Listen

My grandmother loved stories. I spent the first six years of my life at her feet, in a tiny agricultural village in Andhra Pradesh. My earliest memory features me, being eaten alive by mosquitos at twilight, listening as she retold village gossip to her friends. There was always boisterous laughter, gasps of shock, and definitely some clucking of disapproval.

Every morning before sunrise, as my grandfather headed off to the fields, she would drag me to the village temple. I would be bleary-eyed and starving, sulking the whole way. We would sit on those cold concrete floors while the priest would sing beautiful mythological hymns for us. I don’t think these songs would be beautiful by today’s standards, but they often brought brought tears to my grandmother’s eyes. They are hundreds of thousands of stories, overwhelming even the thousands of gods – some are sung, some are told, some can’t be told before a certain hour, some can only be told at a in the presence of a certain person. These rules wrangled the sheer volume of stories to a manageable list for our listening pleasure.

I could not understand these hymns, and to be honest I did not care to. The prayer songs are usually sung in a specific dialect that even my devout grandmother could not fully understand, a secret language taught only to the caste of priests. I would sit there, nodding off, as the priest would chant and sing and conduct his puja. The sun would rise, and my grandmother and I would walk back home in the rising heat. The whole way, she would retell everything that was sung. I always liked her versions better.

There is something about listening to people tell stories that I love. As I was listening to Moth, I came to the realization that I really felt no desire to get up on that stage myself. Sitting, listening, is what comes naturally to me. Being a good listener is something that I have always prided myself on, but I never really thought that it came from loving listening as opposed to…I don’t know…being a good friend?

I think storytelling is an art, whether it is performative or not. The Moth stories are rehearsed and refined in some way. Still, I feel that same intimacy listening to strangers talk about their stories as I feel when my friends are telling me about their days. Stories are a huge part of what makes us human. Humans are  social creatures, and we have always used stories as an essential way to connect with one another. I think Moth capitalizes on that innate desire to gain a glimpse into someone else’s world, to look through their eyes for even a few minutes.

I know that my grandmother would have wanted me to create, but I do not think I have a story that needs to be told. I think I am happy listening in, watching someone else explore their world for a little while. At least for now.

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