In this jet age when even the humble story book has changed avatar emerging as an e-book, a group of enthusiastic youths have dared ask the question “What are we without our stories?.” In their quest for an answer they have launched an earnest crusade to conserve and promote the art of oral storytelling and tribal oral history.
The result- Darjeeling is all set to get a Mountain Centre for the study of indigenous storytelling traditions. The fund raising programme for the Centre is projected to create two new world records- painting a watercolor 100ft X 200ft and the highest number of people sporting “Big Foot” slippers.
It all started with Salil Mukhia, a youth from Darjeeling, working as a music teacher in Nepal. “I got a lot of scope to listen, record and also write notations of folk songs. As the songs started to interest me, I delved deeper to realize that most of these songs are based on folktales which have been handed down from generation to generation in the form of oral storytelling” stated Mukhia.
Mukhia returned back to India and with like minded friends founded the “Acoustic Traditional” (AT,) an independent Bangalore based non-profit organization.
“It had started as an independent classroom project in Nepal. It now has committed individuals, storytellers, volunteers from India and around the world. Our aim is to encourage the preservation of various myths, legends and stories that have been integral part of indigenous mountain and forest communities, vis-à-vis their cultural, environmental, spiritual and scientific heritage. It is also to creatively engage mainstream communities through storytelling” added Mukhia.
AT will launch a campaign that will run across Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai and will involve painting the biggest colour artwork on the folklore surrounding “Yeti” and “Ban Jhankri.”
“There is a shared perception that Yeti (abominable snowman) and Ban Jhankris are one and the same; that they are not real beings but are guides to the spirit world- the ultimate shamans from where shamanism emerged” stated Mukhia.
The painting “Feri Yeti” (Yeti revisited) will measure 20,000 sq ft and will be completed by Mukhia and Anurag Pradhan using 3,500 art papers (finally to be pieced together) in Darjeeling on May 15. The “Big Foot March” (Yeti is also known as the Big Foot) will involve a march or gathering of young people as a symbol of national solidarity on the need to keep our indigenous oral history and folklore alive, sporting “Big Foot” slippers on the same day.
“Later the art work (3500 art papers) and the slippers will be sold as a fund raiser for the Centre” stated Mukhia. In the past also AT has made its way in the Limca Book of Records, creating a national record with the longest digital art panel measuring 123m on November 2, 2010 at the Paljor Namgyal Girls School in Gangtok, Sikkim entitled the “Great Story Wall Project.” “This time we are aiming for both Limca and Guinness Book.
With a key focus on this region, the Centre, the first of its kind in the country, will look at various aspects of the work that will not only sustain the tradition of story telling which is on the brink of extinction but also ways to empower communities and individuals who remain on the realm of knowledge of such practices. From village folklore to shamanistic storytelling, the Cnetre will look at creating collaborative processes of conservation and revival tools. It will work on the concept of intangible heritage. Work will involve research, study and documentation.
“The idea of such a Centre evolved during a 3 day workshop in Sikkim last year which involved 12 storytellers and shamans from the Darjeeling Hills, Sikkim, North Eastern states, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu” added Mukhia.
“The Centre will help preserve our rich culture, tradition and customs. One has to realize that these are our roots. If we get detached from our roots we stand to lose our society” stated Kachu Lepcha, teacher in a Sikkim College and a practicing shaman and storyteller.