“Three apples fell from the sky”, says a storyteller at the end of a tale, ” the first for the teller of this tale, the second for the listener and the third for the one who says “I’ll tell it too”.
In a way, in the 21st Century media has become the imaginary King or insomaniac princess who has to be told stories to be able to sleep.
Several millennia of narrative arts have bequeathed to us a dazzling treasury- creation myths, Indian, Babylonian, Armenian, Byzantine stories and anecdotes, kings, heroes and lovers- left behind an inexhaustible body of legends that survived through centuries in their original, or sometimes with add-ons, form. History reverberates with spell-binding tales.
The history of Urdu storytelling is more than 200 years old, Storytelling was common in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Urdu stories come to us from Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit sources and has an abundance of stories from the most ancient Sanskrit tales to the stories and Mathnavis (allegories) archived during the Fort William College period of renaissance in Urdu literature.
Most of these stories have the same ingredients-princes, djinns, parizaad, sesame magic, tablets, magic tricks, palaces, lovers looking for their soulmates, strange islands, fire-tongues monsters, forts, damsels, escapes, metamorphosis from a parrot to a prince and men into elephants or a fly, ships reaching the shores with just a blow………
Inspite of these mind blowing incidents, these tales show us the highest human values.
The first storyteller was perhaps that person who narrated what happened to him, to a listener, with some exaggeration. In the valleys of Dajla and Feraat, even before the Pharaohs of Egypt, we find storytellers who told tales to the weary travelers in the half-lit courtyards of Inns.
As the caravan moves, from one city to the next, tents are erected in the oasis of moon-lit deserts. Womenfolk light up the fires and get busy cooking. As the moon appears on the night sky, everyone sits under palm trees and the storyteller picks up his instrument and plays the invocation with praises to God and begins his story……
Oral creativity flourished less in written works. In the rural areas, it was, along with poetry, music and dance, a focal performing art, at home or gatherings in village inns or small towns.
A testament to the popularity of storytelling is the various genres within oral narrative – qissa, hikayat, rivayat, masal, lataif, daastaan,afsanay, gaatha, asateer etc. Storytelling was nurtured also by children’s tales told by mothers.
Virtually all of the tales provide their stimulation through two functions, morals and morale. In this sense, they constitute a strategy for living. Stories are a diversion, an entertainment for sure, in the pre-TV era. Many of them, with their leaps of imagination, transport the listener to an idealized realm.