Of Trains And Cockroaches

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Final-poster-jan2ndI think this is a great way to restart this blog that’s been lying in cold storage for almost a year. On Saturday, Jan 11th, 2014 I had  a cracker of a storytelling session at the Rangoli Metro Art Center (R-MAC). First up, it’s a big honour to have performed there, right in the heart of Bangalore city and just below the purple metro line. The folks at R-MAC are doing a fabulous job of promoting the Boulevard as the city’s cultural hotspot. Get this: in one day there was a ‘Coffee Santhe’, a photography exhibition, storytelling sessions and poetry reading, all in the same  stretch of Bangalore’s most famous, MG Road. Whether you’re an adult or child, you were spoilt for choice. The ambience was just what a storyteller wanted: people of all ages everywhere, lovely bright sunshine and the smell of fresh coffee.

So, ‘Tale Trail’, a series of storytelling sessions that will be held at Rangoli, every second and fourth Saturday of Jan and Feb will feature unusual and unheard of folk-tales from around the world. It’s a humble attempt to educate and entertain people about the different cultures of the world through fascinating narratives. I have partnered with two other wonderful storytellers and my dear friends, Aparna and Sowmya from Kid and Parent Foundation to run this initiative.

For the first session on Jan 11th, we decided to tell stories about trains and coffee, in keeping with the ‘Coffee Santhe’ theme and given the fact that we were performing at a train station. The show started with us playing the popular Karadi Tales song, ‘Train.‘ Once the audience was familiar with the beat, we had them sing another song—dedicated  to Bangalore Metro—with the same tune but with altered lyrics that went something like this: “Metro Metro, Namma Metro; Stand behind the line yellow, the train is here and in we go…”  Just a small but spirited way of showing our gratitude to the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation for encouraging art and performers like us.

The first two stories were about trains and  journeys. Aparna and Sowmya do a fantastic job of tandem telling. This time they presented Calabash Cat, a West-African folktale that talks about a cat’s journey to find out where the world ends. Out came the puppets as A & S, invited kids onto the stage to help them tell the story. There was laughter and happiness all around as every child wanted to be up on stage. At one point, all the kids–and that’s about 20–formed a huge train and circled the stage in their quest to find where the world ends! Right after this, Aparna presented a quick segment on the first steam engine and some factoids on George Stephenson, the father of the first steam locomotive. Sowmya then narrated the legend of John Henry, a worker on the railroads. In a poignant story that captured his struggles as a steel-driver in the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in the 1870s; he had to eventually give up his job to a steam powered machine that was capable of laying tracks faster than a human. It was a tale of his prowess with the hammer and his almost super-human strength that kept him going till the very end. Sowmya, known for her inclusion of music in all her tellings, played a clinking tune with a pair of spanners and a hammer, while singing a soft ballad about his life. A brilliant rendition that humanized the railways for the audience.

The final act was mine. I chose to tell the story of Martina, The Beautiful Cockroach, a Cuban folk-tale. I was scouring the internet for coffee-based stories when I found this. What a gem, this one turned out to be. I had to learn the Spanish accent to add authenticity to the story, so I had to listen to some Spanish speakers of English to understand the phonetics behind it. Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek helped! As I was reading the story, I realized I was opening tabs to look up information on coffee, Spanish, Cuba and cockroaches. Did you know Cuban cockroaches (Panchlora nivea) are green? And did you know Kaldi, a goatherd from Ethiopia accidentally threw coffee beans in the fire only to realize that it gave out the most beautiful aroma, which in turn led him to make the first cuppa. And that to me, is the power of story. These are not topics I would look up on a normal day. I mean, I do love my coffee but to scout around for in-depth information on these matters is another issue altogether. One simple story has such far-reaching applications. You can get involved at any level you want. On the face of it, it might seem like a simple, funny, children’s story but can give rise to deep, enriching discussions about related topics. So powerful is the trigger. The reason I ended up reading about all these associated topics is because I was emotionally involved in the story. It made a connection with me. And real learning takes place only when a meaningful relationship has been established. It works the same way for everyone: children to adults. To be able to appreciate something, it must talk to you. Only a story can do that! The quantum of research we have all done to put together this one-hour show has been tremendous. In the bargain we have learnt so much more about this world, about the story behind things we take for granted, about the magnificence in the mundane.

I assure you, once you’ve read about Martina, the roach, you’ll never look at those critters in your kitchen the same way again! This morning when I saw one in mine, I simply swept her out without hurting, while the words “Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha” rang in my head.

From trains to coffee, from cockroaches to Cuba, this Tale Trail journey has begun on an excellent note and has set the tone for the New Year. The next session is on 25th Jan at the Rangasthala auditorium, Rangoli Boulevard, MG Road, 5 to 6pm. Do come over for an evening of stories about freedom and liberty. You never know what you’ll take back home!

-Deeptha

It’s A Carnival!

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The Ever After Story Carnival is coming to town and here are some things you just must do to gear up for the day!

5 Ways to Prepare for the EVER AFTER Story Carnival

Carnivals areteaser2b always meant to have a lot of colors, fun, happiness, excitement and of course prizes and goodies. So what is the EVER AFTER Story Carnival bringing you? Loads of these plus a lot of surprise elements waiting to make your evening a time to remember.

So what you should be doing?

  1. Talk to your friends. Now is the time for some gossip. Make sure you spread the word. Like some good old fella once said – “finders keepers”. Carnivals such as these are not what you get to be in every day or even every month, so make the most of it and do it in the company of friends you enjoy the most. So as long as it lasts, live the good times.
  2. Dress for the event. We love a riot of colors and so dress in your whackiest or trendiest self for the event. Remember, the carnival is just a step before popularity. You can be the most popular girl or boy in town; so win hearts with your style and wit.
  3. Add a big pinch of stories. Who doesn’t like stories? Dragons, pirates, talking animals, the evil witch, the handsome prince, damsel-in-distress, fairytales, the clever detective; we all love our share of stories. So give them a good stir coz they’ll come in handy at EVER AFTER Story Carnival.
  4. Register for one or more event(s) of your choice. You can register in groups of 4 or as individuals. Anything works just as long as you wear your party shoes and are in the mood for some fun.
  5. Have fun. Do we need to remind you that? But that really is the rule for this carnival.

So, see y’all on June 9, 2013 at 3.30 pm because when the clock strikes four; fun will begin to pour!

Aside

I usually don’t tell at birthday parties because there’s cake! And I’m competing against it. The preoccupation in a child’s mind about the party favours, the delicious eats, the games that are lined up and what not are too many. Once I was even signalled by an anxious parent to finish the story fast so the cake could be cut and devoured. And in another instance, I had one inquisitive kid who peeped behind the puppet theatre in the middle of the show and screamed, “Eiiii, it’s Aunty only da!” You can imagine what that led to. Although the money’s great for telling at a birthday, it hasn’t been the most conducive atmosphere, at least so far, so I usually don’t take on those assignments.

It was my neighbour’s son’s birthday. I was invited, not to tell but to chaperone my two-year old. And have some cake, homemade pizza and garlic bread, chips, cookies and juice, in the process. Just as I was on the way to her house, I got a text from her asking me if I would mind telling the story of ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein. I didn’t reply to the message, not knowing how to refuse not only because of my stance on birthday party performances but also because she’s a good friend. Sometimes words fail even storytellers! To make matters worse, I wasn’t carrying a gift.

The table was laid, the song was sung, the candles blown, the cake cut, the eager, hungry tummies filled and the decible levels began to photosoar.  My neighbour asked me if I would tell the story and yes, I agreed. She quickly quietened the kids and sat them down on the floor. “Shhhh…now aunty’s going to tell us a story!” “Listen without making a sound. There’s something for you at the end of the story.” And so, I started. Quickly, the kids caught on to the rhythm of the story and filled in the part, “and the tree was happy”, wherever it appeared. At the end of this very poignant tale, the kids were visibly happy that the tree was finally reunited with the boy she always loved despite him selfishly cutting her down to just a stump. They didn’t think much of the boy, though. And as promised, my neighbour brought out a bag of saplings she had bought as party favours for the kids. “That’s why I wanted you to tell”, she smiled and said.

And I was happy :)

The Given Tree

I am Ever After

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ImageHello! It’s been a great two weeks since the Ever After centre was set up. Quite like a fairy tale, except no fairy Godmothers or magic wands came to the rescue! Just a solid belief in the idea of story-based learning. The actions simply followed. Paulo Coelho says, “When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.” This is specifically true here.

What was a distant dream few years ago has come true today. It was such a pleasure to see the happy faces of those lovely kids and parents as they walked out the door. Their little ones had entertained a modest audience of fifteen people with folktales and fables, with only minimal practice but maximum confidence! Most of all, it was great to know that this small group had been touched by the power of story.

Lots has been said about what stories can do for our psyche. We are after all, made up of stories. What stops us then from using them more extensively at all levels? While I don’t have the power to influence decision makers in every field, I am here to do my bit for Education.

I am here to spread the cheer that stories bring. I am here to help every child that walks through our doors realize what a good story can do for them, for life. I am here to present facts through fantasy, drama and magic. I am Ever After.