By Arathi Devandran @miffalicious
The Value of Storytelling
My mother loves to tell stories. She usually begins with a tidbit that she assumes, leaves us wanting more.
“When I was 18, I left home to work as a governess in Japan”, she begins.
My father groans and leaves the room, muttering something about work. I catch the word ’sermon’, as he cheekily terms my mother’s spiels.
“We’ve heard this story one too many times”, I cry.
My mother continues, knowing full well that we can hear her, knowing full well that we really don’t want to.
She continues, “I was lost, lonely and frightened. I knew nothing about Japan, the food, the culture…”
Then there’s something about a sari, her long hair, English, and a moral. There’s always a moral to the story.
She’s a seasoned storyteller, my mother. I’ve grown up listening to her anecdotal tales about her adventures when she was younger, her family, my grandfather whom I never had the chance to meet, how she met my father, the people in her life, and the people who are no longer in her life.
Stories are important, my mother has always reminded me. When everything else leaves, only your story remains.
I understand this as I grow older, as I begin to appreciate that our lives are made of narratives, sometimes of ourselves, sometimes of our interactions with others.
I’ve learned a lot from her stories. I’ve learned that my mother is her most human when she is sharing her tales with me. She stops being mother-extraordinaire whom I’m always in awe of, and becomes a woman who has seen her fair share of the happy and sad bits of life, and has them stored away safely in different parts of herself.
“Stories are your history.”, she adds, “What I’m telling you, you will be able to pass on to your children someday.”
“Yes, of course, mother. My story, and your story, and grandmother’s story…these stories become the story of our women, isn’t it?”, I respond.
As she narrates her stories to me, I realize that I am looking for myself in her. Sometimes, I find parts of me hiding in her memories, and this comforts me, and reminds me that I, too, will be able to share such stories after having lived through them.
We are a pair of stories, my mother and I.
When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I started writing her story. Albeit, it being three years later that I had the strength to face it all, I began writing it as soon as she began hurting.
It was my way of dealing with the hurt. Hers, and mine. Removing the feelings from the clear plastic folders I’d stored them in, and scattering them across pages and pages of white paper.
A catharsis, in other words.
And sometimes, a catharsis for others.
She’s taken to telling this segment of her story too. Her voice is strong, her expressions clear and at times, comical. She’s accepted it as part of her narrative, and now, she’s ready to share her survival with others who need it more than she does.
Tales bind my family together. Happy moments are framed for days when the clouds are a little darker, the hearts, a little heavier. We recollect, we recalibrate and we rejuvenate.
The tales go on.
My mother is still talking about the time she worked in Japan as a governess. My father has not made his reappearance; I think he has had enough of this one.
I take out my laptop, and start typing away.
“Are you writing about me?”, my mother interrupts herself.
I roll my eyes.
“No, mother, not everything is about you.”, I retort. She blithely ignores my jibe and goes back to playing Candy Crush on her mobile.
She knows, just as I do, that usually, it truly is all about her.
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