At the last edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, celebrated novelist Margaret Atwood said that all writers have descended from the village storyteller. Stories matter. Many stories matter and so do storytellers. But does every child in this country, irrespective of geographical and financial limitations, have access to both? Pratham Books has a solution.
Set up in 2004 as a not-for-profit children’s book publisher with a mission to see ‘a book in every child’s hand’, Pratham’s most recent campaign, ‘Missed Call Do, Kahaani Suno’, is to ensure that every child gets a story simply through a missed call.
The telephone transforms into the storyteller and free audio stories of Bheema, Sringeri Srinivas, Veeru, and a wide array of delightful characters regales the children.
There is no upper limit to the number of missed calls a child or parent can make, and the stories are in English, Hindi, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu.
Says Purvi Shah, head of digital projects, Pratham Books, “From our experience with children, we know that storytelling is a great way to draw a child into the world of books and reading. That led us to create audio stories for children to create a culture of listening to stories in the child’s home environment.”
Radio Mirchi recorded stories in many Indian languages under a project called Mirchi Cares. And with mobile phones available in most households, it became a powerful and scalable distribution medium. The idea was to ensure that the parent did not pay for the story. “That’s how we thought of exploring the ‘missed call’ idea,” says Shah. Exotel created the framework to deliver the audio stories and support the campaign.
The campaign, the first leg of which was held last month, received close to 5,000 missed calls. “The stories are the ones we print at Pratham Books. They are available on print as well as digitally,” says Maya Hemant Krishna, community manager, Pratham Books.
C. Pallavi Rao Narvekar, group head, Radio Mirchi Corporate Social Responsibility, talks of how stories have been recorded not only in Hindi and English but also Urdu, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Marathi. Voice volunteers from various Radio Mirchi stations volunteered their time and talent. Most important, all the stories and books used for the campaign are available for free online at www.storyweaver.org.in and www.soundcloud.com/prathambooks.
During the campaign, callers also received an SMS that gave the online link to the story.
Volunteers such as Dharmaraj Solanki printed a placard with the campaign phone number on it and attached it to his backpack.
“My favourite moment was when a father read the placard, gave a missed call, heard the story — and had the widest smile I had seen in the longest time. The first thing he said was ‘I’ll go home and ask my daughter to listen to a story in Hindi and English. She loves stories and she is learning English too.’”
Kunal Ray teaches English literature in Pune and writes on art and culture.