Listening to, and telling stories, can be therapeutic in these uncertain times. While we have our pick of podcasts available globally, our choices when it comes to regional audiobooks taper down.
Chennai-based storyteller Deepika Arun, however, has found a way around this. On her podcast, Kadhai Osai, she has been releasing chapters of the mammoth Tamil book, Sivagamiyin Sabatham , daily for 10 days now. The over 1000-pager written by Kalki during 1944 to 1946, is set in 7th-Century South India. It is available on streaming software such as Spotify and YouTube.
This is just one of the many audio-tales for which Kadhai Osai is a storehouse. “I was introduced to the world of audiobooks through Stephen Fry’s Harry Potter,” says Deepika. “I am a huge Potterhead and I was not sure I would be able to enjoy the audiobook as much as I enjoyed reading it. But to my surprise, I was hooked to his narration.”
After that, she began searching for Tamil books to listen to. “There were a few YouTube channels who published audiobooks in Tamil. But most did not have the right tone or pronunciation.” So she decided to invest in a mic, and some sound editing software, and started Kadhai Osai last year, from the comfort of her room.
Founder of the Jhoola Activity Centre for children in Nanganallur, Deepika found that storytelling came naturally to her. “After I finished recording a few stories, my cousin came up to me and said, ‘I still remember how when we were kids, you would narrate stories at our grandmother’s house’.”
After Kadhai Osai’s success, Deepika was hired as a consultant for Swedish audiobook company Storytel’s India branch. “They were looking to expand to Tamil, and were speaking with publishers for rights. They brought me on as a consultant to speak to authors and get voice artistes to narrate these stories.”
While she collates voice artistes, she herself has given voice for Storytel as well, narrating authors Gokul Seshadri’s and Rajesh Kumar’s works. “For voice artistes, we need people with perfect pronunciation and the ability to modulate their voice. If they enjoy reading a story in Tamil, everything else just falls into place,” she says.
Whenever a story has to be recorded, Storytel holds an audition with the voices they have in their bank. “For example, a bass voice would be nice for a thriller, and a lighter voice would go with romantic stories.” Three-minute samples of these voices reading the story are then sent to the author, who decides which voice would suit his story.
- I enjoy the Hindi podcast, Croc’s Tales. In it, Anand Sivakumaran, collects words or phrases from listeners, and makes up stories using these prompts.
On Kadhai Osai, however, she is the only narrator, and sticks to works available in the public domain such as books by Kalki, Lalgudi Saptarishi Ramamrutham, and Pudhumaipithan. Her father, Varadharajan, is also an author and his works feature in Kadhai Osai as well.
“One of the most important things I have learnt in this past year is that you should not be narrating in a sing-song voice,” she says, proceeding to describe it. “People generally listen to audiobooks while they are doing something else, like driving or cooking. The sing-song narration makes them zone out after 10 minutes.”
She also underlines the importance of modulating her voice according to each character she is playing. This skill, she happily discovered, her five-year-old daughter picked up as well. “I sometimes let her record her own books, and she was using different voices for the monkeys, owls, dogs and cats,” she laughs.
But the main purpose behind story narration for Deepika is to preserve the Tamil language in its correct diction. “I find so many people who have been born and brought up here, who don’t even say ‘Tamizh’ the proper way. If my channel helps people pronounce Tamil better, that would make me very happy.”
If you are a Tamil voice artiste who would like to record books, you can reach out to Deepika on Facebook.