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3 December, 2019 01:07:18 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 3 December, 2019 01:07:38 AM

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‘Bangladesh villagers who tell tall tales can create future storytellers’

‘Bangladesh villagers who tell tall tales can create future storytellers’

In an exclusive interview with Wahidul Islam, Senior Sub-Editor of The Independent, at the British Council in Dhaka on November 10, Blake shared her own story.

The following are excerpts of the interview:

Have you worked on storytelling in Bangladesh?

Yes, British Council in Dhaka organised some children whom I trained to be storyteller. Bangladesh has a rich heritage of folk culture and to preserve their own folk tradition, local storytellers, such as raconteurs who narrate tall tales or cock-and-bull stories—popularly known in Bangla as ‘Ashare Golpo’—often tell folk stories to villagers during the rainy season.

As farmers have little work in their farmlands during the season, they while away their time in the cosy corners of their houses. They should be mobilised to groom the young storytellers of Bangladesh.”

Where have you just come from?

I came here from Kerala. Dhaka Lit Fest and Hay Festival worked together.

Have you ever felt stories drying up?

There are so many stories, there is no scope of them drying up. I need stories with an edge and if they don’t have them, I put them down and don’t tell them for years. I have come across Egyptian storyteller Shirin al Ansari, whom I met in the Netherlands, and then in London. She is a fantastic storyteller. I know the storytellers who attend international festivals and tell stories in English. It is unlikely you’ll get to meet those who tell stories in their mother tongue. I met Shirin’s fellow storyteller Zakaria Tamir. As you (the interviewer) mentioned, I can’t get anything from them. But I’m more likely to come across storytellers who have links with Europe. I’m more likely to hear folktales from Canadians and Americans whose first nations are indigenous. But it’s not important what the backgrounds of the storytellers are; rather, I value their stories.

What about the politicisation of storytelling, particularly the narration of stories against regimes?

As a descendant of a slave, I work secretly. I don’t want the regimes to follow me, saying: “I am coming. I am coming.” To liberate themselves, the slaves had to do many things on the sly. Otherwise, they faced threats. If you want change on the ground, you need to be tactful. Aesop, unable to say anything against the regime, put words in the mouths of animals, using them as characters. During the Resistance, in World War II, a number of various secret and clandestine groups sprang up throughout German-occupied Europe to oppose Nazi rule. The strategy is similar to that of Prophet Yousuf or Joseph. He never talked highly about his god upon the suggestion of the prime minister or high-ranking officials of Egypt or Aziz-e-Misr Potipher. He just turned into the saviour of Egypt during the national crisis of the country and the people, in turn, enquired about Yousuf’s god.

Could you ‘steal’ any story from Bangladesh?

I haven’t heard any folktale of Bangladesh. I haven’t spent much time here. I gravitate to stories, and I think storytellers sometimes steal stories. They research when they feel dry because they can’t tell the same story often and again. And telling a story which is often told won’t have any impact on the audience or reform them.

As I was born in England, stories didn’t come to me easily—rather, I had to seek them. My father came to England, and as a second-generation daughter of a Jamaican parent, I didn’t have a direct relationship with my grandparents. So, I had to listen to stories from people. I am proud of being British as the passport affords me hassle-free movement, but I can’t deny my Jamaican-ness. That is dominant in me.

What are the duties of storytellers?

We have great responsibilities as storytellers. If a storyteller is charismatic and professional, he or she has lots of responsibilities. The quality of storytelling can be used for propaganda. Such qualities can eventually make a charismatic despot, who can use this quality, this storytelling ability, to hold the people’s attention, to sustain it. He or she can bend and twist the minds of people unscrupulously. I’ve limited myself to telling stories. People respond to stories. Some people found my stories transformative and they wanted to talk to me after the programme.

Stories are sometimes transformative, like ‘The Camel Driver’,—a story of commitment, faith, determination or keeping promises at any cost—which I told and such a story titled ‘Iman’ was written by former Chittagong University vice-chancellor Abul Fazal. The power of faith is demonstrated in this story.

EA

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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