How to be a Story-teller?

From where do writers, authors and story-tellers get their creativity, their stories? We have all wondered? From where does a story-teller’s journey begin? What inspires the story-tellers? How do they ensure that the audience and reader’s attention is not lost? How do they decide what story needs to be told and the manner of telling or unravelling a story?

At Kahaani, we asked some of our story-tellers these very questions and more.

Read on, to know more about Aditya Roy, Pavithra Chari and Valentina Trivedi’s journey.

Kahaani: What is your earliest memory of being totally spellbound by a story? What captivated you – the content or the narration/rendition of that story? Valentina-4 Valentina: Books were an integral part of our home in the pre-TV, pre-computer times, so it is not so much a single spellbinding experience as it is an awareness of growing up with them. My fascination and interaction with story books started even before I could sit up by myself! Pavithra: My mother and brother used to tell me a lot of stories as a child. And each story had a strong narrative, theatrical gestures and sounds. What fascinated me was the attention to detail in every part of the story, whether it was the characters descriptions and their behaviors, and the setting or context of the tale. Thinking about it now, a lot of life skills were indirectly talked about through the stories, like problem-solving, conflict resolution and decision making. Aditya: My grandmother telling me the story of Durga. Just the scale and power of those involved was incredible. Kahaani: What inspires you to be a storyteller and what art form do you use to tell stories? Pavithra Valentina: The famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, 'I write for the same reason a cow gives milk.' It's inside you and has got to come out. My inspiration to tell stories is a similar compulsion. I started as an oral story teller but now also enjoy writing some stories I tell- for grown-ups and children. Pavithra: My passion for the performing arts like music and dance along with my keen interest and education in Psychology encouraged me to take up Expressive Arts. Aditya: I felt like there was something inside that was bursting to be expressed. I wanted to tell stories; primarily epics that I hoped would inspire people like they inspire me. I use my martial arts training, theatre and music to tell stories. Kahaani: From where do you source stories? Do they just happen to you or you do you go story-hunting? Aditya 1 Valentina: The ones I write just happen. They are inspired by Nature. For adults I enjoy expanding Indian folk tales and embellishing with my own detailing and addition of quirky characters. But I also enjoy book browsing and picking up stories which appeal to my sensibilities. Aditya: I source my stories primarily from the ancient - medieval mythology of the world. Mostly I tell epics but I also love to collect local stories. So if I go to a village in India with an old temple, I'll try and get the locals to tell me the stories of that temple. I also look for the oldest source or form as well as the cultural connotations of whatever story I wish to tell. Kahaani: What connects the different art-forms - dance, music, theatre, puppetry and cinema and storytelling? Valentina-3 Valentina: All these are mediums of artistic expression. I find life to be a continuous journey of learning and expressing and every human being should find a medium of expression to dabble in, even if not taking it up as a career. It leads to inner growth as well; an umbra of our collective neglect. Pavithra: A strong and powerful narrative connects all of them together. They are all aimed at giving the listener/audience an audio visual experience and lead the artists to deep introspection and self-awareness. The idea is to convey and create something that is reactive and is driven by a strong storyline. Aditya: Most of the stories I tell are connected not by art but by ideas and ideals. The idea of- love, justice, the ideal of non-violence etc. I believe these resonate with humans on a much deeper instinctual level and that is why they are told and re told again and again and again. A story is almost like an ocean. A storyteller is a person on a boat in the middle of the ocean fishing. The boat maybe big or small but the story is always greater, deeper and vaster. Kahaani: In today’s fast-paced digital age, how can storytelling be modified or adapted to hold shrinking attention span? Aditya 2 Valentina: Actually, it amazes me that even in this fast-paced world of shrinking attention spans, listening to stories, even in its most simplistic form, if well done, has the power to hold the listeners’ attention for long periods of time. When you are in the midst of an auditorium full of adults enjoying an hour long Dastangoi performance in pin drop silence, this fact really comes home to you. As a skill, listening is not given the importance it deserves, but I believe it is one of the most important skills we should focus on developing as its importance for personal and professional relationships as well as for addressing problems like world peace, cannot be ignored. Storytelling helps in this development. Pavithra: Though it has its demerits, I personally feel that technology can be used in many different ways that may be beneficial to children. Moreover, the use of body and movement in expressive arts is an immersive experience that keeps participants interested and attentive to the process. I also use a lot of visual arts like drawing, painting as a medium of expression during my sessions. Aditya: I think that traditional ways of storytelling are still relevant. I don’t know where I stand on this subject honestly. On the one hand yes people have shorter attention spans but on the other hand they are willing to sit through 45 minutes of just me on stage with a flute. Kahaani: When we look around, television, cinema, radio, print media and humans, all seem to tell a story. Why do you think stories/story-telling should be made an important component of our education curricula? Pavithra 2 Valentina: Storying [story building in the mind] is one of the most fundamental ways of constructing meaning and us humans take to stories as fish to water so it seems strange that Storytelling is often recognized only for its entertainment value and its utility as a dynamic pedagogical tool is overlooked. With the over emphasis on defined and structured teaching, real learning is taking a back-seat. Using storytelling as a tool for teaching can not only ensure greater learning in each subject, but also develop the vital skills required for a successful personal and professional life later. The two terms which teachers seem to grapple with these days are ‘skill based learning’ and ‘value education’. Storytelling addresses both these competently. Apart from developing higher order thinking skills, storytelling, when used regularly in the classroom, leads to enhanced perception, better comprehension, originality in thinking and improved imagination and expression. These are just some of the benefits that a child can reap if Storytelling is used regularly by teachers. Pavithra: In terms of like skills, storytelling works directly with creativity and confidence. It builds a sense of self -awareness and introspection and at the same time, it encourages us to understand other perspectives. Arts and culture studies must definitely be part of the curricula for they enable personal growth and development of each individual. Storytelling as a medium of instruction may also be used for other subjects. It makes for an interactive and interesting learning experience. Aditya: In a way stories are already a part of our curricula. History is a story, as is Geology, Math, Physics, they all tell stories. But if we are talking about the art of storytelling, then I’ve found it really helps kids expand the boundaries of their minds. I think the problem is the way we present these stories. We force them down kids throats rather than help them explore the rich mythology that belongs to the human race. These stories have moved us for 1000s of years because they appeal to things deep deep inside of us. I think kids who are less conditioned may be able to connect even more strongly with these stories than adults. Kahaani: What role do festivals such as Kahaani play in taking stories from home to public spaces/ communities? Valentina Valentina: Well, the trouble is that there are no stories being told at home! That’s why festivals like Kahaani play a big role in bringing Stories and Storytelling to children, who know not what they are being deprived of otherwise! I call myself a childist [like you have feminists!] as I like to see the world from a child’s perspective and believe me, a child’s world is not an easy one in today’s times. Be it in school or at home, he/she is constantly being told what to do or not do. As parents rush their children from home to school to tuition classes to sports coaching etc., there is no time for free play or activities where their mind has some space and freedom to construct their own learning. A man no less than Albert Einstein said that ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’ and yet we are not giving our children any space to develop it. Festivals like Kahaani, provide children exciting opportunities to listen, create, wonder, imagine and experience the joy of stories in a non-judgmental atmosphere. I wish such festivals would happen more frequently and widely so there are more opportunities for children to enjoy them and connect to their inherent creativity. As festivals like Kahaani also bring talent from places outside the venue city, the children get a chance to experience a wide range of creative talent, which expands their mental horizons. Pavithra: Festivals like Kahaani bring the art of storytelling to the public, specifically to children who have the most to learn from these experiences. They interact with children and introduce them to the magic of stories and strong narratives. Such festivals might inspire children to take up different forms of storytelling and open communication with their peers and family. Stories also connect them with their roots and cultures. Aditya: I was told stories by my grandmother, my mother and my the lady who looked after me and my brother. I grew up with stories from all over the world. I don’t know if kids are that lucky anymore. Festivals like Kahaani expose the kids to stories not just from India, but from all over the world. Stories are as much a part of our history as our monuments, except a lot of these stories are a lot older than most monuments. They form a very tangible link to our ancestors and their world. But they also have relevance to our current world. Their messages/warnings are as applicable now as they were then.