Storytelling with a difference!
Children love to hear stories and enjoy them more, when there is an element of drama around it. Meet two different storytellers here – Vikram Sridhar who aims to conserve wildlife through his stories and Kamal Pruthi who loves to retell Indian traditional stories.
“Let’s take a break from reality”
–says Vikram Sridhar, a storyteller, who shares his love for theatre, animals and the traditional art form with Janani Rajeswari.
What made this perfect South Indian boy take the unique path of storytelling? Vikram shares, “I did my engineering and MBA and even got a job through campus placements. But during my engineering days, I did some volunteering work for NGOs like animal rehab centres and Blue Cross,” he explains. This lent him a better understanding of NGOs. He then began visiting schools, old age homes and conducting games for them. His foray into theatre happened during his MBA days. Vikram was also part of the renowned theatre group in Chennai ‘Madras Players’. He says that storytelling has helped him move beyond the restricted space of the stage. Vikram adds, “I connect my work and experience with theatre and induct volunteering and conservation into my storytelling.”
The bigger picture behind storytelling
Vikram reveals that he aims to conserve wildlife through storytelling. But it all started with a love for animals from his school days. “I used to admire the flight of a dragonfly during school hours,” he adds. This extended to working with Blue Cross, Chennai. He then took up wildlife conservation in particular, urban conservation when he was working in Bangalore.
“In 2013, I volunteered to do a storytelling session for a writer for a group of children. Did you know that most professional storytellers globally come from teaching background? But I don’t,” adds Vikram.
This was the point where he took up what he really loved doing. He narrated a Bengali folktale which was the first story he read. He explains that storytelling happens to be the parent of art forms such as music and dance too.
So, his weekends are spent in his passion. The first step is to break the stereotypes about animals through the stories he narrates. “I make an effort to show them in a very different way. For instance, the fox in my story is not cunning,” says Vikram. “So, the world looks at the positive side of animals.”
Stories that make it to Vikram’s sessions
“I use Indian folklore to talk about species as they are abundant with flora and fauna. Be it Jataka Tales or Panchatantra, while depicting numerous animal species depicted, the authors were extremely careful showcased the environment of the species too which is lost many a time,” he says. Thus, he also manages to cover the conservation aspect.
Vikram reveals that there is an abundant story bank from across the world that needs to be explored. “Stories have travelled across the world in different forms,” says Vikram. He goes on to explain that what remains mythology in India turned into folktales in other countries. So, what he tries to do is to draw parallels to these folktales to Indian mythology from other countries to make the session more interesting.
And, Vikram particularly points out that stories are for one and all. “Very renowned stories such as Panchatantra and Jataka Tales were not meant for kids. Panchatantra was actually written to help kings rule their kingdoms efficiently,” he says.
Vikram’s story sessions for kids
Parents who bring kids for the session come with the baggage that the storytelling session will encourage kids to read more. He reaches out to children from the age of six years. Parents are allowed to sit through the session. Vikram adds that this is probably the only session wherein a parent can sit and observe a child for an hour.
“It also serves as an opportunity to connect with the child. Their answers are a reflection of their sub-conscious mind,” says Vikram. In a session with children, he takes the liberties with story depending on the children who are part of it. “In my stories, I try to relate the characters to those pertinent to today’s times. For instance, Lord Krishna becomes a police officer whom the kids can identify themselves with,” he says. At the end of story, Vikram leave the climax open-ended. This offers them a chance to think about the world around them.
A touch of nativity and experiential learning
The audience range from children to even corporate houses (though limited), teachers and people of different ages. Stories are modified for kids as well as for adults. However, people think that stories are only meant for recreation. But they have an educative side too,” says Vikram.
He would call it something closer to the art form of Hari Katha. “Folktales are made up of animal characters. Thus, an impromptu creation of the story happens depending on the audience involved,” he adds.
His sessions focus on ‘Experiential Learning’. “Sans pen and paper, I can teach various concepts using a single concept. For instance, I can use the traditional game ‘Aadu puli’ to teach children numbers and colours. The same concept can be used to teach ‘strategy’ to adults,” he explains. He also does like sessions for teachers in which he asks them to relate concepts to bigger things. And all this is topped up with a lot of self expression and no dependence on technology! He makes it a point to include dance and drama in his sessions.
“In a world where everything is outsourced, we could relax a bit and take a break from technology?” Vikram asks.
What lies ahead?
Storytelling has been a spiritual journey for Vikram. He has reached out nearly 10,000 children over the last two years. Vikram also has a theatre group called ‘Tahatto’ that comprises five members. “Each member specialises in each art form,” he says.
‘Around the Story Tree’ is his initiative connecting children and adults to the natural world using storytelling (STing) as a strong medium of conservation. “I try bringing in the oldest indigenous form of oral storytelling in a new and contemporary way to story lovers and story listeners within us,” Vikram says. In the future, he would like to see a world without stereotypes.
“I am an Indian Pied Piper”
–says Kamal Pruthi, a storyteller with a difference, in conversation with Smita Dwivedi.
Dressed in a colourful attire with a bag…bamboo stick…and steel bucket, Kamal reminded me of Kabuliwala but he looked different, and once he started interacting with kids, it was even more different…may be for Metro inmates. He shouted…whispered…ran and moved all over while sharing his stories and kids were following his commands like dictum. He made them do everything he wanted to. So, I waited for his session with kids to get over, before exploring this phenomenon further.
Kamal Pruthi, the Kabuliwala, who comes with a jhola full of folk tales, is known for his out-of-the-box use of spaces. On asking about how this started, he raised a few questions and shared, “Do you feel that your kids are getting alienated from their mother tongue and need to be brought closer to their roots? Do you feel the need to tell them the stories to acquaint the kids about the rich culture of our country, heritage, villages and the value system? Do you feel the need that your kids should be a bit patient and have better listening skills? Do you feel that at times you fail to channelise the high energies of your kids? Do you feel the need that somebody in the family knew those wonderful forgotten stories of dada-dadi, nana-nani and could tell them to your kids? And the answer to most of these questions is yes. Having a same feeling, I decided to work and contribute in my way, which converted me into a storyteller – Kabuliwala.”
Active in the theatre industry since 1999, Kamal is active as the artistic director of a young theatre company “Museum Theatre” since 2012. The theatre company is named after a unique storytelling format created by him, which breaks the convention of proscenium and street formats of theatre.
Along with his experimental use of spaces, his specialisation lies in Children Theatre & Storytelling for children and adults and most of his directed plays are in storytelling theatre format. He entices his audience in six different languages – Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, English, German and Kannada. He is a promoter of Indian languages and folktales and feels that we need to do a lot in this field. “Every kid must know his/her mother tongue and it’s every parent’s responsibility to do that. Our literature is so rich that we hardly need any other content,” he shared.
As a storyteller, Kamal’s reinvention of the character Kabuliwala and his jhola of folktales has been greatly loved by the kids and the parents and is successfully reaching masses. “Since it started, there have been around 17 events. When I first started, I did many experiments, trying to find alternatives to the conventional style of storytelling. The idea behind this was that kids are acquainted with older figures like Santa Claus, but unlike Santa, the Kabuliwala doesn’t come just once a year. They can engage with him through the year. He tells them stories and carries a bag full of goodies and tales that the kids are always curious about.”
On asking about the declining reading habits of children, Kamal shared that we just need to train parents and adults first. “The importance of books will never vanish…it will only increase with time. A book is a strongest medium to share common content with kids and it can be monitored as well. But parents need to work hard for that…they need to go through the book first and then introduce it to their kids. So, I feel we need to change ourselves…not our kids,” concluded the Indian pied piper Kamal Pruthi.