Why We Need Our Stories

Stories sustain us. They allow us to see our world in a variety of ways, they mark our place in culture and society and nature, and make meaning of all the different parts of our lives. Our histories are preserved in our stories. Fiction carves pathways to understanding through difficult territories of experience and feeling. Stories give us a way to speak the truth when systems of power suppress it. But perhaps most importantly, stories give us ways to find ourselves.

Some years ago I came across a TED Talk by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, titled “The Danger of the Single Story” {https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg or https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en} where she talks about how our understanding of the world and its people is structured so much by the stories we read as children, and the ones we continue to read as adults. Our perceptions of different cultures, of good, bad and ugly, our images of the meaning of poverty and wealth, are influenced by the stories we are repeatedly told. So it is really important to be exposed to a wide variety of stories, from as many people and sources as possible, so that we can build an understanding of the world that reflects (to the extent possible) its amazing richness and diversity.

School education, however, tends to wean us away from stories and forces us into a world defined by fact, measured by numbers and coloured almost exclusively by scientific method. There’s a gradual weakening of our ability to enjoy a good story without guilt, or to take pleasure in spinning a good yarn where logic and reason can be suspended for a while. Stories are firmly locked within the boundaries of language and literature, where they become objects of study rather than spaces of experience.

We’ve been trying to re-centre the role of storytelling in child education through articles in Teacher Plus, but for our special Teachers’ Day issue, we thought we could go a bit further and focus entirely on stories – by our readers. We invited you to try your hand at writing a story, with just one caveat: that the story should feature a teacher in some central way. A big “thank you” to those who sent in stories early. We were able to commission some lovely illustrations for these, while some others came in too late for us to send them to our artists. While all the stories are special in some way, we have to recognize three that are “especially special” – “The heart of the matter” by Susheela Punitha, inspired by O Henry’s Gift of the Magi; “Saturdays” by our youngest contributor, the 16-year-old Kaivallya Dasu; and “Will you come home with me?” by Usha Prabhakar.

We also asked some of our regular contributors and writer-friends to send in a story written around the character of a teacher. I would like to make a special mention of the story titled “Dhani” by Subhadra Sen Gupta, which brings out beautifully the subtle conflicts through her story set in a previous era and also “The New Boy” by Renita D’Silva which in its own way tugs powerfully at the heartstrings.

So…this is our virtual bouquet to our readers for Teachers’ Day. The wide variety of stories we bring you celebrate and reflect on the work and life of the teacher, some with a tinge of sadness but many spiced with laughter. You’ll find familiar contexts and characters – the struggling novice, the politics of the staffroom, the difficult child and the overbearing principal. But you will also find the stereotype broken, a fuller exploration of the life and times of a teacher. You’ll find – fortunately – that there is no “single story” about who a teacher is and what s/he does. We hope you will be surprised and entertained, just as we were in reviewing the stories.

So pick up a cup of tea, load up a plate with your favourite biscuits, find a comfortable chair – and fold yourself into the pages of our stories.

Happy Teachers’ Day!