Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The power of perfume

P1080432This week on an afternoon walk, I passed the two bushes in my photos. The first is lavender, the second I’m not sure of. But from each, a beautiful perfume came out. Each made me think. ‘If only I could somehow encode that perfume and send it out on my blog this week.’ Might that ever be possible? Perhaps – but I’m sure it wouldn’t be as good as the real thing.

Then I started to wonder. ‘Do I know any stories where perfume is important?’ The question made a good accompaniment to my walk as it started to rain.

Perfume from India:

First I thought about the story of Ganesh, the Hindu god. When his mother Parvati made him, her husband Shiva was away and she was lying in her bath, scraping off the soaps and creams she’d  applied to her body. From the little ball she rolled them into, she began to mould a little boy. The little boy quickly became alive and immediately began to grow. By the time his father returned, the boy was guarding the door of the bath-house. Of course, his father did not know who he was and, angry at seeing an intruder claiming to be Parvati’s protector, he summarily cut off the boy’s head.

And the rest – how the boy then gained his elephant head and became the much-honoured Ganesh –  is, according to your taste, a matter of religion, myth or story. There’s nothing specifically about perfume in it. But I reckon that, as Ganesh is the god that helps people with their problems, he is undoubtedly perfumed with kindness.

Perfume from Baluchistan:

Next, I remembered a saying that directly connects story with perfume. Why it came to my mind, I suppose, is that, just hours before, I’d been writing about how I heard the saying. It came from Shireen, one of the people who turned up for the storytelling courses for Asian women which I ran in Tooting in South London back in the second half of the 1980s. Shireen was from Baluchistan and she was not only full of stories. She’d also come up with wise and thought-provoking sayings about them. The one that connects stories with perfumes was one that had come from her grandmother back in her home village. What her grandmother used often to say was this: ‘A good story is like amber. Hide it in ten tins and its perfume will still come out.’

Perfume in a dilemma tale:

P1080426Lastly, I remembered a little dilemma story which it’s fun to try out on children. City children often take a while to come up with the answer to it. You have to really press them, pushing them down the appropriate line of thinking. Here’s the situation they have to think about.

A young gardener and his wife were much in love. One day, the wife disappeared. Her husband was distraught. He searched and waited. But she didn’t come back – not until one night when, all of a sudden,  she was right there in their cottage on the estate where the gardener worked. She told him that a spell had been placed upon her but she could not tell him much about it or she’d never get released from it. All she could say before leaving at dawn was that, early in the morning after the sun came up, he must go to the rose-bed on the estate. If he picked the right rose, she would be released.

Then, as the night ended, she was suddenly gone. After the sun had come up, the gardener went to the rose-bed as quickly as he could. At first, he felt deeply dismayed. There were so many rose bushes, so many beautiful roses. How was he ever going to find out which of the roses was his wife?

The answer, of course, is that all the roses had dew drops on them except the one that was his wife. For of course his wife had been inside the cottage at the time when dew-drops form. The husband was a gardener after all. So he was able to work that out.

But where, you may ask, does perfume come into that story? Well, I can tell you that, in the story as I’ve adapted it for this posting, when the gardener reaches forward to pick the rose he has chosen, he smells the perfume it exudes and knows for sure that he is right. And suddenly he is no longer holding the rose he has picked, he is holding his wife in his arms.

But then, I’m very sentimental really. It’s why I love happy endings. And in the week when Donald Trump has been elected President of the U.S.A., we all have to find something to cheer us up.


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