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Once upon a time...

Have you heard the story of Scheherazade? Manoj Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Apr 23, 2011 22:38 IST
Manoj Sharma

Have you heard the story of Scheherazade?

She was a Persian queen who cheated death by telling stories to King Shahryar, who would marry a virgin every day only to have her beheaded the next day, for a thousand and one nights.

Traditionally, our grandparents have been the storytellers who educated and entertained and widened our imagination as children with their bedtime tales. But over the years, the tradition of storytelling came to an abrupt end, what with the emergence of nuclear families in metros. But a group of dedicated people are reviving this 'lost' art.

Storytelling sessions by a whole new bunch of professional storytellers — writers, teachers and theatre persons — are becoming quite popular in the city, which now boasts of some unique spaces for storytelling sessions for children.

The Katha Storyshop at Sri Aurobindo Marg is one such space.

As the name suggests, this is a place brimming with stories — stories stitched and woven into beautiful gifts and toys, stories painted on walls, doors and windows in the form of illustrations and, of course, stories encased in books. The unique space is becoming a hot venue for storytelling sessions for children.

"We are the city's first children-oriented bookshop. We not only sell storybooks and story-oriented gift items but also hold storytelling sessions by professional storytellers. We have even celebrated birthdays in the storyshop where the celebrations were centred around storytelling. Our sessions are activity oriented. Storytelling is becoming popular once again in a big way," says PR Devraj, assistant director, sales and marketing, Katha, an organisation that works to promotes reading habits. The Katha Storyshop, which started in November 2010, has already had several packed storytelling sessions.

The Reading Caterpillar Library, an exclusive children's library started two-and-a-half-years ago in Nizamuddin (west), regularly invites top-notch children's writers for storytelling sessions.

"In smaller towns the tradition of storytelling remained somewhat alive, but parents in metros are now understanding the importance of storytelling. They have realised storytelling is also a stepping-stone for a child to enter the world of arts, theatre, language and literature, " says Rabani Garg, founder of the library and an avid storyteller herself.

Theatre-based storytelling is also becoming popular with many children's theatre groups organising storytelling sessions across the city.

ASSITEJ India, an international network of theatre for children, organises 'Kisse Kahaniyan' — monthly storytelling sessions at India Habitat Centre, where three storytellers narrate stories to children on a given theme to packed audience.

Besides, ASSITEJ also organises 'Katha-o-theatre' at the India International Centre (IIC). It is a theatre performance with strong focus on storytelling. While most modern tale-weavers use various props, picture, puppets, music and dance, voice and body movements play a key role in narration of stories.

"We use only basic prop, costumes and music if it adds to the narration and helps bring out the situation. Folk stories and stories by writers such as Ruskin Bond and RK Narayan are very popular," says Imran Khan, a storyteller under the aegis of ASSITEJ.

"More and more urban parents are realising that storytelling is the best way of inculcating reading habit in children and, more importantly, connecting with their child," says Nilima Sinha, president, Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children (AWIC).

In 2007, AWIC organised an international conference on storytelling at India Habitat Centre which saw about 40 narrators from across the globe.

Many parents have also not been able to escape the pull of the art of storytelling — many are taking certificate courses in storytelling to be able spin mesmerising tales for their children.

Even corporate houses are holding storytelling sessions for their employees for team building exercises, improving communication skills and instilling in employees a sense of responsibility and ownership.

"I train about 100 people every month in storytelling and 60 of them are parents who want to be good storytellers to their children. Our storytellers often get invited for storytelling at birthdays. We also organise a lot of sessions at corporate houses as we specialise in adapting old stories for modern application. We use pictures, puppetry, drawing and role play to tell a story. We also work with a lot of schools," says Geeta Ramanujam, director of Kathalaya, an organisation that promotes storytelling.

Kathalaya will also be organising a story telling festival in various cities in the country in July, where local as well as foreign storytellers will participate.