The Business of Happily Ever After

Story-teller Xanthe Gresham, on the craft of weaving stories and reinterpreting traditional European folklore

A group of adults making strange gestures, imitate story-teller Xanthe Gresham. A little child holds her index finger and thumb to her forehead ostensibly forming the third eye, which can, look into the past and the future. Gresham herself, recites poems in a deep baritone or moos like a cow. These are only some of the many elements that make for a story-telling workshop she has organised. Based in the UK, Gresham has not only been working as a professional story-teller but also teaches the art, which she feels "could make people happy". In the city for a story-telling workshop, Gresham performed at the British Council Library on Wednesday before a diverse audience that not only had teachers but also school students. "It is such a wonderful medium to open up possibilities to help learn new stories and debate existing ones," she says, as she takes a break from her session. Having started off by memorising poems as a little kid, Gresham eventually moved on to studying theatre before finally veering to professional story-telling in the last 15 years.

Specialising in mythological stories with a modern day interpretation, Greshamn says that goddess Kali has had a major influence in the manner in which she has developed her style of story-telling. "That and the fact that I grew up in a very religious Catholic household. Eventually I found this to be confining because women as goddesses had no voice in the religion. There was just the Virgin Mary. I eventually started creating stories for adults about the varied interpretations of traditional folklore. Discussions led to numerous variations and interpretations," she says.

At her workshop in Pune she brought up the story of ' The Old Woman and the Pig' and 'The Kashmir Shawl', telling the latter backwards from the finished product going back to the goat's hair. Gresham says that this is a step-by-step technique of storytelling where a picture is immediately followed by an action. The session in the latter half of the day also saw her reinterpreting the story of Baba Yaga, the famous witch from European folklore, to give her a more humane appearance. Speaking about this she says, "In Europe, unlike Indian mythology, the good and evil are two extremes. So someone good is infallible, like Christ. Baba Yaga on the other hand has been branded as a witch. I try to look at her as a goddess who also has a very creative side to her, which has been lost as people consider her to be a witch."

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