One day, in 1986, a young banker from Kochi, Bina Menon, was on the train to her workplace in Kottayam. Reading and exchanging books, magazines with other regulars were part of her daily commute. That day a fellow passenger handed her a copy of ‘Namaskar’, the Air India in-flight magazine, where she saw a photograph of the Valley of Flowers located in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. Twenty-five years and many, many challenges later she made her way there and saw the valley.
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Now retired, she shared that story on Clubhouse in Kerala Cafe, a Club which hosts a regular Room called ‘Success Stories - People Inspiring People’. Every day, for the past three months from 9 am to 10.30 am, Kerala Cafe has been hosting these ‘storytelling’ sessions where people share stories of success, not always linked to conventional yardsticks – monetary and financial – of success. It has now completed 100 episodes, without a break.
“I wanted to tell people that they should dream,” Bina says. “It will come true at some point. It was so good to share my story there and probably inspire people to keep dreaming and chasing them.” Bina is one of the 1,400-odd people who have shared their stories.
Read More | Clubhouse takes Kerala by storm
Cinematographer Santosh Sivan, an invitee on its Sunday Special segment, counted his childhood vacations spent at his ancestral home in Kerala among his ‘successes’ that contributed to what he was able to achieve in later life. “That is where he observed the play of light, from the lightning on rainy nights and how it fell, to his grandmother’s stories... were the things which shaped his sensibility as a cinematographer,” says Arabind Chandrasekhar, one of the founders. “The stories show that success has a vaster meaning beyond the material.”
Started in the initial days of the social audio app being available for Android users, coinciding with the second lockdown (April-May 2021) in Kerala, founders — Thomas Zachariah, Biji Kurian and Arabind Chandrasekhar, didn’t anticipate the reach.
“It was the initial days of Clubhouse, like most others on it, we did not know much about it,” says Thomas. “Biji and I were trying to figure out how it works and unwittingly formed a ‘room’, where four or five friends were talking about random things when people we did not know started dropping in.” adds Thomas, who runs an IT firm in Kochi. Arabind has an event management company and Biji is a brand consultant and advertising professional. The three of them seek to channelise their expertise – Thomas with tech, Biji’s branding expertise and Arabind’s as an avid reader/storyteller since he has his own podcast.
At one point there were 800 people in the room, the conversations veered towards success. Among the people was Arabind, an acquaintance of the two friends; he had been on Clubhouse longer since he was an iOS user. When he started Kerala Cafe, he intended it as a platform for Malayalis across the globe. A discussion between Biji, Arabind and Thomas resulted in Kerala Cafe hosting ‘Success Stories - People Inspiring People’.
“We have all heard success stories of people who have made it big,” says Thomas. “Regular folk like you and me also have our successes, big and small. We wanted to bring those stories out.” As the days progressed, they understood that this platform had come to mean something to the listeners too. They started numbering the episodes from the seventh one on, at the time they were not sure if it would sustain since the sessions are entirely dependant on participants sharing their stories. The plan now is to complete 150 episodes and move on to Season 2.
None of the sessions is scripted or rehearsed, not even among the three moderators. The conversations are organic, “If there is a ‘starting trouble’, we set the ball rolling and usually it picks up,” says Biji. For some, the narration is easy while for others it takes effort and mustering courage over several days.
One frequent participant ‘raised’ her hand (seeking an invitation to speak) 17 times. “She finally spoke on the 18th try,” Arabind says. “We thought it was a glitch that she was not allowed to speak. It turned out she was not speaking. We found out her ‘success’ story, which was speaking there.” For another it was reading a book, suggested in one of the sessions, it was the first book he had ever read. People have landed jobs, and even joined colleges and universities abroad thanks to interactions here.
“There are so many inspiring stories; a 55-year-old told us he was studying to complete his Class 10. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the people are not motivational speakers but their stories are such a motivation!” adds Thomas. Biji says, “It gets emotional too...some experiences that are shared leave everyone in tears. Some tough stories too are exchanged, people I thought I knew have told stories of grit and struggle that I had no clue about. These are people I have known for ages.”
Since it was started during a time when people had time on their hands, the sessions extended to a few hours. As lockdown eased and people returned to work and other commitments, the team decided to keep it running despite them having to juggle their schedules around it.
‘Sunday Specials’ and guidelines
“We insist on decorum and there are strict no-compromises guidelines, which includes language and opinions expressed. It is not a free-for-all space as people think Clubhouse is,” Arabind says. Only those with display pictures (DP) are entertained, anonymity is a strict no-no. Despite more people returning to their offices and jobs, the club continues to have at least 300-odd listeners daily. While the Monday to Saturday sessions are open to all, Sundays are reserved for special guests like former DGP Rishiraj Singh, artist Bose Krishnamachari, magician Gopinath Muthukad among others.
The feedback for the sessions ranges from ‘inspiring’, ‘relief’ and even therapeutic.
Rather than relief, Biji says, “More than as something that offers relief to people, this club offers solutions or rather a guideline to problems a person or persons might be faced with. Not a precise one but perhaps an alternative way of dealing with it.”
The moderators also have their takeaways, “I have realised that there is a positive and inspiring story everywhere. It is just a question of how you look at it,” says Arabind. Thomas pipes in with, “I have learnt not to judge a book by its cover, be it after listening to stories or based on my perceptions of some of the guests we invited. There is always more to a person than meets the eye.”