By Minaz Ansari
Photo Credits: Anirban Shahoo
We are all stories in motion; a collage of narratives that has come together through all that we have seen and heard and felt; perceptions that have been written on our subconscious mind in indelible ink. As a human race, we have been individually and collectively shaped by the stories of our times.
These stories seep into our system through everyday conversations and practices, rituals and ceremonies, food habits and social behaviour. They fill in those empty crannies of our minds through the emotions they evoke in us; they attach themselves to parts of our memories and resurface as feelings of love and longing, devotion and reverence, fear and anguish, anger and injustice. They deviously define our notions of right and wrong, colour our experiences and systematically outline our worldview. They catalogue our response to people, situations and sculpt our beliefs and perceptions of ethics and spirituality.
The hearth that defined the most primitive human dwellings has been symbolic of a space to gather around and exchange stories. Folklore have been passed on from generation to generation, legends that have emerged from lives of great men and women of their times. Articulated through mythology, these compulsive stories of magic and miracles, sacred rivers and holy mountains, divine and mortal beings, sin and salvation, have been the cornerstone of spreading religious faiths. Mythology has been the mainstay of taking forward world religions, from the exotic fables of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods to the sacred texts that we continue to read today, each one of them has a compelling story at its nucleus.
India is a land of storytellers. From kirtankars to daastaangoi, from katputli to kathakali, from regional literature to ancient sacred texts and from theatre to cinema, stories have been intrinsic to our culture, bringing people together in a village square, around a street corner or in a dark cinema hall. Yet, different versions of these stories are often coloured by the perceptions of the narrator. Epics of wars and destruction, power and politics, good and bad, us and them, have been used to build a portal to our past. We are, in a large way, the stories that we grew up with.
Today, we wake up every morning and stare into little blue screens and immerse ourselves into a programmed narrative that is systematically fed to us; a narrative that often persuades us into believing in a fragile world built on inequality, scarcity, self-doubt and fear, stories that are often curated to make us drool over a certain product and to aspire for a certain way of life, to accept a certain version of truth and history and to make us afraid of a certain other.
But this age of information also offers us a brilliant opportunity, a large canvas for shaping the stories of the future and reaching out to a vast audience across diverse geographies in a flash. The human mind is capable of infinite imagination and critical thinking. It can visualise a completely new future and put forth stories of abundance rather than scarcity. It can build a new perspective to our past based on stories of what held us together rather than what tore us apart. It can shape the epics of today, where courage is more about questioning the existing and standing up for what is right. It can imagine a more equitable world where the measures of personal success and happiness are deeply interlinked with those of others – of all living species and the planet that nurtures us.
Can we thus use the power of storytelling to present a new world to our children; a world filled with love, kindness and joy? Can our stories be our tool for emotional place-making to help heal a broken humanity? Can we reprogram ourselves, piece by piece, into a newer, kinder, more compassionate collage of stories in motion?