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Storytelling joins dots between learning, evolving, community living : Times of India
June 29, 2014

When Vaishali Agarwal attended a storytelling workshop in a city school, she did not expect to be taken in. The storyteller enthralled the audience, most of them adults. Agarwal’s interest saw her travelling to Bangalore to a storytelling academy and learning more about the art.

“I now use the tricks I learned to tell stories to my elder son and have noticed positive behavioural changes in him. His body language has become more confident, he’s won prizes in recitation and is more expressive now. We’ve bonded better too,” she said.

Agarwal and her nine-year-old son are not the only ones who have incorporated storytelling in their lives.

Chetan Shetty, an IT professional, was happy when he discovered an avenue to channelize his dramatic streak. “There is an open group of storytellers in Pune, which anyone can join and narrate his choice of story in his signature style,” he said. “I have been hooked on to it since I started attending the Storytellers’ Group. It breaks the monotony and relieves stress,” he said.

Geeta Ramanujam, a professional storyteller and trainer, founder of Kathalaya, another academy of storytelling, said after 20 years as a teacher she started integrating storytelling in her classes. “I saw it was easier to capture my students’ attention of my students and they could retain whatever I taught if it was done through a story,” she added.

In 15 years, Ramanujam has trained over 69,000 children and adults through storytelling. She has been conferred the Ashoka fellowship to travel to Japan, Canada, Britain and Singapore and help set up academies for storytelling.

Sejal Lodha, who works for children’s education programmes in the city, participated in a course at Kathalaya, and said she has a fan following. “It is a great stress buster for me and for the people who hear the stories. Be it for five minutes or for an hour, you are transported to another worldand learn so many new things,” she said. Sejal has recently discovered the art of storytelling to teach mathematics to children.

Ramanujam “performs stories” for NGOs trying to reach out to abused children or those with learning disabilities. She says storytelling is an excellent tool to address social issues and is even invited by corporate companies to train their employees in soft skills, leadership and hone their team-building abilities.

“Many companies have started hiring a chief storyteller to better convey what the company does and sell its vision,” said Shetty, adding that “it is just another form of communication, but very effective at that.”

Ridiculed at first by his teenage sons, Shetty is now accompanied by them regularly to the storytelling sessions. “My older son wants to become a film-maker and tells me how he picks various styles of storytelling by observing others,” he added.

Randhir Khare, director of Gyan Adab, the centre for promotion of literature and culture, views storytelling as part of a tradition. “That’s how people taught children and exchanged notes from different tribes,” he said. The elderly have a treasure trove of stories to share from real-life experiences and children need to indulge in storytelling and listening to let their imagination grow, he said.

Gyan Adab, along with expert storyteller Peter Viegas, plans regular storytelling sessions for children, for professionals and for the elderly so that they can share and cultivate their community skills.

Viegas wants to bring back the art of storytelling and get people off their feet, telling stories. He says one becomes “more alive to life, and in the age of smart devices bringing isolation, this helps people come closer and develop a circle, a shared space.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he added that sharing stories is more about oneself, as one will find that one likes stories which bear resemblance to one’s persona.

“Be it stories from real-life or fairytales, they are for everyone and each story teaches a lesson,” said Viegas, adding, “effective storytelling can change a situation in someone’s house, can create an impression on your bosses.”

– By Meenakshi Rohatgi