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The storyteller with 6,000 grandchildren

Sarla Minni, a Bangalore-based retired teacher and grandmother, liked recording stories which she would then send to her grandson, grand-nephews and nieces. One of her nieces, Parul Rampurya, shared the recordings with her friends, and they were a runaway success with their children. Rampurya urged her aunt to make it a weekly feature and throw it open to a wider audience.

So, in March Minni christened herself Kahaniwali Naani (the grandmother who tells stories) and began sending weekly stories to her subscribers via WhatsApp audio messages.

Impersonal interaction

The stories are usually eight minutes long, in Hindi or English, mostly folktales, often featuring animals. “I research folktales from all over the world, read different versions of each story. Then I work on a script, record it and send it to my niece and daughter who give me feedback. After I hear from them, I broadcast it to my subscribers. I try to improvise the stories I read, so that they can be understood by even toddlers, but I try to make them interesting to pre-teens as well.”

“I have always loved stories, and have been telling them to children, for as long as I can remember,” she says. She has fond childhood memories of cuddling up with her aunt and listening to stories from Hindu mythology. “My favourites involve an element of humour and touch upon aspects of Indian culture.” She ensures that she chooses stories across a spectrum of cultures. “I have done stories about Ramzaan, about Mahavira for Mahavir Jayanti, and lesser known tales of Rama for Rama Navami.”

With many Indians now living in nuclear families, she thinks that children miss out on personal interactions with grandparents or other elderly relatives. “This is the gap I’m trying to bridge through Kahaniwali Naani.” She remembers talking to a young mother, who had written to thank her for her stories. “She told me that her children don’t have grandparents and they looked forward with much joy to my stories every week.”

Kashmir to Kensington

With children hooked to screens, Minni wants to make sure childhoods aren’t devoid of good stories. She believes in the power of storytelling. Some of her stories deal with more contemporary themes like eating healthy food and saving money.

“Many children send voice messages to me, promising that they will not eat junk food or spend money unnecessarily! This warms my heart.”

Her fondest memory since she began Kahaniwali Naani was a call from a woman in Kashmir. “She said that she lives with her family in a small town, just 30 km from the border. They have no formal schooling system and very irregular Internet and mobile connectivity. She told me that whenever they are able to connect to the Internet, the children look forward to listening to my stories. She said that she uses my stories to teach her children basic concepts in literacy and numeracy.”

Just four months old, Kahaniwaali Naani has over 6,000 subscribers from as far afield as the U.K., the U.S., Dubai, Nigeria, Switzerland and Australia. The growth, she says, has been “purely through word-of-mouth: one excited parent telling others.”

In one crazy period, she got 800 new subscribers at once. “Now my son and daughter-in-law, who are software engineers, have helped me create a website with a form to manage my subscribers.” What next, Naani? “I hope that I reach as many children as I can. I believe that stories are a child’s birthright. Of course, I hope to make my stories more interesting and perhaps, have different stories for different age-groups. But I would never charge for them.”

When the writer is not obsessing over her work, she is usually lost in a book, playing with her two-year-old, or experimenting in the kitchen.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 1:38:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/the-storyteller-with-6000-grandchildren/article19523859.ece

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