It’s time for bedtime stories

Updated: Aug 21, 2010, 10:30 AM IST

<b><i>“Once upon a time there was a king and a queen...”</i></b><br/><br/><br/>It may sound clichéd, but yes, that’s exactly how most of the bedtime stories begin, weaving an intricate yarn of a distant fantasy land, full of fairies, spirits, elves, flora and fauna - coexisting with human beings. <br/><br/>Our life is surrounded by stories – films, sitcoms, newspapers, magazines, novels and whatnot. It would not be wrong to say that our lives are shaped by stories, as human life like every story has a beginning, middle and an end.<br/><br/>Childhood is considered to be the most impressionable state for a human being, as the young mind is like a ‘Tabula Rasa’ – a clean slate which is at its most receptive stage. Tales told in childhood leave an indelible mark on the human psyche, unsullied till our very end. If not all, I still remember some of the bedtime stories and children’s books I relished in my childhood – ‘Ramayana’,’ Mahabhatara’, ‘Panchatantra’, ‘Aladdin’, ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’, ‘Sinbad’, ‘Arabian Nights’, ‘Aesop’s Fables’, ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ , ‘The Adventure of Tom Sawyer’ , ‘ Cinderella’ , ‘Rapunzel’ , ‘ Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ , ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ , ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Tom Thumb’ and many more. Well, with my young nephew growing up really quickly, I have to refresh my memory so as to continue with the great tradition of a storyteller.<br/><br/>Telling a story can be fun, especially to a kid, who unquestionably believes in everything you say. Consequently, storytelling is a great responsibility because here we are dealing with young, malleable and sensitive minds. However, children’s stories are not completely untouched by adult experience, for they conceal hidden messages, which are didactic in nature. They are cryptic signs which are carriers of tradition and cultural baggage. <br/><br/>It would be too naive to say that bedtime stories are read for the sake of storytelling as they are the product of an adult mind, who wields the power to steer the young thinking. Most of the stories are based on the binaries of right/wrong and good/bad. Such stories become a mode of instructing and inculcating good morals in kids so as to make sure that they grow up as morally upright, honest and law abiding citizens. Added to this, sound education, well-off and congenial family upbringing lays the foundation stone for the overall development of a child, who would be a great asset to society and nation as a balanced human being. However, the same kid turning prodigal and criminal is quite disputable, for it is less to do with the failure of the moral lessons which one listens in his/her childhood and more to do with certain individual choices and decisions one tends to make in his/her life.<br/><br/>Nevertheless, telling a story is exercising great deal of power – narrative power. A simple story can be deeply ideological in nature. What bedtime stories and children books offer us is an altered universe, a battlefield of power plays where the listener is under the hypnotic spell of the storyteller. And with kids, one has to be extremely cautious for they tend to believe every simple lie even if it is told in jest. <br/><br/>Finally, will I be a good storyteller? Will my stories be any different from those of my ancestors? Will I too bully my nephew by instructing him on how to be morally upright when I myself find it immensely difficult to conduct in a rational manner, and never to give way to doubts and failures? Look, I really have no perfect answers, but trust me; I can always try to be a good storyteller...


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