Stories have been used to pass cultural and religious values down through generations since at least the times of Aristotle's Poetics (circa 350BC). The great Indian works Ramayana and Mahabharata are epic tales made up of thousands of sub-stories, each of which has a moral. The storytelling tradition has a long history in China, too, where it can be traced back to the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220). A New York Times article from 2007 reported that researchers had found the human brain has an affinity for narrative construction, with people finding it easier to remember facts if they are presented in a story rather than as a list. French philosopher Roland Barthes said: 'Narrative is present in every age, in every place, in every society. It is international, transhistorical, transcultural: it is simply there, like life itself.' It was storytelling's links to life itself that were celebrated at India's first major festival dedicated to the art form held earlier this month in Mumbai. The list of storytellers (or, more correctly, performers) included actor Naseeruddin Shah, who read from the book Lajjo, by feminist writer Ismat Chughtai. According to advertising executive M.S. Gopal, who attended the festival, the repertoire was broad, ranging from 'the music and stories of gypsies from the UK to tales from Kerala. There were love stories from French Quebec and there were politically inspired stories such as the Dastangoi as well as sweet children's stories from Spain.' Gopal was particularly impressed by dastangoi, which refers to the recitation of a dastan (story), an art form that probably originated in Persia. 'All old cultures, especially those in Asia, have a rich tradition of storytelling,' says Anita Ratnam, an Indian classical dancer and scholar from Chennai. To see how well stories travel through regions, take the Ramayana (the story of Lord Rama), which has made its way from India to the near and far East. The Ramayana was recently celebrated in Singapore during an international storytelling festival. According to Ratnam, if India has the Ramayana, with its lovable monkey god Hanuman, then China has Journey to the West and its famed Monkey King, whose exploits (not always pleasant) are known to every child in the country. Taking the example further, she says: 'One of the primary similarities between Indian and Chinese traditions of storytelling is the use of animals.' What makes stories so special is that across societies and cultures, their core remains the same: they are entertaining while being educational, and, like cuisines, they travel easily.