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The Endless Possibilities of Stories

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My mother knew how to spin a yarn and long ones at that. She could stretch a story for days, weaving magical beings, mystical happenings, comical interludes, drama, scenes, dialogues, in short, everything that makes for good fiction. And she did it at the top of her head, eyes twinkling never missing a beat and my siblings and I, along with friends who would ostensibly come to spend the day with us but really only came for her stories, were enraptured. Her stories, all told in Urdu, took us to places where everything was possible, and she intertwined it with actual people and places from her childhood so that we learnt the history of the time, partition et al through her view of it, full of possibilities and hope.

My father on the other hand read to us in English, fables and tales of chivalry. His sedate voice taught us the inflections of the English language, of Jason and his Argonauts, Saint George and the dragon, adventures of Tom Thumb, Aladdin and his magical lamp. All universal, very structured tales.

Then our gardener, Mali bhai as we called him, told us stories in Bengali. Of ghosts and banshees, of birds and beasts, of gods and goddesses, of tigers and deer, of snakes and the red rubies they guarded, all the while working the soil, making it easier for seeds to sprout and tendrils to grow.

As you can see a lot of our time was spent in listening to stories. Mostly oral, some read out but stories nonetheless. This is the part of my childhood that has endured. The flights of fancy, the endless possibilities of creativity, and the tools to express it, all became a part of us due to exposure to storytelling at a young age.

Creative thinking grows from the stories we hear as children and later read as we grow older. Since the words are familiar and the sounds are ingrained, when we read these, it is as if these are old acquaintances. They remind us of those delightful, unencumbered days spent with parents, who took time out, exclusively, not for meals, or games, or even homework, but for that delightful exercise of storytelling. Since it is words that the soul uses to express itself it is almost as if these stories from childhood give us the means for its expression.

Research has shown that when children are read to by parents they learn a great deal more than was ever previously thought possible. The most profound benefit is that bedtime stories quicken their mastery of language For instance when during storytelling if the the oo , ee, and ss sounds are exaggerated the connections in the part of the child’s brain that handles language sounds is stimulated. The more frequently children hear these sounds, the faster it is for them to process them. Then, when they are older and trying to learn languages, they are more easily able to hear the difference between, say, the words tall and doll. Later on when learning to read, they will be more adept at sounding out unfamiliar words on the page.

Additionally, if stories are told in multiple languages, children will even learn to translate from one language to another. My daughters grew up calling the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, or as they called it: the story of ‘nangu badshah’ (the naked emperor). Consequently with that classic tale they learnt not just two languages naturally, but also how to transliterate from one language to another.

In the age of technology access to stories has become easy. It is that everything is out there and it is up to the parent’s wisdom to use it. But one thing is to be borne in mind: In the urban situation that we live in while it is easy to let the child watch television, or more recently play with the IPad it must be remembered that it is the sound of the words coming from a familiar, beloved, voice that creates the greatest impression.

Read to your child, tell your child of your childhood, make up stories, let the child feel the words, in one language or two. When the mind’s eye creates the scenes described by those words it is the beginning of the unleashing of creativity that may lead to so many possibilities.

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Contributed by Aquila

Aquila is a talented writer. mother of two girls and a doting grandmother. Her mission is to make her grandson love books and writing as much as she does Her first book of fiction Of Martyrs and Marigolds was published in February 2012.

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