Rustom Dadachanji is the author of Ravana Refuses to Die, which will be out in bookshops soon.
But on this we agree:
that to tell a story about the Past is to tell a story about the Present.
Once upon a long ago time
there were Storytellers roaming the land.
“Gather round. Gather round. I have a Fantastic Tale for you. Come closer!” they proclaimed aloud to all and sundry as people hurried about to work in the marketplace.
“What a Story! Excuse me but you are just wasting good money on all that useless recycled tea from that chaiwallah there. If you listen carefully to me at the end you’ll be someone else, I implore you!”
Bone-Lazy Good-For-Nothing Liars.
(Their exasperated expressions declared.)
I have no time for this nonsense! I do not wish to be someone else.
Others (luckily!) stopped by and willingly lent ears.
The tinkle of a few coins into a dusty bowl when it finally came round, was a small price to pay.
After all, these Conjurers of Tales (called kathaavaachaka by the villagers and town folk of India) had secrets.
They had journeyed from land to land, probably even over oceans, to visit places you and I can only dream of.
They had exchanged Stories with other Storytellers so Outlandish that you and I might find them difficult to grasp.
Met the Weirdest of Beings.
Babbled with Extraordinary Birds.
Jawed with still Stranger Beasts.
Partook in Strange Mysteries and Stranger Magic that you and I might never ever risk.
Returned with Treasures the likes of which you and I even in a hundred lifetimes would never lay eyes on and be completely enthralled when we did!
A Platypus Egg.
that Rarest of Rare!
(nothing could possibly be rarer)
Exquisite Tail Feathers from a Phoenix Bird.
As Incontestable Proof of these Extraordinary Travels.
Pulled into the irresistible magic circle, the Storyteller would begin to spin his tale. While those within breathing distance would gape and gawk at the power of his words and at the enchantment of what was unfolding before their eyes.
Deep sighs and exclamations of wah! wah! would frequently disrupt the narration whereby the Storyteller, now charoud and animated, would promptly improvise by dropping the prose and switch to a couplet of poetry. Or break into song. Perhaps even accompanied with an amusing dance. Or theatrical performance.
Yes! There was a great value placed on Storytelling and Storytellers in days of old. For everyone knew the Storyteller must reveal and thus share himself or herself through his or her Storytelling. And the listeners too must reveal and share themselves through their response to the Story. Varied as these were bound to be.
Epics to Fables. Yarns to Legends. Tales of Wisdom to Ancient Myths. Folk Stories to Heroic Ballads. Anything and Everything was gist for the mill. The Storyteller could just dip into them at will. Like a privileged bee sipping at leisure from a dripping honeycomb shaped over ages. Temples, terraces, living rooms, palace halls, markets, weddings, social gatherings or pious functions … the venues and occasions where these tales were recited varied as much as the tales themselves.
Alas, those days of gathering around a Storyteller and listening to him extoll the virtues of Lord Rama or the wickedness of King Ravana as a fire blazed and you snuggled up, toes curled in anticipation, while the Storyteller stared unflinching into the flames, seem far and few today. This magic art form is tragically fast dying in many of our villages and small towns where it once thrived in so many exciting forms and persons (alack, even in Babubari, whose best barber is probably the last standing fount of these tales of yore!)
As we breathe in the Digital Age and the Wired World, earphones plugged into ears, the storyteller’s cry …
Listen! Oh Listen, Brothers and Sisters! Fantastic story. Wonderful story …
fall on deaf ears. The fire blazing is only a heap of smoldering embers. And the human voice vibrating through space as it spins story after story, is dwarfed by deadening signals broadcast from giant telecom towers … like rakshasas of old.
But all may not be not lost, Gentle Reader!
There might be an antidote.
As you’re probably aware, there are books best read to oneself in the quiet of a room or some relaxing space …
And then there are books that are written to be read full out loud. Where you become the Storyteller, with someone listening … or
(is the author a little too hopeful here, Gentle Reader?)
a roomful of listeners … perhaps!
As spoken words
Joyously wrap and
What yours truly calls
“A Telling Story!”
Ravana Refuses To Die belongs to the second group.
Written specially for a family read aloud.
Maybe even (if you dare!) a living room enactment.
Stories that share, celebrate and reconnect with the past.
Don’t take my word for it.
Just settle down, Gentle Reader, and have a go!