E-Zine / Snippets from a Storyteller

Snippets from a Storyteller

Telling tales to a child is funny business. There are days when the imagination flows freely. Princesses flit by on magical wings, gliding over tree-tops, mountains and seas. Goblins appear and disappear at will, with magic potions to cure any ailment, wipe away tears, and bring smiles all around. The underdog always wins, aided by fairy godmothers. And the simpleton becomes the town hero.

On less fanciful days come stories of animals that spoke in human tongues, had tea parties, fun and games. Stories are told of friendships made, friendships lost, and friendships broken with the undeserving. Tales are made up as one goes, as though one were traversing a maze with just the end in mind.

And then there are days when the imagination gasps for breath, choked by practicalities. In a sea of chores, commitments, and deadlines, even dreams become literal. Where then is the story, and the elements that make it colorful?

Yet, if one is a parent, stories have to be told - whether one feels like it or not. And at such times is born hit or miss storytelling. Adhoc, random, and rushed - but when one looks back, this style of storytelling comes with its own joys.


It was a busy day. So many things to get done, and yet Kamala, then four years old, wanted some time with me.

"Amma, tell me a story please!"

I hesitated, too preoccupied to engage her in this much-beloved activity.

"Amma is too tired, child. Let's have storytime some other day, please?"

She gives me a sad look.

"Please, Amma?"

I put down the clothes I had been folding, and pick up a book. We have been reading since she was a baby, and she has always loved my reading to her. But Kamala wasn't about to be mollified by a book. She pulled the book from my hand.

"I didn't say read me a story. Tell me a story, Amma!"

I shake my head. "Not today, child"

"Please? Pleasepleaseplease...."


"Ok...Ummmm..Ah! Once upon a time,.."

She climbs onto my lap, drawing my arms around her.

"...there lived a baby bird"

"What color was it?"

"It was a little, blue bird"

She smiles. Blue is her favorite color.

"The little bird was upset that its mother flew away all day long"

"Why did the mommy bird fly away?"

"To get the baby some food."


"You see, birds have to hunt for their food, and if mommy doesn't go out, baby gets no food"

"Ah", she nods, understanding.

"Who looked after the baby bird when the mommy was gone?"

"Depends - sometimes daddy, and sometimes grandma...When neither were home, some kind birds looked after the baby, and the mommy bird gave them extra worms. But still, the baby bird was upset that her mother went away to work."

She looked at me, her eyes full of empathy.

"The baby thought that the mommy didn't like her very much, going away to work and all. But that was not true...."

"How come?"

"Each night, when the mommy bird came to her nest, she fed the baby the best worms. The very best! And after the baby fell asleep, the mommy drew her gently under her wing, and kept her cozy and warm"

She ponders this.


"Like this."

My arm becomes a wing, and the baby bird is completely enclosed in it.

"You're hugging me too tight, Amma!"

I ease my hold on her, and she smiles.


A few months later, after the bird story had undergone some twists and turns, comes a request for a story. There was just no patience that day, so I decided to make it short.

"Once upon a time, there was a little bird. Its mother went hunting each day. Some days, the mother was very tired."


"So one fine day, when mommy came home and was busy with her work, the little birdie came to her and said - 'Tell me a story!'. Mother bird was very tired, but the baby really wanted that story."

She looks a bit doubtful now, but still hopeful.

"So the mommy bird said - once upon a time there was a baby bird. One day, when its mommy was too tired, the baby bird wanted a story..."

All hope vanishes, as she wails.

"You tricked me!"

"How? I was telling a story about a bird...."

"No you were not. The bird is just like me and you're saying the same thing over and over! Aughhhhh."

She climbs out of my lap, pushing my hands away.


Another day, a year later.

"Amma, please tell me a story. Please please - I want to hear a story you made up!"

"No making up stories tonight child, I'm tired"



"Ok. Once upon a time..." I drawl, "...there was a rascally little kid"

"Not that story", she pouts. "A different one!"

"Ok. Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Makala. She was 6 years old, and lived with her mother"

"Ammmmaaaaa.....Stop it!"

"Why, child?"

"You just took my name and mixed it up! You are not making up a story at all! Aughhhhh"

She stomps off.


A year later.

"Amma, please tell me a story."

"How about I read you a book?"

"There are no books to read, Amma! I've finished reading all the library books. Tell me a story".

I was putting her to bed, so I snuggled under the covers, pulling her close. "Once upon a time, there was a little girl"

"Not that story!"

"Wait. There's more. The little girl lived in a home with a big garden - see, its not our story. We don't have a garden"

She's a bit mollified now.


"One day, when the little girl was fast asleep, a worm lost its way"

"Where did the worm come from?"

"It lived in a flower pot outside the window, and one day it lost its way."

"How come?"

"It was a baby worm, and didn't know any better"

"Ah. What kind of worm was it?"

Gosh, so many questions today...

"Uh....Ah! Its a worm that doesn't wriggle around, but sort of moves funnily.

It holds its head down, drags its other end to it like a loop, then moves the head again.."

I illustrate, making an inverted V with my index and middle finger. I place both fingers on the bed, moving one fingertip towards the other. She brightens up.

"An inchworm?"

"Yeah - is that what they are called?"

She nods vigorously, smiling.

"Inchworms are so cute, Amma!"

Cute?! My Indian mind refuses to associate cute with worm. But then again, with Disney's depictions of smiling bugs and caterpillars, its must be hard not to think of worms as cute.

"So what happened?"

"It climbed slowly over the wall, like this"

I made my pantomime "worm" fingers climb over a wall.

"And then?"

"And then it climbed over the little girl's window, tumbled, and fell inside her room"

"Was it hurt?"

"Umm...Maybe a little. But it fell on the bed, where it was soft. So it wasn't bad"


"The worm moved slowly...over the covers. It climbed over the sleeping girl's arm. Like this"

The pantomime finger "worm" was climbing too, gently and ticklishly over her arm. Kamala smiles, bracing herself for more tickles.

"And then?"

"And then," I continued gamely, "the worm thought - what a lovely land is this, its so soft. And it climbed, and it climbed....and turned a corner"

My fingers were turning around her shoulder, and reaching her neck. Giggles, and an impish smile.

"The girl felt tickish, and laughed in her sleep. The worm was very shaken up, and thought - oh my, the ground is shaking, it must be an earthquake!"


"It clung on tightly to her neck, and after a while when the girl quietened down, it tried to stretch itself - like this..."

"HAHAAA! Amma, stop it!Heeheehaahaa. STOP!"

"What? Can't a worm stretch itself?"


I smile.

"Anyway, the girl woke up, and felt her neck. She gently pulled out the worm and turned on the light to see what it was. And when she did, she found a very tiny and very frightened inchworm."


"The girl felt sorry for the worm, and decided to set it in a safe place. She remembered seeing a worm's nest near the flower pot. So she set the worm down right near that nest, and the little worm went home to its mother."

"Is that all?"

I look at her, a bit surprised.

"Yes. Did you want more?"

She seems a little disappointed.

"I thought there maybe more"

"Ok...there can be more. Just next to the flower pot, was another flower pot, where two big hairy tarantulas lived. They lost their way, and..."

Both my hands, fingers curved, climbed rapidly over the wall.

"Augghhhh. Hahahahahaha! Not that. Not that"

She doubles over in laughter as I hug her.

"You're done, then?"

She nods, smiling.

"Good night, Kamala!"

She is still smiling as I turn off the light.


Some day this baby bird will grow wings, and fly away. Inchworms and tarantulas will lose their charm as the little girl grows into adulthood, and is too busy to pause and observe the minute events around her. But maybe, just maybe - a child would come into her life one day, to remind her to stop and take a breath; to take a detour through the world of fantasy and discover its hidden joys.

Back to top

E-Zine / Snippets from a Storyteller