(Sushree Mishra is a storyteller, author and educator who visited Shishuvan and conducted some fun sessions with students of Std. III and IV)
Story telling has always been a gratifying experience for me. Interaction with the audience infuses a new energy into the whole process. I always look forward to a story telling session. Each session teaches me something new. Preparing for it in itself is an experience to cherish! Which story to choose so that the audience enjoys it? Which method of storytelling to use? Should I read the story aloud? Should I use props? Which is the best way to narrate the story? How do I make it more engaging for the audience? And of course, the endless practice sessions in front of a mirror!
An opportunity for story telling came by when I was asked to narrate a story at Shishuvan. I decided to choose the latest story I have written, a story about a curious chameleon and its adventures in a jungle. I was excited about the sessions but at the same time I had pangs of anxiety. I am always apprehensive before sessions, but this time it was a little more, since it was my own story. Would the children like the story? Would they like the character, Girgit, a chameleon who was curious, naughty, and always ready to explore? Would the children feel the same excitement that I felt when I wrote the stories? There were many questions that were playing on my mind.
But interacting with children is always rewarding, so I entered the room at Shishuvan where my audience, young children with bright yellow tops and a group of teachers awaited me. I greeted them and said, ‘You all look so bright!’ I got an unexpected reply, ‘We are sunflowers.’ Everybody in the room smiled. Only children can do this, put a smile on your face when you least expect it. With that smile on, I started narrating the story. In the first scene of the story, the baby chameleon walks through the jungle to find a new friend. As a part of my narration, I said, ‘On her way in the jungle, Girgit saw an animal which was tall and had a long neck…’ Before I could complete my sentence, everybody knew which animal it was. (I am sure you have guessed it right!) I thought to myself, ‘I had rehearsed a few more sentences and expected a response a little later.’ This is what happens if you have an audience that is alert and listening intently to what you are saying. I continued describing other animals in the jungle that Girgit met, and indeed the children guessed all the names before my ‘rehearsed’ lines were over.
During the narration, I observed an assortment of expressions on the children’s faces. They could feel the emotions of Girgit. They were angry when someone was troubling Girgit, happy when Girgit’s tricks worked, and smiling when Girgit could not understand the obvious. The audience at Shishuvan would be a delight to any story teller!
Only if children can connect to the story, they enjoy it. I felt the children were connecting to Girgit. I continued the story. In the tenth scene, the chameleon enters into a tortoise’s shell to escape from an eagle. Then the old and wise tortoise advises the chameleon to hide from the eagle instead of running from it. Girgit learns to hide from the eagle by changing colour and blending in with the colour of the surroundings.
I saw many confused faces after I narrated this part. And the question-and-answer session started from then. One of them asked, ‘How can a chameleon hide in a tortoise’s shell? There is no space for the chameleon to go in.’ Another confused voice enquired, ‘How can the chameleon change coats so quickly?’ I did not have to answer that question. Another enthusiastic child resolved that query by saying, ‘Oh ho! The chameleon was very tiny. So it could change coats very quickly.’ I heaved a sigh of relief. Now it was my turn to answer the first question. We all arrived at a conclusion after a brief discussion that events like the chameleon talking, the chameleon changing colours are possible in the story as it is a fantasy. ‘Even I can enter a tortoise’s shell in a fantasy,’ I said. Having said this, I thought to myself, ‘just as Alice had entered the rabbit hole.’
In the end, I asked two questions, one of them being whether the children wanted to hide from someone. I felt I had opened a Pandora’s Box when the children started expressing how they would hide from their mothers and teachers. The reason was simple – mothers and teachers gave a lot of homework. I thought to myself, I wish I could do the same when I was young! But of course, sometimes, homework is important. If I hadn’t done my homework, which is rehearsing for the story, the story telling session would have been different. The other question was a little more interesting. I asked, ‘Does anyone want to suggest another end to the story? How would you have scared the eagle?’ One of the eager listeners of the story replied confidently, ‘I would call all the animals of the jungle and ask them to stand on top of each other. Then I would put a huge cloth over all of them and paint the cloth with colours so that it looks like a giant monster. I am sure the eagle would be scared.’ I was stunned. What a creative end to the story! Seemed more plausible then the end I had!
My learning from the session: I have to think about a few questions. ‘How CAN a chameleon enter a tortoise’s shell?’ Spontaneity is a vital ingredient for a story teller in addition to energy, voice modulation, adapting to the audience, action, expression and setting a stage for the story. Incorporating suggestions from your audience always makes the story better. Enjoy the story yourself and your audience will enjoy it too!
I had narrated a story about one Girgit who was curious and always wanted to explore, but when I left the room, I saw several Girgits in the class. I had connected to the children of Shishuvan through Girgit.
I started walking back from Shishuvan with a thought in my head, ‘After a long time, I see a school where children are happy!’