Category Archives: Storyteller’s Diary

Storytelling with Santanil Ganguly under the Kahaani Tree at Bookaroo Children's Literature Festival November 2015

The Misfit Bangali

By | Storyteller's Diary, YSB Stories | No Comments

“Hello?” I whispered.

“Rituparna, Santanil bolchi. Tumi ki aajge Bookaro eshecho?

(Rituparna, Santanil here. Have you come to Bookaroo today?)

Haan, aami eshechi cheleke niye. Aamra ekta session achchi,” I whisper back.

(Yes, I am here with my son. We are in a session now)

“Aami na ekta problem e pore gechi. Pranab aasheni aar amaar session 5 minut e achche. Tumi ki amaar shaathe golpo ta bolbe?” Santanil Da was on the verge of panic.

You see, Santanil Da is a storyteller and theatre practitioner from Kolkata. With Bookaroo going regional, the festival’s focus was Bengali literature and so they had quite a few sessions in Bangla, my mother tongue. The day before I had seen a stupendous bi-lingual story session with Santanil Da and Pranab Da as they performed a story in tandem, matching each step in the story with the same pitch and scale as singers singing duets do. Today his partner in telling, his voice in English hadn’t arrived and he was asking me to step in!

It had been a beautiful Sunday morning for us. I was watching my son attempt his first Nataraj pose, right there in the moment, trying to concentrate and balance. He darted his eyes towards me as I pulled out my camera when he tripped and over giggling! We were at the second day of Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival, the day I went purely as a parent. I have a very selfish approach to anything to do with storytelling. If there are two days to be had then the first is for me while the second is for my story-addict of a son so that we can hop around sessions that he would enjoy. So there we were soaking in the November misty-sun and enjoying a storytelling and yoga session, when suddenly my phone beeped.

“’Kintu Santanil Da…ki golpo bolcho? Aami to jaanina…kono preparation nayi…aar amaar Bangla oto bhalo na!” By now Santanil Da had done the perfect job of transferring his panic to me!

I am a Bengali, born into a household of literature lovers, raised on a bouquet of Bengali children’s stories. I speak Bangla effortlessly, in which my fluency and vocabulary is limited to the colloquial use of the language in our everyday life. But I cannot read or write the language, therefore all the glorious works of the stalwarts of Bengali literature is as alien to me as let’s say Tamil, Oriya or Gujarati literature. So when Santanil Da asked me to translate a story live before an audience, I felt my throat dry up.

How well should you know a language to know it really well? Is it enough to speak it? Or do you need to master literacy skills in a language and be able to read and write it? Why do I consider my working knowledge in Bangla any less than my proficiency in English or adeptness in Hindi? On a scale of language know—how, I have always considered Bangla to be the struggling third. I can understand the language and speak it really well, but then if I was to live and work in a Bengali dominated environment I would be in out-cast.  My English and Hindi don’t have the Bengali twang (something that really surprises my Delhi acquaintances) just like my Bengali diction is not colored by my English and Hindi accents. Despite that I consider myself a misfit Bangali in the traditional Bengali mindset. This was one of the reasons why I didn’t go to Kolkata for college (even though it was close to home). This is one of the reasons why I didn’t pick up work in the city. In my mind I am not Bangali enough…not because I don’t eat mishti, but because I am not literate in my mother tongue.

In my previous life, when I was a television producer my editor asked me to travel with him to Kolkata as he was moderating one of the city’s most prestigious debates. Why me, I asked? ‘You can handle the pesky Bengalis’ he said to me. So there I was negotiating, ordering, directing, guest controlling all in Bangla. My knowledge of the mother-tongue became my secret weapon when I chose to remain quiet as the organizers harangued about our set, using egoistic terms of how we were challenging their ‘prestige’ and ‘image’. Imagine their look when I replied to them in chaste Bangla!

When I chose the vocation of an oral storyteller, my mother lamented, “Won’t you tell Bangla stories? There is a sea of Bengali literature out there. We have so many works at home and pity, you can’t read anything!” My mother was distraught. And she had all the reasons to be after my parents are responsible for me falling in love with stories. As a child I demanded duto golpo duto gaan (two stories, two songs) every night. Two each from each of my parents, and so after 4 stories and 4 songs when they’d creep out of the room I would only pretend to sleep. My grandmother and parents chose stories from Thakumaa’r Jhuli, Pagla Dashu, Sukumar Ray, Upendrakishore’s Tuntuni’r Boi, and legends and fables. With age the stories melted in my memory, some of them faded away. So when I walked down the storytelling path, I wanted to tell stories from my childhood. I wanted to share the same stories that made me fall in love with storytelling. I wanted to recreate the same fuzzy warmth that these stories gave me. But then I couldn’t read. I desperately gathered translated works but my father said, “You cannot translate the eccentricity of Pagla Dashu in English!” But gone are the days of classic old-world Bangla that my parents grew up to. Even I don’t understand them and if I ever have to make the stories my own I have to learn how to tell them in a language that I understand well. But it is the skeptics (like my father) that I fear!

For readers of regional literature, everyone will agree that there are intricacies, linguistic contraptions, colloquial nuances, colourful descriptions that are sometimes difficult to translate. These are always enjoyed in the native language. So when Santanil Da asked me to translate the story and tell in tandem I panicked. What if I didn’t understand the description? What if I didn’t understand the words? What if I didn’t understand the exchange between characters? What if I failed to translate the story in its truest sense? The impact would be lost! For the first time in my life, the fear of storytelling set in.

“Don’t worry, we will go slow Rituparna,” Santnail Da assured me. And true to his word, he broke up the story in small nuggets. The story was new to me, and like the audience listening to a story for the first time, I was part of the same experience. I translated the story in English because that’s what the listeners asked for and as I listened to the story with all my senses, I put in all my energies in telling the story in the same pitch, not translating word by word, but re-telling keeping the magic of the story intact. Somewhere in the middle of the story I told myself, ‘Don’t be scared…you are doing fine!’ and from thereon I began enjoying it. This was my first experience of tandem storytelling, telling a story that I had not read or choreographed. This was a story that I expressed just as I experienced it a minute before.

Mere paas aao mere doston ek Golpo suno...

Mere paas aao mere doston ek Golpo suno…

I use the word Golpo in my storytelling. A song that I sing before my session goes,

Mere paas aao, mere doston ek Golpo suno,

Kahani suno, Qissa suno, ek Story suno.

Mere paas aao, mere doston ek Waarta suno,

Goshta suno, Kathav suno, Gaapo suno

Golpo – Kahani –Qissa – Waarta – Goshta – Kathav – Gaapo are all regional words for the English word Story. A story, as I discovered after this session is perhaps driven by the sheer power of our own mother-tongues and our first touch points for stories in our lives.

I discovered that I was scared of my mother-tongue, and just like some other fears in my life I overcame it with this telling. This story has given me the courage to resurrect the stories from my childhood, rediscover them and share them with my audience. The stories are mine, the mother-tongue is mine.

I am not a misfit Bangali after all!

(This post is written for International Mother-Tongue Day)


ABC of Storytelling Main

A-B-C of Storytelling for Children {Part 2: F – J}

By | ABC of Storytelling for Children, Golpo - Storytelling for Children, Storyteller's Diary, Storytelling Workshop | No Comments

When I was a little child, every night I tormented my parents for 2 songs and 2 stories. My grandmother wasn’t spared either. Since there weren’t such gorgeous picture books as we have today, most stories were shared orally. Even then there were some stories that struck deeper than the others. And perhaps I asked for them more often than not.

Stories from my own childhood were largely forgotten until the time I decided to rewind. As I retraced the steps gathering stories that were orally told me, I regretted my inability to read in Bangla. So I had to settle for English translations of Thakumaar Jhuli and Pagla Dashu in an attempt to reclaim my childhood. But reading a text in English and recalling a story told orally in Bangla doesn’t evoke the same fuzzy feeling as re-reading an old copy of Agathie Christie. What it does however is recreate a sepia-toned memory that comes in flashes. Read More

ABC of Storytelling Main

A-B-C of Storytelling for Children {Part 1: A – E}

By | ABC of Storytelling for Children, Golpo - Storytelling for Children, Storyteller's Diary, The Art of Storytelling, Thoughts on Storytelling | No Comments

Tiny Fingers, Busy Feet

They Go Tap, Tap, Tap & Swing To The Beat

Pick A Book, Read A Story

We’ll Raise A Reader Together, Mommy Don’t You Worry!

And that’s what the Busy Bubs Happy Mums Program promises to mothers. But then is ‘reading’ or the effort to raise a reader only the mother’s? Like everything else that falls in the mommy’s kitty, and everything else that daddy happily shares, the journey towards books and stories must be happily shared between parents. I started reading to my son when he was barely 2 months old, and I often regret why I didn’t start earlier! Don’t pop those eyes, yet…but let me explain.

One, because I had deprived my adulthood of 15 years the beauty of Children’s Literature! Back in the day, we had limited options as far as Children’s Books were concerned, and we didn’t have access to such beautiful picture books! So much so that the ocean of literature out there makes me wonder why don’t they offer a B.A degree in Children’s Literature? I would have been happy to replace Shakespeare with Shel Silverstein or Toni Morisson with Neil Gaiman!

Secondly, because it would have helped the father-of-the-child (who is not much of a reader himself) to acclimatize himself to being surrounded by Children’s Literature. It would have also helped him adapt to his new role as a parent, juggling a book and a diaper with equal ease!

This post is not really about parenting or the importance of reading and storytelling to a child. Let us assume that you are willing to invest in the journey of raising a child surrounded by books and stories. This post therefore is really about the ways you can make reading and storytelling an enriching experience for you and the child.

My personal journey through the world of books, stories and storytelling has multiple narratives, each revealing a different persona. First, there is the self…I am a keen reader myself and I have a special bond with Indian Writing in English. Now of course, my personal reading often struggles with all the amazing children’s books that I read. Then there is the parent who is raising a reader, and making it a bond between us. We have pretty intense discussions about the books we read and I hope I have a buddy in him even when he grows up! We use stories to handle tantrums, to explore our world, and ask questions. We discover expressions, emotions and life through stories. And finally there is the storyteller in me who is driven with a purpose to make audiences experience storytelling and help them harness its power.

So therefore, in order to reach out to as many children as possible through storytelling, I want to help YOU (maybe a parent, grandparent, teacher or story enthusiast) enjoy the process of reading and storytelling to children.

In this 5-part series of A-B-C of Storytelling for Children I am putting in my own experiences as a reader, parent and storyteller, to help you tell better stories.

Are you ready?

ABC 1.2

A for Animals

The choice of the book is always a point of concern. Given that bookstores are dying, I often wonder if the next generation will ever go into a bookstore to relish the tactile joy of books. I am a great believer of allowing a child to pick his/her own books. However, if you are a first timer, or want to make a ‘safe’’ choice, then pick a book with animal characters. It is simple, when in doubt, pick animal stories. Animals are likeable characters and children love them.  The steady formula coming from the Panchantra, to Aesop Fables, classic tales to modern day beauties like the Library Lion, The Tiger Who Came To Tea or The Gruffalo all rest on the steady shoulders of animal characters. The animals may live in their own world mimicking ours, or they may even interact with humans, making the exchange more attractive. Whatever be the formula, I have never found a child question the rationale of having animals that talk.

B for Breakfast – Bathtime – Bedtime

When is the right time to read a book? Or what is the best time of the day to tell a story?  My child is never attentive, every time I pick a book he runs away! I haven’t quite figured the perfect time!

The answer to these questions (that I often get asked) is ‘Any time’! If you want to read a book, begin at the breakfast table. Tell a story when the child is in the tub / shower. Read a book in the car. Continue the story while waiting for the bus. Weave it into playtime, making up stories with toys and random objects in the house. Continue telling a story at bedtime just as your child blinks into story-land. Any time is good time for storytelling, so don’t think twice! As you get on with it, you will realize how easily meals are gulped, how effortlessly falls are forgotten, or the hurt of a toy being broken is overcome. The child will look for comfort in stories, much like your hug and peck on the cheek.

C for Characters

Choose your characters wisely. From ghosts and spirits to thieves and monsters, children’s literature has diverse characters. Many a time stories address real fears that children face, for example, Lemony Snicket’s The Dark addresses the fear of darkness in children so beautifully. Even though he wasn’t scared, my little one cuddled up to me when we read the book for the first time, but as the story progressed, he got comfortable with ‘dark’, not just in the story but also otherwise. In books you may come across characters that scare a child. So take the opportunity to talk about the negatives and have a discussion around them. Equally interesting is the process of finding parallel characters, where the principal character in the story mirrors your child in many ways. So we read books to get comfortable with the idea of ‘starting school’, and before that we read books to get ‘potty trained’!  Yup…I have done it all, and so can you!

D for Diverse / Drama

Don’t restrict yourself as far as reading to children is concerned. Use books as a threshold to explore the world. So we have books and stories from Africa, Germany and Singapore. We have a book that has 4 versions of Snow White & The 7 Dwarves, an Albanian, a Mozambican, a Turkish and a German. We read stories about different festivals, tribes and cultures in India. We read books about Native Americans and slavery. The more diverse your reading list, the better it is for the child, so go out an pick a theme that may be alien to you, one that will reveal a world all so new.

D is also for Drama, because stories are so full of them! There are myriad emotions and expressions hidden between the lines. Spot them, feel them & express them! Reading with emotions comes very naturally to me so much so that even when I am not reading aloud, I am reading with full emotions in my mind! I have used the dramatic trope several times to draw reluctant listeners to a book. Read a book (the way it is meant to be actually read), use your voice and expressions to dramatize it and no matter what, a child will be compelled to sneak up to you and see what’s all the fuss about! It has always worked with me and it can work for anyone!

E for Effort   / Experiment

Yes, reading and storytelling everyday will take some amount of effort. In fact, not just some, but quite a lot! Your child may get bored after a few days and will want new books. You will have to work doubly hard to make the old books alluring for the child. Do children outgrow books? I feel they never have to as long as you find new things to discover in a book! As they keep piling, the books will require bookshelves. Once you start building bookshelves you will realize that you are running out of space! You will need more, not to forget the dust you will have to keep away! You may want to take a membership of a library. Once you exhaust the ideas, you will have to find book-related events in the city. A storytelling class perhaps? Or you may want to explore story-extension activities like drama, art and creative writing. And most importantly, you may go bankrupt! No, actually you will go bankrupt! So you have to work doubly hard to make sure you put the next book on the table!

Reading and Storytelling builds listening skills in children. Therefore bring in innovative experiments to indulge the bookworm. Test the Story Sense (the innate ability in a child to predict what comes next) or ask for an alternate ending of the story. Fractured tales, Tandem Storytelling, Mime are just some of the ways to experiment with the storytelling form. The more you experiment, the more you will challenge your child’s understanding of what is the ‘true’ story. It will also help your child to accept the possibility that stories don’t have to be accepted for the way they are told. Stories are all about possibilities…so push the envelope and help the kids learn to play and experiment with the story form.

Storytelling is for everyone…for parents, grandparents, care-givers (yes, even your child’s Nanny can be taught to tell stories) and teachers (they cannot get away with not telling stories). Not much of a storyteller, are you? Well, then you haven’t found your story bone yet, and maybe it is time to get it tickled! All it takes is an earnest effort to make reading and storytelling fun and engaging…and for everything else there is enough help at hand.

Read all posts in the series ABC of Storytelling for Children.

Did you enjoy this post? Do you have more suggestions for the ABC series?

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Tickle Your Story Bones - Storytelling Workshop

Discovered your Story Bone yet?

Tickle Your Story Bones – Storytelling Workshop

By | Golpo - Storytelling for Children, Storyteller's Diary, Storytelling Camps, Storytelling Workshop | No Comments

“So has your Story Bones been tickled?” I asked to a roomful of excited parents and teachers.

“Yes…yes..yessss!!” yelled back my audience.

“So where did you find it hiding in your body?” I fired the next one quickly.

There was an awkward pause. People smiled back, as if telling me that it is hidden in a secret corner of their soul, one they now know exists but cannot put their fingers to!

I looked around expectantly. Until a teacher rightfully said, “It keeps moving about!” Read More

Stories Solopreneurs Share

Stories Solopreneurs Share

By | Golpo Connect, Storyteller's Diary, Thoughts on Storytelling | 2 Comments

We solopreneurs are a crazy lot! We’ve all chosen to follow our hearts, because our minds would not be at rest if we don’t! We dream, doodle and plan a lot and then procrastinate for rest of the time! We always take on more than what our plates can carry. If we are our own boss then we are also the sales, marketing, receptionist, peon and driver for our business. Ask us and we will also be ready to walk from door-to-door to sell our products and services! Or stand at traffic signals dishing out pamphlets! Our mind is always cluttered with people who we want to work with or meet and talk to, yet we all walk a very personal and lonely journey. We feel over-worked, nervous and excited all at the same time. Our passion fuels us more than the revenue that we earn and even then we land up questioning our dreams, passions and journey every single day.  Read More

10 Lessons from 100 Stories - 2

10 Lessons from 100 Stories : How Ideas Became Stories At HCL Technologies – Part 2

By | Corporate Golpo, Storyteller's Diary | No Comments

Last week I shared the top 5 lessons from telling 100 stories at HCL.

You may ask how different are these stories anyway? In an IT / ITES organization, these are all engineers that we are talking about! When I started writing this piece, I realized that I could actually write 100 lessons from 100 stories! That would mean sharing all the 100 stories!

What makes each of these stories unique is that there is a different client in every case. The complexity of the problem is different. The response to challenge, problem solving and the genesis of every idea is different.

Read More

10 Lessons from 100 Stories - 1

10 Lessons From 100 Stories – How Ideas Became Stories At HCL Technologies: Part 1

By | Corporate Golpo, Storyteller's Diary | 2 Comments

I firmly believe that good stories come to those who believe in the power of stories. Or else how could I ever tell this story of a 100 stories? For every storyteller the story of the first story is always a special one. Quite like having the first child, you are anxious and excited about it. You become responsible. You begin to look at the world differently. You want to be a better person and perform to your fullest potential. And like every parenting journey teaches parents something new about parenting that they hadn’t known of, so does every story teach a storyteller something new about her craft.  Read More

I Am A Storyteller

Once A Storyteller, Always A Storyteller

By | Storyteller's Diary | One Comment

Fancy, how ‘journalist’ was never my choice of professional description. Yes I am trained in journalism and I worked in a news organization for much of my professional career. I also never fancied sitting before the camera to anchor, I thought it too much trouble to look impressionable! The truth is that I never liked describing myself as a journalist. Instead I said what I was, a Producer. To me then and even now a show Director and Producer is where the power rests. I enjoyed immersing myself in stories, interviewing people, sifting through their stories, rewriting them and telling them effectively through visual narratives. As a trainee producer who reported and produced her own ‘stories’ I was hands and feet on the ground. In my fair share of reporting, I have travelled with politicians soaking the heat and dust of Indian elections, door-stepped them for sound bytes,  chatted with celebrities to tell their stories, helped some rewind their lives to the forgotten crevices of their memories and narrating anecdotes. I have meticulously gathered narratives from various sources, to weave stories that have been forgotten. On the way I have stumbled and discovered stories that people have overlooked and yet have to be told loud and clear.  Read More