Internationally well known live-wire storyteller, Jeeva Raghunath shares her passion for storytelling and a few practical storytelling tips.
Once upon a time
It was a time when joint family existed. Ours was one such big big family. It still is, though with fewer members now. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, siblings and I, we all lived under one roof. My maternal grandmother had a total of 14 children and step-children. She had lost her husband young and so my parents raised all the siblings. Then as they got married, one by one they moved out to build their own nest and raise their families.
My grandmother (Thotta Paati) and my mother (amma) were brilliant storytellers. Thotta Paati was a street theatre actor while amma was an actress on silver screen. My father directed films.
When I was young, at mealtime Thota Paati would gather us all – her 20 grandchildren – around, in a large circle. In a brass Kundan (cauldron), she would mix rice, sambar and curry together and make rice balls to feed us. Our palms were our plates. As she fed us she would spin a tale. We were all transported to the world of stories while we ate our meals.
I strongly believe that the tradition of telling stories started to engage children so that they will eat well.
Thota Paati told funny stories. Amma was a splendid teller of stories with strong sentiments. There were others too who told stories in my family; my uncles and my siblings. My family was indeed a storytelling family. I was fortunate to have grown up listening to a variety of stories. It left a strong impact on me.
And then one day…
I started telling folktales and funny stories to my nephews and nieces. I now tell stories to my grand nephews and grand nieces. The bonding that started long ago still continues in the family, with one glue and that is ‘Storytelling’. I never imagined that one day I will take this role of a storyteller, professionally. I love it and I know very well know that I will love it forever!
Today, in the age of Youtube and Google, I realise that technology or not, live storytelling can never be replaced.
Storytelling is a strong bonding tool.
It binds the family together, assists in understanding how people are, their conflicts and resolutions. It helps the family understand and appreciate the family heritage while developing a global understanding, together.
Unlike watching movies or TV together, storytelling allows an opportunity to make that moment and the story, personal.
Unlike reading books, telling story allows a flexibility to customize the story to the context. The same story can be told completely from a different perspective in a different context.
A good story is a wonderful journey shared by the teller and listener. It basically needs emotion. A story done with emotion travels through every heart and touches it leaving a life long memory. One may forget his subjects learnt at school, but never a good story. They leave an impression.
From my experience as a professional storyteller, I can say that it is emotions that keep the listener and the teller connected. The magic happens when souls get connected through emotions in the stories. Stories that I heard as a child still stir emotions in my heart. My stories would also do the same to the listeners.
Stories last a lifetime. Stories, to me, are pure joy and if you can spread that joy, what more can one ask for? A joyful soul is so positive.
When I hear audience giggle, smile, laugh aloud, whistle, I feel immense satisfaction that I could do it. It gives me a 1000 volts power.
I love to keep my stories simple and fun. But that’s probably my style. I know of storytellers who tell very effectively emotional stories or historical stories or mythological stories to children and to adults. Personal stories; your first person accounts and encounters, are awesome because they come from within you. They are true recollection of your experiences. You don’t have to rehearse them. Children love to hear personal stories. Since these are true stories, they serve as an excellent tool for motivation. No tip is required to tell one’s own story. Share it with utmost sincerity, to the moment and to the listener (your child).
As a storyteller I have had such memorable anecdotes, I have been asked by little children if I could be their mother, if I could stay with them. I’ve had adults asking me if they could have a hug. Now my 6-year-old grandnephew wants me to marry him.
Many have walked up to me to share their stories and also tell me that they felt healed, touched, reminded and loved. Once a selective mute kid walked up to me and said “ I love you!” That still rings in my gear and ears.
My moment of pride came from the late President of Singapore S R Nathan. He was the chief guest at one of the storytelling showcases in Singapore. When we took a picture together. When I told him that I was honoured, he remarked with a wink, ‘I’m honoured, for you can become the President but I can never be a storyteller.’
Jeeva is a storyteller and author. She has represented India at 23 international storytelling festivals, has had over 500 storytelling performances and trained over 25,000 children and adults all over the world. Jeeva pioneered the storytelling movement in Tamilnadu, India. She was awarded “Best Entrepreneur Award” and “Pride of Asia” awarded by Surindra Rajabhat University, Surin, Thailand, for her contribution to storytelling Jeeva has authored 9 storybooks for children and translated over 65 picture books from English to Tamil. She smells, tastes, feels, sees and hears stories!