The Storytelling Revolution

In November 2018, I was in Singapore attending the FEAST storytelling conference spearheaded by international storytelling legends. I happened to attend a session led by the godmother of the Singapore storytelling revival, Sheila Wee. She was gentle and so polite, but her words hit home: “You send a story out into the world to do its work. You never know who will take your story to heart, who will remember it and send it out into the world again. You just keep on telling the stories, knowing that some will hit home and some will not, but also knowing that if you don’t tell them, then nothing happens at all.” I was hooked.

As I struggled along on this storytelling journey I have leaned heavily on the generosity and kindness of storytellers who are further along the road than me. There was Sherin Mathews, a professional storyteller from Mumbai, who helped me perfect a story that I wanted to tell “at risk” children of marginalised communities in Delhi. There was Trupti Srikanth, story coach for educators in Bangalore, who taught me how to pitch for a storytelling assignment and also the ways in which storytelling can address issues related to teenage sexuality. Eric Miller runs the World Storytelling Institute in Chennai. If you ask me, storytellers are poised to take over the nation!

THE ORIGIN STORY

Every Indian storyteller is quick to acknowledge the pioneers in the field. Geeta Ramanujam established Kathalaya (the house of stories) in 1998, which offers certification courses in storytelling. It has already trained 70,000 people, so now we know where a large number of storytellers are coming from!

Jeeva Raghunath is another giant on the storytelling landscape who has performed at over 20 storytelling festivals all over the country and has trained 25,000 children and adults in the art of storytelling. These two ladies showed the rest of us that storytelling could be a profession. It was their inspiration that turned many into storytelling entrepreneurs.

STORYTELLING AS EDUCATION

According to Danish Husain (actor/poet/storyteller), “Storytelling is integral to our process of comprehending and learning. We are able to retain the learning for longer if it reveals itself through a story. That is because things, when learned through experience, create a stronger impression, and storytelling creates an experience almost akin to a physical one sometimes. So, when people come out of a story, it is almost like they have journeyed through experience and hence the retention is stronger.”

This explains why storytelling is increasingly finding a spot in education, from rhyme and rhythm tales at the pre-nursery level to more complicated stories told to counter substance abuse and traumatic stress at adolescent level classes.

CAN STORYTELLING BE TAUGHT?

Rituparna Ghosh, who teaches storytelling to teacher trainees at Delhi University, believes that we are all storytellers at heart. It is a superpower that we may have forgotten, and she considers it her mission to remind teachers of the power of stories. A retired teacher came up to her once after a workshop and said, “I feel like I have wasted my thirty years in education. Why didn’t someone tell me about storytelling earlier?”

The good news is that storytelling has grown by leaps and bounds over the past five years, both as pedagogical practice and as corporate strategy. As Rituparna explains, schools and companies are increasingly integrating storytelling activities into their curriculum and budget.

Ameen Haque has coached senior corporate leaders on the application of storytelling to problems like innovation, change management, and conflict resolution. He has also evolved a story-based curriculum for sex education. “No matter what you do, you are a storyteller,” he exclaims. Leaders must tell their vision story well; salesmen must tell the product story. Whether you are pitching to investors or looking for funds, you have to learn to tell a good story.

That is why a storytelling revolution is brewing in this country. Should you decide to be part of the movement, there are plenty of workshops and storytelling networks to help you. There are mentors and guides, open mics and story festivals. Discover your superpower! Come, tell a story!

Focusing on Literature and Lifestyle of the Urban Youth of the Country, LitGleam is a monthly magazine, an intrinsic part of BlueRose Publishers.

Within its pages, our readers find provocative essays on literature and lifestyle, guidance for getting published and pursuing writing careers, in-depth profiles of poets, fiction writers, and writers of creative nonfiction, and conversations among fellow professionals.

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