The Art of Storytelling


From mythological stories to animated cartoon characters, the essence of storytelling has not changed over the years. What has changed is the way stories are presented. Shreyashi DasGupta finds out more


Stories play a major role in every child's life. Most children read storybooks in bed and even get parents to read out stories from their favourite books. Parents, of course, use stories as the ultimate weapon to get children into bed! But did you know that the art of storytelling is older than the art of writing?

It is difficult to put a date on the moment when storytelling began. The earliest stories were passed on orally. In fact, a lot of the old fables and religious stories we know today were passed on from generation to generation orally.

Historians believe that drawings etched onto the walls of caves may have been a form of storytelling too. With the advent of writing, humans started to use actual symbols to represent language and stories began to be carved, scratched, painted, inked and printed. As time progressed, people used wood, bamboo, ivory, pottery, clay, stone, palm-leaves, animal skins (parchment), bark, cloth, paper, silk, canvas and even digital formats to record stories. But through all these changes, the one thing that has remained constant is the ability of stories to transport people to faraway lands and imaginary events.

Sapna Choudhury, a parent, recalls, "Most stories always had the typical first line, 'Once upon a time', and would end with 'and they lived happily ever after'. It was great fun to read such stories. It is through these books that we got to learn about other cultures and people. Storytelling is still considered a unique way to help children develop an understanding, respect and appreciation of other cultures. It's a very powerful medium that builds moral values."

But the question many ask is whether children are still interested in listening to stories. Or has storytelling lost ground with the onslaught of television, the Internet and other technologies?

Eight-year-old Vinayak Sharma says, "When I see a story with visual props and characters dressed in costumes, I relate to it easily and remember the story for a longer time. But I also love to listen to stories on CDs and browse online graphic novels."

Indira, a scientist by profession and a storyteller by hobby, points out that storytelling makes use of two different senses - hearing and sight. Thus the recollection factor is stronger. It's probably because of this factor that schools use story storytelling as an educational tool. Praniika Borkar of Tridha School says, "We dress according to the particular era we are studying in our history class. Based on the topic, each teacher then narrates history through various historical characters. This ensures we donít need to go home and read through our history books, as in a way, we have lived history!"

Indira adds, "During my guest sessions in schools, I have often made use of storytelling to teach science and civics too. In civics, I get children to role play by taking on roles of ministers in a parliamentary setup. They speak about the important powers and functions of various ministers and narrate the jobs and roles of each minister."

Even NGOs are exploring the medium of storytelling. Indira says, "I have taught conversational English to children at an NGO called Hamara Footpath using puppetry as a medium to tell stories." That's not all. Storytelling is also used in street plays to convey important social messages!

According to Indira, "The art of storytelling has definitely changed and so has the audience. Children's attention spans have reduced. In the past, in the absence of technology, the tradition of oral storytelling was very strong. Today, one needs to use key elements like voice modulation, props and actions to keep children hooked. Age is also an important factor. It's the younger children who prefer storytelling sessions, whereas older children prefer to read books on their own."

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