Michal Malinowski, who works to keep storytelling alive, tells a few Polish folktales to a band of wondrous students

“You know where is Poland?” Michal Malinowski asks a roomful of school children at Katha Lab School, Govindpuri. After a few moments of hesitant silence, an intrepid boy says “close to Germany”, and Michal smiles approvingly. Given his burly frame and accented English, he could easily be a character from a storybook. But today Michal’s loyalties are with the spoken word.

His first story tells the tale of two characters – Truth and Story. Truth is naked, and is routinely turned away by people whose homes he tries to visit. One day, on seeing Truth’s plight, Story asks him to join forces and dresses him in his colourful rags. “Since then, Truth and Story have been visiting our homes,” Michal concludes.

Michal worked as a multimedia artist in Switzerland and Japan, and discovered the art of storytelling on a trip to Papua New Guinea in 1997. “They spoke about the sea and the people, and suddenly the bell went dhing and the people went dhang… they started to sing and dance. The whole village participated in the creation of the story,” he remembers.

Although the atmosphere at the school is a little more restrained than the scene he describes, the students are also wholly taken in by the rhythms of his stories. In the short horror story that he relates, they are alternately lulled and jolted, before they start mimicking the periodic creaking of a door.

The storytelling session represents Katha’s commitment to “learning through activities”, says Gauri Palachandra, a co-director with the NGO. It is a part of their ‘I love Reading’ campaign which since 2010 has been assisting students in MCD schools in improving their skills creatively, she adds.

The session also represents Michal’s commitment to preserving and promoting oral literature. “We have to be aware that there’s oral expression, and that it is in great danger. We have already erased oral exams and that is a very bad direction we are heading in,” he cautions.

Since 2002, he has been working with stories in various ways. He has co-authored Polish Folktales and Folklore, a collection of more than 50 traditional folk tales from his home country, and has founded The Storyteller Museum in Warsaw, Poland.

Stillness and death are the natural allies of museums, but Michal’s museum, a 300 sq. meter space in his house, uses interactive technology to present the life and diversity of oral traditions and intangible heritage from all over the world. Apart from live storytelling sessions, the museum also holds exhibitions of oral literatures.

(Michal will tell stories today at Epicentre, Apparel House, Sector-44, Gurgaon 7.30 p.m. onwards)

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