The Insatiable Hunger to Hear and Make Stories
Who was the world’s first storyteller? How did he/she interpret the world? Did the first storyteller spawned good listeners who were eager to devour every bit of imagination and emotions in the stories? Was the first story born out of failures or thumping success or from the need to mask our primal fears? We may not have definite answers to these questions, but as all the intellectuals believe storytelling or our built-in crave for stories characterized our humanity. In fact, what sets our species apart from the other hominoid species is this cognitive shift. We the homosapiens remembered our past and planned for the future. The sense to apprehend time gave us what scientists call the higher order consciousness. Nevertheless, our piercing knowledge about existential quandaries brought upon its limitations. Storytelling partially thwarted the limitations, transported us into emotional spectrum of others, and created emotional connections which inculcated our lives with some meaning apart from the basic impulse to survive.
Of course, our species’ instinct for language led to the storytelling-drive. Naturally, story forms occupy the one of the highest layers of language. The simulated experiences in stories easily transmitted social conventions and its dilemmas, shakes-up one’s soul, and drives to social acceptance. Even before the existence of languages or oral and written tradition of storytelling, mankind opened doors to imaginative realms and rendered the world as it is through the ancient cave paintings. Some of these figurative arts are at least 35,000 years old. With the advent of technologies, we once again returned to the ancient visual storytelling in the form of movies. So, the stories have evolved in tandem with our species’ cognitive evolution.
Like every other thing configured by human kind, the tradition of storytelling has its darker sides too. It may have created falsehoods, incited unfathomable fears, motivated bloody wars, and many others forms of carnage. However, stories are intrinsic and influential part of our life. We should only be aware that a single story isn’t an identity marker of specific group of people. In a brilliant TED speech, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (‘The Danger of a Single Story’) indicates that each life possesses heterogeneous varieties of stories. To reduce the people’s lives to a simplified point is equivalent to taking away their humanity. In this information and monitoring era, when every issue and people’s struggle is boiled down to one-dimensional perspective, stories can build bridges to the wide disparity.
Stories transports me to different worlds which I haven’t explored. It introduces me to people from different walks of life with whom due to stumbling blocks of social barriers, I have no chance to get acquainted. The important thing is that stories are empathy-building machines. It bestows us a fresh set of eyes to see the society from the perspective of ostracized people whom we are constantly taught to hate. Of course, stories are also great healing potions. Since we think in terms of narratives, every conversation and action (good or bad) in our lives turned into a story form brings about a profound understanding of our own self. When I think of the good stories I heard or read in my life I think of a deep rooted healthy tree. Stories have often served as the roots that have influenced me to crystallize thoughts and to take the first step of action.
Whenever I contemplate about a storyteller and eager listener, the visuals of Tasrem Singh’s The Fall (2006) naturally occupies my mind. It’s a film that’s often dismissed as a meaningless, self-indulgent exercise. But I think The Fall has a deep emotional core which is as fabulous as its eye-catching visuals. The film chronicles the gradual bond between a five year old Romanian girl Alexandria and bedridden man Roy Walker in a Los Angeles hospital. The year is 1915 and both these individuals have physically fallen. Roy the stunt man seriously injures himself during a train stunt and Alexandria is afflicted by a broken arm. But, what makes Roy to be storyteller and Alexandria as the eager listener is much related to emotional fall they have taken. Roy tells a fantastical epic story (set in mystical India) in order to make the child indirectly aid him to commit suicide. Alexandria, the immigrant with a broken family, over the course of story sees Roy as a father figure. The story slowly forges an unbreakable emotional bond between the two fallen souls.
‘The Fall’ relates to how children see the real world from the spectrum of stories they hear. Moreover, it explores how the act of telling a story and listening to it brings out hope and love in our lives (which becomes evident in the film’s tear-jerking finale). The story Roy tells doesn’t only belong to him. Since it boundlessly grows within the listener (Alexandria), it becomes her’s too. As an eager listener she doesn’t only change the despair of characters in Roy’s story, she broadens the suicidal man’s scope for love and life. From attaining educational degree in renowned institute to getting settled amidst posh materialistic life, the society labels achievement of certain things as the benchmarks for great life. But being an attentive listener, observer and a good storyteller (for which you doesn’t have to be great author; you can shape your life experiences into a story in order to soothe or awaken your self) is what instills some meaning to our otherwise boring lives.