Sunday 13 March 2011

Once upon a time ......

I remember the great delight it was as a child, in the days before TV,  to sit down with mum or dad, some uncle or aunt to listen to a story. Then later to discover the joy of reading these stories for myself – wow! Still today there is something about verbal storytelling, particularly to a group, the complete listener enthralment. The good storyteller has the voice, the style, the presentation, the eye contact with the audience and much more,  and of course the empathy with the storyline. Somewhat akin to a performance poet’s performance, the great storyteller is all consuming.

Many of our children’s stories and many adult ones of course have messages, sometime hidden, sometime overt, but as parables they serve particularly in oral cultures to  bind people to their culture, to establish and maintain mores,  to transmit news. Even the corporate sector acknowledges the power of the personal in stories, the strength of message they can get across: drug companies inspire staff through patient tales of what it is like to live with disease, charities raise money through beneficiary life changing stories, and strategists use stories to envision the future case scenarios. Its more powerful to listen to someone saying “I did this……, this affected me ….” than hearing” It was done… affects people in this way….”

Many years ago now,  I read Mario Vargas Llosa’s Los Habladores “The Storyteller” which gave me one of my first insights into this art, this skill and in particular its role in oral societies. Written in 1987 way before Sting became a voice for the Amazonias, Vargas Llosa wove a marvellous tale of modern man’s search for identity and meaning via his return to the storytelling ways of an indigenous people in Peru.  I have reported elsewhere on this blog about the final demise of a language and the loss this means to humanity, to our joint experience of the world. In today’s digital age hopefully more can be done to ensure lasting posterity for indigenous tongues and the unique  cultural take on the world embodied in them. One organisation helping here is Living Cultural Storybases which I came to from my love of Tuareg campfire storytelling, others include Enduring Voices / Living Tongues . As regards India,  languages like Koro are being “discovered” as well as others being lost!

India has a great history of storytelling – many of which will be recognisable to those of us from other countries, some very similar, some not, some totally new. My first introduction to Indian stories was via a BBC adaptation of the Hindu stories of The Mahabharata, but there are many more, as rich a collection as our own Edgar Allan Poe, Hans Christian Anderson or Brothers Grimm tales - The Ramayana, the Panchatantra Tales  (The Girl how Married a Snake  reminded  me a bit of The Frog Prince story) , the Hitopadesha, and the Jataka Tales which are animal stories describing the Buddha’s lessons on life e.g. the Tale of Two Deer is set around the advice to listen and pay heed to your elders. As readers will notice I recently posted on my read  of Deep River by Shusako Endo, in which one of the characters, Namuda, is a writer of children stories, all told by animals  - I am sure Endo must have been inspired by these India tales. Of course it is not just in Asia that such stories are alive – a great little read is Alexander McCall Smith's African Folk Tales which I commented on for GoodReads again many use animals as the message carrier.

By sheer coincidence this morning, in my email inbox, was a lovely story in similar vein from fellow volunteer Leah in Delhi, so what better than to reproduce it here. I have no idea where is comes from, and I am assuming there is no issue about copyright but will be happy to rightfully acknowledge its roots as appropriate should anyone know of it.  I suggest you get a quiet spot for a few minutes, don’t get interrupted or distracted,  turn off the TV, turn of the phone, and read this aloud with your kids, your friends, that new boy/girl friend and watch their reaction.
So are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…..
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall  to see the farmer and his wife open a package. "What food might this contain?"  The mouse wondered. He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed this warning : "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"  The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose." So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap , alone.

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house - the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it. It was a venomous snake whose tail was caught in the trap. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital.

When she returned home she still had a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup. So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.  But his wife's sickness continued. Friends and neighbours came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. But, alas, the farmer's wife did not get well. She died. So many people came for her funeral that the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them for the funeral luncheon.
And the mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and you think it doesn't concern you, remember the mousetrap!

When one of us is threatened, we are all at risk. We are all involved in this journey called life. We must keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to encourage one another. Let people know how important they are . Each is a vital thread in another person’s tapestry of life. Our lives are woven together for a reason. One of the best things to hold onto in this world is a friend.


  1. Beautiful story and so rightly said we are all involved in this journey called life. After reading this story what comes to my mind is the recent happenings in Japan. I would urge everyone to pray for the people of Japan and do whatever they can to help them tide over this crisis.

  2. Narayan, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on my blog. Glad you liked this story. I echo your sentiments about Japan. I have friends there, not all of whom I have heard from yet, but others thankfully are all safe and well. Our thoughts should be with everyone impacted.