Published in MAI LIFE MAGAZINE April 2011
"Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan"
When I was little (a very long time ago), my mother used to read me bedtime stories. I must admit that she was very good at reading out loud. However there were those nights, when after a long day and evening of work, her very large bundle of dalo..er..joy would accost her as she entered her shelter from the world with whatever book or comic he had been attempting to decipher. On those occasions the stories would fizzle and fade as my mother would doze off in mid-story, sometimes in mid-sentence. Words would be replaced by mumbles and grunts. The last time I remember my mother reading to me, it was a comic based on the biblical story of Joseph. She ended a story as she drifted off to sleep with the words, “Jack shot down in Cook Islands. Fullstop. Comma.”
Perhaps it was this last type of “colourful” storytelling that impressed me the most. I began to expand my stories with the same inspiration that my mother had used. I added my dream adventures to my “morning talk” contributions:
“Yesterda-ay, I was walking home. And I was walking and the-en (slight pause for inspiration or effect)… a spaceship landed in front of me!” After a while, the poor teacher had no choice but change “morning talk” to “morning story” as more and more children began to be inspired in their telling of stories.
However, “telling stories”, if not carefully managed, is a skill that can develop into what is known, in some circles, as creatively interpreting the truth, or simply put, “telling lies.”
This skill covers all aspects of stretching, pulling, kneading and massaging of the truth – from, for example, extending the size of fish you caught on your last fishing trip, to claiming that the giant fish you bought from a roadside stall was single-handedly caught by you. Some have put this skill to its fullest possible use by convincing the local bank that a ukulele or electric guitar was all that was needed as security for a half-a-million dollar loan, or that no matter who you were, if you paid the fee – you were going to get work in Kuwait, and that if you gave all your money to them, when the “twins” of i-Taukei legend return, they will bring a container of money, of which you will get a share ( how big the container will have to be is not a concern obviously). Of course there are those, whose skills at lying…er…lie simply in the ability to say, “It wasn’t me,” with a straight face. All of these are a far cry from the mundane, “mad chicken ate my homework” or “my mother’s father’s sister’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s granduncle died” truth-stretching that we usually employ.
Some people even combine the skills or confuse the terms of telling stories and telling lies. Last year when my sister-in-law was studying at the local tertiary institute, she was under strict instructions to come straight home after her evening classes. One evening this instruction was not followed and on arrival and following interrogation by my wife, who on occasion makes the CIA and even Colonel Gaddafi’s best interrogators look bad, was reprimanded after giving as her excuse for late-night hand-holding as “tehlin stohris”. My wife’s immediate response to her excuse was “Telling Lies”.
Of course this is all because, by virtue of being born and raised in the “isles of Fiji”, we are natural tellers of tales. If we were Samoan, I’m sure many of us would be in a position to give Robert Louis Stevenson a run for his money for the title “Tusitala”.
I attended a workshop on communication once where the facilitator, as an exercise on active listening, or perhaps as a way of filling in the time between morning tea and lunch, called the participants to play a game, most politically incorrectly (or unpolitically correct) called, “Chinese Whispers.” As the original sentence of “Viliame went to see his pregnant sister at his aunty’s house,” turned into “Viliame made his sister’s friend and her aunty pregnant,” and ended up as “Viliame was having an affair with the Police Commissioner’s sister and was caught by his aunty who was the mastermind of the 2000 coup,” one participant remarked, “this is not Chinese whispers, this is Suva whispers!”
A few weeks ago, my wife and I as counsellors of our church youth fellowship were asked to speak to our church’s young people. As I knew the young people were used (also known as “fed up”) of hearing me speak or preach, I asked my wife to lead the session. She chose the topic of “gifts” (the innate skills and qualities we possess – not the presents we give and receive). After she spoke there was a time of discussion and sharing. As we went around the group hearing the skills or activities that the youth thought were their gifts. After hearing for the umpteenth time of the gift of giving advice, we turned to the last person of the group, who stood up and proudly said, “My gift is tehling storis”. To which her sister, my wife, responded, “Telling Lies!”