Story is about mystery. The Big Mystery. Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? Much ink has been spilled, never mind blood, addressing these questions. There are thousands of scriptures, suttas, surahs and slokas written proclaiming insight into this mystery. The question we pose is this first session: what is the wordless scripture understood by all?
For our first focus group with Crow and his Story Stone we expected fourteen students from the Fine Arts Faculty of Eastern University at Vanththaramulai but have to make do with half that number. They more than fulfill our expectations: Nikethana, Kalaimahal, Biyoora, Nilakshana, Sasikaran and Rajathilikan, four woman and two men all with post graduate degrees in fine arts. Apart from numbers, the agenda is realized. All focus group sessions are intended to test the suitability of the Out-of-the-Box toys as pedagogical instruments. The object of this particular session with Crow is to inspire a random group of students to compose a coherent story together using one of our story creation techniques.
“Crow loves shiny objects and inscrutable little bits and pieces of nonsense, mementos he finds along the way as he travels the world. He keeps a treasure box of such toys in the hollow of a mango tree in Batticaloa. Every trinket under the sun is in that box but he prefers miniatures made of natural substances: wood, stone, clay, metal, glass, shell… Crow gathers children around a granite stone and invites each child to select a toy from the treasure box and place it on the stone. The children collectively compose a story suggested by the objects they have selected.”
Here is one version of the story the participants in our Out-of-the-Box focus group composed.
Once upon a time in the vast and distant past there was a land called Pandipuram where flocks of rare jungle fowl would congregate. One mother bird laid eight eggs and over a short period of time they all came to life, though the last was born without wings. Such defects were rare in those days. The mother bird was so distressed she abandoned the nest leaving Thanthesamy, the gardener, to raise her brood.
Thanthesamy nursed the chicks until they all had learned to fly and, one by one, left home – all, that is, except Pethi the wingless wonder. He bumbled along following Thanthesamy around, offering him bits of straw and dried flowers, which the gardener graciously accepted, collecting them in a small basket. Thanthesamy was so moved by the Pethi’s simple offerings that he wove a hat from them, a hat closely resembling a nest. He had an idea: he wanted to go on pilgrimage with Pethi in quest of his mother and Pethi could sit in the hat as they journeyed along. When the day came to leave Pethi refused to go. He thought his mother might return while they were gone and he might never see her again; a thought he could not abide. Reluctantly, Thanthesamy donned his straw hat and set out on his quest alone.
It so happened about this time that Veerapandy, King of Pandipuram, was building a new palace to honor his latest bride as well as house the has-beens. In order to do so, he ordered his woodchopper to clearcut an ancient mango grove where many spirits and rare birds found shelter, Pethi’s mother among them. The woodchopper discovered her in the wreckage of the downed forest and was so taken by her unusual plumage he decided to present her to the king. When he arrived at the palace with his unhappy trophy he discovered Thanthesamy there petitioning the king to find Pethi’s mother and bring her home.
A moment of collective bewilderment silenced the court as Pethi’s mother acknowledged Thanthesamy. Bewildered by their familiarity, King Veerapandy flew into a rage and threw both Thanthsamy and the woodchopper into the castle keep. Pethi’s mother he kept by his side but she ignored his food and began to waste away. “I cannot eat,” she said, “when other birds are dying of starvation because you cursed them with your greed. Hungry ghosts will soon feast upon your soul.”
King Veerapandy ordered the royal veterinary surgeon to force-feed Pethi’s rebellious mother intravenously but the vet refused so the king threw him in prison too. The king then sent a bullock cart of biscuits to feed the starving flock of refugee birds. When he discovered the biscuits had been imported from abroad rather than baked in Veerapandy he threw the Royal Baker into the dungeon too, which getting a bit crowded. About this time veterinarian conveniently remembered a hospital China that specialized in reconstructive surgery for damaged birds. Why not send Pethi there? He passed a message on to Veerapany through his bodyguard.
The king immediately agreed. He set the wheels in motion to dispatch Pethi to China. Pethi’s mother died before the surgery took place but her spirit hovered over him while he was under anesthetic. “I have survived all kinds of iniquities in this world, my dear son, the least of which is death. You will survive whatever life brings. And when death comes you will greet it like an old friend.”
The Role of Story Creation in Community Wellbeing (Part I)
Focus Group No. 1 – MONKEY’S TALE CENTRE / Batticaloa
Monday, July 20 – 9 AM through 12:30 PM
Facilitators: E. Kularaj, K. Thevakanthan
Translator: Rajes Kandia
Guest: Paul Hogan
Participants: 6 graduate students from Eastern University Fine Arts Department
Story Crow / Story Stone (Out-of-the-Box Curriculum Toy #4)
- 6 participants gather at Monkey’s Tale Center (MTC) Painting Hall
- Silence – 5 minutes
- Welcome and Introduction – Master E. Kularaj (Kula)
- Role of Story in Creative Community Development – Paul Hogan
- Participants proceed to ritual ground in back of MTC
- They traverse the Water Labyrinth accompanied by drumming
- Kula takes toys out of the box and places all of them on the story stone
- He places Crow beside stone representing story totem
- Participants then pick toys while blindfolded
- Circle of silence – 5 minutes
- Story round session begins one person at a time
- Questions enrich evolving story
- After all participants have told their story tea is served
- After tea, participants join in refining the story
- Story is finalized and written down by appointed scribe
- Brief verbal evaluation by participants
- Circle of silence – 5 minutes before adjournment
Questions for Comment
How did you like this program?
What did you learn from participating?
Will it help you with your studies or life in general?
How can you share it with your community?
Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
July 25, 2015