Saturday, February 24, 2007

Telling Stories.


During my time in Ranchi I discussed the way that stories could be retold in the context of present-day concerns. Such a process would in fact entail the re-interpretation of a traditional story. I began by outlining some story types. I was told that some people in chotanagpur when asked about stories, asked: What kind of story ? A distinction was drawn between stories told for fun, and “real stories”. The fun stories tended to be part of a continuing oral tradition that are in everyday use, and are often ways of teaching or putting over an idea, rather like a proverb. They could also be just entertaining. But “Real stories” seem to carry a greater weight, and are told only on special occasions, perhaps linked to festivals, or to rituals that are performed for specific reasons. The two stories that I have been working with over a number of years, which are called the “Karam Kahani” and the “Lohar Kahani” would be thought of as “real stories” in that sense. They are stories which are not to be taken lightly, and which carry hidden, deeper meanings. They are not “real” in the sense that they are about historical facts. The concept of telling a story about something which has actually happened does not seem to be an important concern. That is to say, the stories are not “historical” in the sense that we understand this term in a modern, objective sense. The “real story” helps in revealing a reality. It is not thought of as just about what really happened.
The term “Kahani” is itself interesting. It implies something that is told. But there may be older, and more mysterious origins to the notion of “Kahani”. The question “Ka ?” implies “What ?” There is a famous hymn in the Vedas which explores this question. The gods have gathered, and are mystified about something that is emerging from the primal waters. It is the golden egg—hiranya garbha. The hymn repeatedly asks “What is it ?” This notion of mystery implied by “Ka?” also comes to mean the primal emptiness, or zero, from which everything emerges. In the great “sanskritic” tradition we hear about the Katha. There is a veritable ocean of stories, which are sometimes called “purana”, meaning stories from the beginning, old stories. The traditional art of narrating is Kathak, and this included dance drama. The story is recited, but the recitative element is accompanied by certain movements, together with music. The “kahani” seems to belong more to the folk tradition, and is an oral tradition that does not have quite the formalistic structure which is associated with the katha. That, anyway, is how I feel there is a difference between katha and kahani.
Just now there is an interest in a “narrative theology”. This kind of theology may focus more on a process, rather than on a fixed text. The Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan has written a short book entitled “Finding is the First Act.” He has taken this title from a poem by Emily Dickinson:
Finding is the first Act
The second loss.
Third, Expedition for
The “Golden Fleece.”
Crossan begins his analysis of folk tale motifs related to what he calls “World Treasure Tales”. He goes on to look at the Jewish Treasure Tradition, and in that context the Treasure parables of Jesus. This could also include the idea of what is lost, and then found. In another work he talks about the theology of story. Recently the theme of “Telling the Story of Jesus in Asia” has been taken up by the Asian theologians. In a kind of position paper exploring this theme Fr. Julian Saldanha has shown how the telling of the story is part of doing theology in the Asian context. He asks how the telling affects the way that people live their Faith. In this context see the Document: “Telling the Story of Jesus in Asia. The Message of the First Asian Mission Congress, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, October 18-22, 2006”. (Published in Vidya Jyoti, Volume 71, Jan. 2007) Here we read: “The pastoral-catechetical congress explored a unique methodology of evangelising: story-telling or faith-sharing”
In Ranchi I began my presentation on how I have been looking at stories, by showing the series of pictures which I did for the Holy Cross students home near Udipi, Mangalore, in 1983. I had called this series (in the form of a kind of frieze, almost 70 ft long) a “Kristha Katha”. This was inspired by the “Krishna Katha” visual representations which I saw in the Udipi Maths or Monasteries near by. In fact at that time I was just in the process of starting an “Art Ashram”, and I felt that such an ashram would be very much concerned with story telling, and narrative structures. It was leading on from this work that I began thinking about other forms of story telling in the Indian context, and especially the tribal and folk traditions of narrative, as we find in the Kahanis like the Karam Kahani and the Lohar Kahani. Can such Kahanis help us to think of ways in which the narrative traditions of the Gospel, which are built around the powerful stories that Jesus himself used to describe what he understood to be the “Kingdom of God”, can be re-told in the Asian context?
Such ideas seemed to be quite novel to the theological students whom I was talking to in Ranchi. One problem seemed to be that they were unfamiliar with the idea of a kind of structural analysis of stories. The concept that a story is built around a framework, or scaffolding, seemed a strange way of looking at a story. I had myself gained a number of ideas from a book that I have been reading, called “The Hidden Order of Art” by Anton Ehrenzweig. The author who was born in Austria in 1908, settled in England in 1938, where he was a lecturer in Art Education at Goldsmith’s College until his death in 1966. I have found some his ideas on art education and the link between art and psychology very interesting, as this is a field that I am particularly interested in myself.
I have however found that my approach to a narrative art, and the re-interpretation of traditional stories, has aroused many doubts especially in Christian theological circles. Can one see a common thread linking the stories that Jesus told, with folk stories in general, and the Indian Ocean of story telling ? There have been those who have argued that Jesus was an oriental Guru, precisely because he taught like so many in the Indian spiritual tradition, through stories, and the link between stories and his own life, and the life of those around him. Indian Gurus, like for example Ramakrishna Paramahamsa have used stories to bring to consciousness deep spiritual insights. We find this tradition going back to the Upanishads. Do Tribal stories have hidden in them the treasure which we call a primal spirituality, which has the power to transform the way in which we look at the world of today ? This was a direction in which I would very much like to do more reflection in the future.

1 comment:

michaelgons said...

Dear Mr. Mr. Jyoti,
I came to your website in connection with the Indian Catechetical Association Meeting; but I discovered you as a treasure with regard to using story for catechetical perpose! May God give you a long life for the enrichment of the Catholic Church in India. Specially your Story Sadhana should receive a far wide recognition in the country! Loking forward to experience you in ICA Meeting in February.
Fr. Michael G., President ICA, Suyog B1/1, Bhabole, Vasai 401202.