People A group of people in the city keep the art of storytelling alive and kicking
A diti, Tessa, Raksha, Shreyas and Advait listen in rapt attention to the story of Goddess Saraswati. “Do you know on which bird, Saraswati travels on?” asks Shobana Jayaraman, a Kathalaya-trained storyteller. The answers are original, if nothing else. Tessa thinks it is a unicorn, and Aditi asks if it is a sparrow. Someone else tentatively asks, “Love bird?” We are gathered at Srishti Montessori School for a storytelling session by Shobana.
Shobana believes that storytelling is a powerful tool that can touch a person's soul. “Gone are the days when grandmothers and grandfathers told stories to their grandchildren. Today no one has the time.” But thanks to a bunch of people like Shobana, children are experiencing the joy of listening to stories. Muthu Annamalai is a Kathalaya-trained storyteller too. She narrates stories to kids at Vidhya Vardhi Play School, Toys R Urs (a toy library) and Udhavum Karangal. “I got into storytelling after my daughter's birth. I did a course on Early Childhood Education (ECE) and my project involved storytelling. That was when I decided I wanted to specialise in this,” says Muthu. Once Muthu and Shobana realised that storytelling was what they wanted to do professionally, they underwent an intensive course in Kathalaya, a Bangalore-based organisation that offers certificate courses in storytelling.
Brinda Shanmughan of Kids 2000 Academy secured a diploma in ECE from IGNOU. She also underwent training at Kathalaya. Earlier, Brinda narrated stories to students at her own play school.
Humour and adventure
“Now, I interact with primary and nursery school children at libraries or I go to their schools to tell stories,” she says. While Brinda enjoys telling adventurous, humorous and historical stories, Hemalatha Ramesh tells stories about real life heroes such as Einstein or Alfred Nobel. “I believe that such stories can help children set goals and work towards them,” says Hemalatha, who teaches value education and organises literary activities for school children.
Menaka Manickaraja paediatric dentist by profession, tells stories even when she deals with her little patients. “I have puppets in my clinic. I tell stories to kids while I treat them. When a kid comes over for a dental check-up, I ask him what his favourite fictional character is. If they say it is Chotta Bheem, I make up a story about Bheem's friend having a cavity.” Menaka would love to tell stories to other kids too. Hemalatha says telling stories to children also encourages the reading habit in them. “Stories arouse the curiosity in a child. You can even conduct a quiz, a discussion or organise some other activity around the story.”
Storyteller Mangai Krishnaswamy believes that human values can be taught through stories. “I narrate stories from the scriptures and those that teach lessons to children,” says Mangai, who used to conduct storytelling sessions for the Make A Wish Foundation. “When I used to narrate stories to children who were admitted at the oncology division at Ramakrishna Hospital, and those who came to Ramana Gowder Hospital for treatment, they addressed me as ‘paati'. One girl even called my stories, ‘paati sonna kadhaigal'!” she smiles. Not just children, Mangai visited a group of elders during Navaraatri at SNV Gardens and told them the story of a Naayanar. “They loved it so much that now they want me to come and tell stories to them every week!”
Hemalatha and Muthu both encourage parents to tell stories to children and give them access to good books. “What better way for parents to bond with their kids than by telling them a story. Parents can tell stories with happy endings in the night, while putting their children to bed. It's not enough to just allow a kid to attend a storytelling session. Parents must have a follow-up session at home too,” says Muthu.
Brinda and her husband Shanmughan are planning to bring storytelling into the corporate world. “We think it could be a good stress buster for corporates,” says Shanmughan.