Friday, March 4, 2016

Crow Chronicles 2: Our Cathy Story

Post by Radhika Menon

Cathy Spagnoli and Manu with the team
Cathy Spagnoli’s visit to Tulika a few days ago brought back memories of her wonderful storytelling. I first heard her at The School, KFI, Chennai, probably in the early 80s when I was teaching there. The setting was perfect – Cathy sitting on a chair with a guitar under a banyan tree, with children and teachers on the ground all around her. She started her story in a quiet voice strumming the guitar softly. The audience listened in rapt attention – children, adults and birds alike!

But her toddler son Manu had had enough of sitting quietly while his mother paid no attention to him, so he let out a loud cry. Cathy, without missing a beat, put aside her guitar, put him on her hip and continued with the story! Manu was soon as engrossed as the rest of us.

That was the first time I had listened to a professional storyteller. These days storytelling has become so popular that they have become part of every children’s book event and book festival. Storytellers use every trick from props to movements to songs to dramatisations, much to the delight of children. While I admire the creativity and the energy of these storytellers I also wonder what the children remember at the end of it – the funny sounds, the fun movements, the catchy songs?  After listening to Cathy, it is the story that you carry with you. As she says, for storytelling “all you need is a story, a teller and a listener”. 

Priya's Day
After starting Tulika, I always talked about Cathy’s magical storytelling to Sandhya (Rao). About a year later, in 1997, I think, we heard that Cathy was performing in Dakshinachitra. I couldn't go for some reason but Sandhya did with her six-year-old son Tejas. Both came away enthralled. 

The story Cathy told that day was Priya’s Day, using a sheet of newspaper that seamlessly became a mat, a pestle, a broom, a paper cone with peanuts, grass, butterflies, a string of jasmine, a dosa and a happy face! Sandhya and I had no doubt that Priya’s Day would be our next book.

At the release of that book at the lovely store Manasthala, it was Jeeva (Raghunath) who told the story.  Adapting it in her inimitable style she told Priya’s Day using a newspaper, Cathy-style, and punctuating the story with Tamil film songs, Jeeva-style. 

And that is the story of how Jeeva became Jeeva Aunty the storyteller!

Cathy Spagnoli at the Tulika Bookstore, Chennai

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