story time

Why it’s important not just to read (and listen to) stories, but to tell them too

Videos of famous writers reading their stories prove the point.

I grew up with a bunch of wild stories planted randomly, beautifully, and chaotically by my parents. One of the first stories my father told me, was of Marie Curie, sitting wonderstruck in her science class at school, listening to the teacher describing the infinite dimensions of space.

The story, as told by my father, and completely uncorroborated by facts, unfolds with the teacher telling all the kids in the class to close their eyes and imagine the ever-expanding universe. Curie closes her eyes, starts to assimilate and comprehend the expansion – and faints. This was a story from the imagination, unbridled, pure, and all consuming.

I remember another series of stories told by my father, over and over again, of a bird, and a bear. Stories of unlikely friendships, tolerance, even love, amongst those not considered to be equals, and not allowed to love.

I faintly remember the mists of stories told by my grandfather, who lived in England for a year, and came back with no money, and tons of massive tin boxes, full of stories, books, and a radio. My father grew up dismantling and building radios, for fun, for money, and later, for stories of perseverance.

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Jeffrey Eugenides reading from "Middlesex"

Channelling, not just telling

Years later, in The Way of Chuang Tzu, I read a short story about a woodcarver named Khing. When people ascribed his excellent craftsmanship to the work of spirits, Khing spelt the secret at the end – “My own collected thought encountered the hidden potential in the wood.”

This was a tale of the assimilation of years of stories into one’s self. Susan Sontag aptly calls it self-devotion. This was a story of becoming something other than what has been foretold for you, of channelling the power of the spirits – stories of witchcraft, wizardry and self-love.

This is how I grew up with the stories of the valley I called home for many many years, of the river that once flowed, and then stopped; of the hills and the abandoned, haunted hotel at the fringe of the town; of the mall road with it’s accumulation of stories from the wanderers, the pain it suffered, and the tale it lived to tell.

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Kurt Vonnegut, reading from Breakfast of Champions

Stories give us power

All of these stories are supremely important, to me, and the world. These are the stories of imagination, love and humanity. It matters how early we are told these stories, how beautifully they are woven into the narratives of our lives, and the quiet power they have over our existence. These stories are important, because so often, when we are powerless against the uncertain, unpredictable, caustic forces of this tumultuous world, there is power in the way we tell our stories.

Stories are important, because they infuse humanity in history, and help us prepare for battle, for standing up, albeit rarely, for the lesser-known principles; allowing us the courage to tell our children to believe. Stories are important, because they live within us, and grow with us, much like our souls are drenched and enriched with the first memory of a lingering rain, or the shapeless crystal of a snowflake melting at the tip of our tongues. Stories are important because we have power over them, to change the scope of reality, craft a new dream, and make it personal, deeply personal, something that may be missing from the politics, love and the bonds of our time.

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Zadie Smith, reading from "On Beauty"

Stories matter because they last through the ages. Stories of gods become religion, stories of brave-hearts create heroes, stories of imagination help in understanding the universe and save humanity, stories of perseverance and self-love create astounding leaders; and most importantly, stories of a better kind help humans dream better, and I firmly believe, love better.

So look within yourself, and find a story to tell. When you do find it, make the desperate, wandering children of this world taste it. It may change their life; it might even change the narrative, and give us a better leader, or perhaps even a better world. I call this changing the world, one story at a time. Moreover, life, bereft of good stories, makes us, as The Little Prince tells us, mushrooms, not men.

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Truman Capote reading from "Breakfast at Tiffany’s"
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Children's Day is not for children alone

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Most adults look at childhood wistfully, as a time when the biggest worry was a scraped knee, every adult was a source of chocolate and every fight lasted only till the next playtime. Since time immemorial, children seem to have nailed the art of being joyful, and adults can learn a thing or two about stress-free living from them. Now it’s that time of the year again when children are celebrated for...simply being children, and let it serve as a timely reminder for adults to board that imaginary time machine and revisit their childhood. If you’re unable to unbuckle yourself from your adult seat, here is some inspiration.

Start small, by doodling at the back page of your to-do diary as a throwback to that ancient school tradition. If you’re more confident, you could even start your own comic strip featuring people in your lives. You can caricaturise them or attribute them animal personalities for the sake of humour. Stuck in a boring meeting? Draw your boss with mouse ears or your coffee with radioactive powers. Just make sure you give your colleagues aliases.

Pull a prank, those not resulting in revenue losses of course. Prank calls, creeping up behind someone…pull them out from your memory and watch as everyone has a good laugh. Dress up a little quirky for work. It’s time you tried those colourful ties, or tastefully mismatched socks. Dress as your favourite cartoon characters someday – it’s as easy as choosing a ponytail-style, drawing a scar on your forehead or converting a bath towel into a cape. Even dinner can be full of childish fun. No, you don’t have to eat spinach if you don’t like it. Use the available cutlery and bust out your favourite tunes. Spoons and forks are good enough for any beat and for the rest, count on your voice to belt out any pitch. Better yet, stream the classic cartoons of your childhood instead of binge watching drama or news; they seem even funnier as an adult. If you prefer reading before bedtime, do a reread of your favourite childhood book(s). You’ll be surprised by their timeless wisdom.

A regular day has scope for childhood indulgences in every nook and cranny. While walking down a lane, challenge your friend to a non-stop game of hopscotch till the end of the tiled footpath. If you’re of a petite frame, insist on a ride in the trolley as you about picking items in the supermarket. Challenge your fellow gym goers and trainers to a hula hoop routine, and beat ‘em to it!

Children have an incredible ability to be completely immersed in the moment during play, and acting like one benefits adults too. Just count the moments of precious laughter you will have added to your day in the process. So, take time to indulge yourself and celebrate life with child-like abandon, as the video below shows.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of SBI Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.