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Home / Books / Oral storytelling

Oral storytelling

Column- Sometimes stories are better told by word of mouth, writes Piyush Jha

books Updated: Oct 18, 2019 10:59 IST
Piyush Jha
Piyush Jha
Hindustan Times
(Photo: Shutterstock)

More recently I have developed a new habit – instead of bedside reading, I listen to audiobooks at night. My wife says it reminds her of her childhood habit of listening to her Grandmother’s fanciful folk stories, while tucked in bed. But, unlike my audiobooks, Granny’s stories more often than not were related orally from memory and changed in flavor in each re-telling.

It’s true, India is full of oral storytelling traditions of narrating folktales replete with myths, and epic fantasy. Each storyteller embellished their story with their personality and ultimately shared their own take through that telling.

Stories that reflected Indian culture were told not just in households, but also in the streets and towns across the country. Oral storytelling was the vehicle of exchanging folklore from generation to generation. Most Indian epics have travelled far and wide by being narrated time and again- by word of mouth. Each telling by masterful raconteurs can have a fluid, visceral quality whose effect almost makes the story come alive. The listeners can almost feel the story in the rendition- a creative exchange akin to theatre and other kinds of performance art.

Oral storytellers travelled far and wide carrying stories from one part of the country to another. They sat at street corners, under village trees enthralling groups of people with their stories that reflected the history of our culture. Puran Pravachan, Katha Kathan and Dastangoi in the north and Burra Katha, Villu Paatu and Kathaiyum Paattum in south India were just a few ways that stories were told and disseminated across geographical boundaries.

Today, one would think that the tradition of oral storytelling was dying. But, thankfully, there has been a modern resurgence of oral storytelling with several public and private performances by different contemporary Dastangos and other live storytelling open-mic events like Kahaniyaa by Tape a Tale. There has been a rise of audio storytellers like Neelesh Misra and RJ Praveen on radio, and audio podcasts like Tall Tales Takeaways and Baalgatha. Recently, we have also seen the emergence of oral storytelling festivals like the Kathakaar International Storytelling Festival in New Delhi and the Udaipur Tales- International Storytelling Festival.

Although folktales and other stories are now available on audiobooks, the stage is now set for a new experiment- audiobooks that capture the genius of Indian oral storytelling artists in traditional Indian styles. Hope someone out there’s listening?