This is the first in a series of essays by Charmain Ponnuthurai. Charmain (Dammy) is the author of Midnight Feasts: An Anthology of Late-night Munchies, and founder of Larder which is all about giving the gift of cooking from scratch. Featuring excellent food writing and thoughtfully sourced hero ingredients that allow the recipient to find or rediscover their cooking creativity. She is also the founder of Crane cookware which the team love and use in many of our shoots. When it comes to food, everything she touches turns to
gold delicious. Without further ado, here is Charmain Ponnuthurai on Storytelling…
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” – William Shakespeare, ‘As you Like it’
As the nights draw in and we set our minds towards wrapping up , autumnal soups and stews, the end of the day holds the promise of a lit fire and time to slow down with the marrying of the change in light. One such joy of slowing down is the luxury of opening a book, and this has become even more treasured as our lives are governed in a large part by immediate tech based communication. Enveloping ourselves in a story enables us to change gear – in fact according to neuroscience research reading fiction enables an opening of our empathetic pathway. We depend on this empathy to allow our minds to open to stories, without which we risk stagnating within the tightly set perception of our own preconceived ideas.
The ancient art of storytelling predates writing, using oral narrative, gesture and even painted symbols. We can all imagine that intimate time as the light fades at the end of the day where ancient communities without the conveniences of electricity, were simply absorbing the light and warmth of the fire. The animated spoken sharing of stories married with the ancient art of drawing we find all over the world. The Australian aboriginal people painted symbols as a means of helping the storyteller remember the story, and since humans have carved into trees to record folktales in pictures.
Ancient stories range from the familial, the historical to the religious and spiritual. There is a materiality to the way that the drawings took shape both in their content but also in the form of canvas chosen to record the memory of the story. In Japan the earliest form of Manga could be found on paper scrolls,in Mexico above doorways in the form of lintels, in the Middle East by Assyrians through elaborate stone work, in Africa and Australia painted on rocks, in China within bronze mirrors and in 5th Century Rome through the passion caskets in Ivory. There are of course many more examples across all cultures; the human dedication to storytelling is infinitely tied into all of our cultural heritage and history.
William Shakespeare as one of the world’s foremost storytellers, helps illustrate this point well. We may often think of his stories as fictional tales, make believe. Yet the success of Shakespeare is rooted in the relatability of his characters and plots – from Othello’s jealousy to Demitrius’ lust, from Hamlet’s grief to Don Pedro’s wit. From the minor to the major aspects we are living the stories we have been retelling for generations.
We have all had those moments, maybe at the top of a mountain as dawn breaks, or a roaring fire at Christmas, which holds a special focal point as we share the stories of the year gone by and the ones we imagine going forwards. The essence here is we can feel the possibility of colouring outside the lines of our daily existence.
In the tale of Prince Siddartha we read the tale of a privileged Prince whose father the King has worked to from encountering any of the world’s hardship. Siddartha was cosseted by beauty and luxury, with even his trips outside the palace wall heavily choreographed by his doting father, who instructed that the streets were filled with flowers and only beautiful healthy crowds. Legend says his experience of leaving the palace produced the first signs of cracks to his rose tinted life, as he saw people in the crowd that did not meet the expectations set by his father. Whilst Siddartha’s questions on the suffering he glimpsed on those trips were ushered away with excuses, the young Prince grew restless and ended up leaving the palace under the cover of night to begin the journey of enlightenment and to discovering through hardship a new story and through his own journey was able to share a bigger story of a oneness with humanity that has remained as a positive set of principles for living with a shared consciousness towards the other.
Stories that stand the test of time comprise so many layers, and have provided us with a way for sharing and interpreting the breadth of experience that life offers. Stories enable us to bridge national, cultural and generational divides. They include the things we suggest and tell ourselves to provide a vision for at best the moment, that day or year ahead, stories mirror our experience of the world and therefore allow learning from lives beyond our own.
Perhaps one of the most over used words of our times is the sense we are all so ‘busy’. We can feel the self creaking as we make the expression, but in that moment after a long day and the fire is lit, we can sit and gaze at the flames with the possibility of a silent retreat into our imaginations. Whether that moment is shared or alone, like the fluid movement of the flames themselves, stories have the capacity to move us in unexpected ways.
All Jesus did that day was tell stories—a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy: I will open my mouth and tell stories; I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world’s first day.
If you like what you have read then her latest podcast is really worth a listen – Click here to listen!