Merging dance, music and theatre, Kusumika Chatterjee showed the residents of Soundaryam how to keep the listener hooked to their stories
When Kusumika Chatterjee was a little girl, she used to wait eagerly every night to listen to her mother’s stories. In the dim glow of the bedroom lamp, her mother would bring alive the tales of Tagore, stories from the Panchatantra and mythology. “That is when I saw a completely different side of my mother. She was a homemaker during the day. At night, she would transform into someone else, enacting the stories. That is when I decided I wanted to be a story teller,” Kusumika tells participants at a storytelling session conducted by Helen’O Grady Tamil Nadu.
Most of the participants at the event, held at Serene Soundaryam Retirement Homes, are grandparents who want tips on how to tell interesting stories to their grand children. “Every time I tell a story, my grandchild tells me: ‘Naana, you have already told me this’,” says a participant. Kusumika tells him that he can use drama and dance to keep the child hooked.
Bring in some drama
She picks a picture book from her collection of story books. She opens the book slowly, her eyes widening to show excitement. “When you take a book, you should get dramatic, so that the child is curious to know what is inside it,” reminds Kusumika.
She enacts the story of a frog that drank so much water that it left all the rivers in the forest dry. As she describes the forest, Kusumika plays some music. She makes use of Bharatanatyam mudras to depict animals, birds and fish. “Children follow hand movements. That is why dance is helpful.”
Next, Kusumika turns into the naughty Krishna as she enacts the scene where Krishna steals butter. Yashoda gets angry at him and asks him to open his mouth. The next instant, she transforms into a mother overcome by love and awe when she sees all the three worlds inside her child’s mouth.
“Now, this is a nice story to tell your grandchildren, when they are caught doing some mischief,” she smiles.
Kusumika says we can cross the barriers of language and culture through story telling. “I recently conducted a session in a school in Japan. I used sound, dance and music to narrate the stories. The children responded so well!”
In England, where she lives, Kusumika works with teachers to help students grasp literature and history better. “I remember handling a very naughty class. The teachers complained that they just could not make them learn Macbeth. I teamed up with them and we tried every possible way. We showed them the film version of the play and made them put up a production. It did not work. Finally, I enacted the entire text, scene by scene, in class. One day, I stopped at a very crucial juncture. The entire class fell silent. Then, one of the naughtiest children in the class asked: ‘And, what happens next?’ We’d made a breakthrough.”
The wonders of storytelling are infinite, says Kusumika. “We have a strong tradition of storytelling in India. I have seen grandmothers moved to tears while narrating mythological tales. Storytelling is not a craft; you just need to be involved in your story. There is a storyteller in all of us.”