The unparalleled storyteller

I owe my first brush with the likes of Surpanakha and Poothani, not to forget the devout Hanuman, to a person named Vishwanath, in his mid forties, who was an adept storyteller to an avid eight-year-old listener that was me.

Nowadays, we get to know that samaritans do their social work by reading out stories to children. But I wonder if any of them can match the artistic prowess of my story teller. He was a humble giant of a person, living in a village and tilling a small piece of land. His holiday time would mean visiting my large-hearted parents’ abode where all were welcome any day, with boarders and lodgers hopping in and out without any count.

Vishwanath’s arrival would be announced to my pater by a postcard, which always ended with a drawing of a bent man with his hands folded, depicting the act of obeisance to my father whom he respected beyond limits — maybe my first introduction to the now common ‘emojis’.

My excitement would soar and I would eagerly await his arrival. He would invariably bring some farm produce like bananas, betel leaves — which formed part of his staple diet as he would always chew them — and an occasional jackfruit.

I would impatiently wait for the formalities and banter among the adults to conclude after which I would pull him to the stone slab in the garden and demand a story. He was a walking collection of stories and I could select anyone and he would start straight away without much ado. It was no ordinary story narration, indeed a veritable artistic display notwithstanding the teeny weeny child who made up for the audience.

My imagination would take flight as he enacted scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, reeling off the dialogues in powerful tones. I would laugh and cry at the apt scenes that touched my heart. He would jump about while playing the role of Hanuman with a puffed up mouth, leaving me in splits.

At times, I would be the shy and silent Sita while he played the role of Hanuman and offered Lord Rama’s jewel (his own ring) to me as in the epic story. My involvement in the story would then be complete taking me to a new high. My time post lunch during holidays would be thus spent in the company of this benign person who had the power of kindling the fire of fantasy in a small child. Indeed, much before television made its presence or comics on mythology became popular, this enthusiastic person filled my imagination with a 3-D effect.

I wondered then and I wonder now at his personality which never grew impatient or tired with a child’s persistent demand for a story and her request to replay the same scenes umpteen number of times. It is curious now that I never once asked about his family even while craving for his stories with an anticipation unparalleled. He is no more but the vision of his storytelling remains forever with me. This narration was for you, my dear storyteller.

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The unparalleled storyteller

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