, you have to obey me, and give me whatever I ask” said greedy Sarai and wished loudly for some yummy Buffalo milk paneer, the same that she had seen Fazli do the previous evening.
To her surprise and horror, the bowl became hotter and hotter and just flew right out of her hands banged her nose once and flew out of the window and far away. At the same moment a piece of hot paneer fell into her mouth and her mouth clamped shut around this blob of hot food, that it burnt her tongue and made her cry out.
She ran out of the tent and back home gasping for breath and clutching her throat. She refused to eat paneer from that day onwards and thought twice before she wished ill of someone.
While back on the hills, the copper bowl flew right to where Fazli and Humza were grazing the sheep and landed at their feet. The Spirit of Traamkhazaan had given the bowl back to those who would use it with prudence, the kind and helpful brother and sister.
Traamkhazaan, Traamkhazaan, Secret treasures in a copper bowl.
“Never Ever wish anyone Ill, for the wish will come true, but the bowl will fly over the hill”
The two used the bowl for many other important things in their family and every time made sure it would be a helpful act.

Powered By Blogger