Sunday, March 06, 2011

Folklore as a teaching aid.

It is long since I wrote or read anything. No particular reason for that except that I was busy preparing for a talk that I gave on the 1st of March on “Folklore and Environment – an Indian perspective”. I must say that the talk was well received and I can actually pat my back for delivering it in Hindi. This was the first time I was addressing the audience in Hindi and I surprised myself more than others by showing a fairly good command over the language. Years of interaction with Hindi speaking people on a daily basis has actually fetched results. The credit goes to my colleagues and friends and discredit if any is entirely my own. Thank you one and all.

I think I should stop blowing my own trumpet and share with you a cute little story narrated by the other speaker Dr. Mahalik. Of course his talk was interspersed with several stories from Oriya folklore that were relevant to the conservation of the environment but the following one stood out. The essence of the story as I understood it is as follows-

A certain mighty and powerful king wanted to beautify the garden next to his palace. In the middle of the garden was a banyan tree that seemed to be spoiling its beauty. He ordered that the tree be felled. After all he was an all powerful king and it was well within his rights to do as he pleased. He therefore ordered his men to chop of the banyan tree that was nothing but an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful garden. The kings men went to chop off the banyan tree when the tree spoke asking the men to wait for just one more day before felling it. They saw no harm in conceding to a seemingly harmless request by the tree and granted the tree its wish. That very night the banyan tree appeared to the king in his dream.

“Oh, King!” Said the tree. “Why do you wish to chop me off? I am just a tree and I am not harming anyone. Why don’t you let me be?”

The king was annoyed and angry at the audacity of the tree that had dared to question his will.

“You stand right in the middle of my garden spoiling its beauty and you have the audacity to ask me for an explanation. I am the king of this country and I will do just as I please. You will be cut down tomorrow.”

“Of course” said the tree. “You have every right to do as you please. However, there is a small request that I wish to make. Will you just grant me just one wish?”

The king saw no harm in granting just one request to the tree that would in any case be felled the following day. So he agreed to grant the tree its wish.

“You have every right to cut me.” Said the tree. “after all I am occupying the central location of your beautiful garden thereby spoiling its beauty. However, there are so many birds that have made their nests on my branches and others that perch on my branches when they are tired. And what about the squirrels that run up and down my trunk as well as other life forms that have made their niche in me? It is my request that you make some alternative arrangement for them before chopping me down. And ask your men to cut me into small pieces so that the life forms that flourish in the soil beneath me are not harmed when my huge branches fall down.”

The tree’s request had the king thinking about the truth behind its words. He felt ashamed that a banyan tree should be so concerned about the welfare of other life forms when he was concerned only about his own pleasure. He revoked his order and let the tree remain right in the middle of the garden.

The seminar has set me thinking. I wonder if I could get hold of such stories and translate them for children? Dr. Mahalik spoke of eco-lore being an offshoot of folklore. The generation of pre - school and primary school children need to be encouraged to think about the recycling of resources and conservation of the environment. My initiative could be just a small step in this direction. I welcome ideas from one and all of you to get me started.


kc said...

This is a subject that is very much on my mind too. I left India back in 1979 and now that my children are grown I come every during the winter. India has changed a lot since my childhood most of it a result of India racing headlong into the modern world. But, one thing that really makes me sad is to see plastic littered everywhere. It is choking the streets, rivers and lakes! And people are so indifferent about it. We have to wake up to this menace and I think children have to be educated about it and its hazards. I wish the Oriya story could be essential reading for the government here in Bangalore, where old trees are being sacrificed everyday for roads!

radha said...

It is really criminal to see trees being felled. They cut a number of trees in the lane leading to our house, and now I find that they are parking cars there. Sad!

Varsha said...

Perima- thats a wonderful post! would love to hear the talk you gave- hopefully the next time we meet. Thanks also for sharing the Oriya story. We need to spread awareness of these things and our folklore is full of such interestting thoughts and stories. Maybe you could think about writing a book on it :) Varsha

dr.antony said...

Folklore has the roots of social justice and were probably created by those who were marginalized in society.Folklores carry with them centuries old wisdom and unwritten knowledge.They unravel the secrets of the universe in simple stories.Every country or location have their own folklores which also carry the signs of ethnicity in them.
There is a University in Kerala offering PG courses in folklores.But the question is how to incorporate this wisdom in to the present system of education.If we marginalise communities or undeveloped areas for the purpose,then the whole idea of folklores will fail.They aim at equality and justice.
The only feasible option would be to incorporate folklores in to the present system.One can easily add them on to the school text books.For those who have more interest,there are many universities and socoities across the world offering education in folklores.

Hip Grandma said...

kc:you are right. No one thinks twice before littering the place with plastics.Wish something could be done. i've been to Bangalore when it was a city of gardens way back in the late sixties and seventies. i was in for a shock when I visited the place after my SIl relocatedie in 2005. it is a mere concrete jungle. Unfortunate isn't it?

radha:my neighbor would send her grandson to pull out saplings that were planted in front of her flat and that was 35 years back.Reason? if she let it grow it would block out sunlight and clothes would take longer to dry. i find such behavior criminal.

My space:That was a pleasant surprise Varsha. i didn't know that you read my blog. i am indeed trying to get Dr. Mahalik to narrate a few more Oriya folktales and would try to translate them. if not anything else at least the next generation in our family will benefit.

dr.antony:it was only when I surfed the net that i realized that there are 21 definitions to folklore and that it is a widely researched subject. We have a lot to learn from those who are in direct contact with nature like tribals and agriculturists.

Asha said...

Lovely story, I do a similar job of teaching life skills and environmental awareness through story telling.

Hip Grandma said...

asha;You must tell me more about your job. I am sure it must be very rewarding.

tys said...

its a wonderful idea. Iam sure folklore all around the world will have similar stories which can be used.

I hope you do it.. its a great idea...

Jill said...

What a lovely story! Great teaching aid too - folklore IS a method of teaching, and anyone who takes the time to read or tell it to children is keeping it alive! Good for you!

Just Like That said...

That was a lovely story. And congrats on the well- accepted talk! :-)

Hip Grandma said...

tys;i think this is one thing I'd love to do post retirement.

jill:i think the practice of telling children bedtime stories was a very good one. no amount of TV viewing with an overdose of cartoons and children's programs can make up for the interaction during a story session.

Hip Grandma said...


dipali said...

What a wonderful story!