We wrap them around us.
Like a veil ……or sometimes like an armour….. and sometimes even like a shroud.
All children love stories. Especially about themselves or their parents as children.
“When mummy was a little girl she ran away from school in the lunch break”.
They giggle and look over at Mummy who is making angry eyes at Granny for this.
“Do you know what your grandfather did one Diwali when you were scared of the firecrackers??”
“When your father was small we used to pay him 10 Rs. to keep quiet for 10 minutes!”
We take these stories and use them like Lego blocks…… to build our identities, our personalities, our future self, or past shadows. We start telling ourselves these stories to reinforce the sense of self.
“I am not THAT kind of a person.”
“My family means more to me than my career.”
She really did love me.”
We try to make sense of the world and our place in it through these stories in our head.
We love stories so much that JK Rowling had become richer than the Queen of England at one point! We need so much constant story telling as a race that we print or e-write over millions of new books and see 1000’s of new movies every year. And that is not even counting the millions of blogs, YouTube videos, Netflix binge watching and pirated copies of Game of Thrones doing the rounds! From the earliest cave paintings to Avatar 3 D, they are all just stories. The bedtime tales, the newspapers, the movies, the Twitters and Facebooks and Buzzfeed, everything is basically telling you a story.
Sometimes about what happened, sometimes about what is yet to happen and sometimes about what could have been.
The Vedas are believed to be as much as 7000 years old and they were shared down the ages by recitation (hence called Veda meaning that which is heard).
Around 2000 years ago some other stories emerged and became major world religions as the ‘word of God’ was written down and had to be followed. Myths became Mythology and then forced upon us as The ONLY Truth.
Some stories have a short arc of a day or an event or a month.
Some interesting ones may take even 30 years to turn a page and move forward.
Some stories may be changed to re-invent who we are.
Irish song writer Sarah Daly says it beautifully in her poem Iteration:
“Have you seen my old self?
I think I must have lost her,
I wonder if I cost her Her life?
I am recycled cells,
I learn to like myself,
More with each iteration”
The stories get more structured and formal the further we go from the self.
From “Oh, we don’t make sabzi that way in our family” to “Of course, those people are bigamists” is not a very far leap in terms of storylines.
As we get formalized into professions, these stories take on different shapes. They emerge as Company Rules and Standard Operating Protocol. Code of Ethics. Guidelines. THIS is how WE do things around here.
The larger structures of government and society build these steel frameworks of stories around us, like the Doozers from Fraggle Rock. Constantly building, re-building, busy, busy, busy. They call them law, culture, morals, values. They tell us that THIS is how we do things in India. So if you are a good Indian you will/ will not do this.
But although these frameworks have walls, they also have windows, and through them keep coming the whispers.
Through the framework of worshipping Ram come the questions about the banishment of Sita. From the stories of ‘good girls behave this way’ come the whispers about Kunti. From the stories of how husbands will always protect the wife if she is good, come the stories of Draupadi.
Sometimes from the framework you can see bodies hanging. Of couples who tried to bring in a plot twist by marrying across caste and religion. Of couples who loved in the same sex. Of girls and women who asked too many questions about the way the stories were being written on their bodies. Why father? Why do I have to marry this man who is 20 years older? Why mother? Why can’t I study like my brother? Why? Why am I not an equal human being?
When pipelines are being built through ancient Native American land, when villages in India are being drowned to build a new dam, when migrant domestic workers are being locked in the basement, when 10 year old girls are raped and gentle young brides are being set on fire for dowry, the whispers grow louder and sometimes become war cries.
And constantly, through all the white noise and the fake news, the propaganda, the moral panic and the covfefe, our own soul tries to remind us that this is all maya, an illusion.
We wake up from a dream where we are falling, falling, falling so far down and we have left our body behind. We hover over it briefly and then, when we wake up with a start, all is well……. but is it just another layer of the dream?
Our existence is such a random chance. To be alive at this moment in time and space; born of stardust and back to it in just a few short spins around the sun.
We need to re-tell ourselves that story above all else.
Spinning away around the sun as it spins around the galaxy as it spins around the centre of an ever expanding Universe or maybe a Multiverse.
Stories within stories within a dream.
But that should not make us helpless. On the contrary! It should make us completely fearless! We can change the narrative anytime that we choose. We can write our own destiny because there is no template!
As The Doctor says: “We are all stories in the end. Just remember to make it a good one.”