The Hindu (Chennai, India), July 6, 2013
Indians are big on stories. This is a land of myths and mythologies; of tales with pious men and brave gods; of stories with carefully masked do’s and don’ts; of tickling anecdotes and gruesome monsters. We have always loved a good story, and we’ve always had storytellers. But, from then to now, the face of storytelling and storytellers has morphed and evolved into something more commercial and professional, but also less localised and farther reaching than ever before.
In the face of rapid urbanisation, mushrooming malls and multiplexes, this ancient art form is somehow making rapid inroads. The Indian storytelling revival has come of age. Stories are no longer just what you hear on lazy afternoons at your grandmother’s house.
In the late 1960s, the Global Storytelling Revival began, with people trying to connect and associate with the past and the present. This involved finding and exploring heritage, identifying with one another and, of course, some good old-fashioned entertainment. Today, India has also joined the movement with its own personal rendition of the revival. With its already rich culture and heritage, and hundreds of traditional storytelling styles and traditions – villu pattu, bommalaatam, phad, chitrakatha and harikatha, to name just a few — the revival has brought together old forms and new applications to storytelling. Efforts made both by the government as well as NGOs, institutes, groups and private players have helped revive and transform storytelling.
Brought on by the revival is also a new and exciting phenomenon— that of professional storytellers. We are in an age where professional storytelling is a legitimate, accepted career choice. Today, there are institutes and colleges that will take you in and teach you to tell wonderful effective stories, and then send you off into the world to actually earn your livelihood by this art.
The Chennai-based World Storytelling Institute, co-founded by Eric Miller and Magdalene Jeyarathnam, is one such example. A veritable home for professional storytellers, the institute brings together threads of different storytelling techniques and styles. It makes use of both the digital as well as the traditional platforms. The institute holds workshops that use storytelling for therapy, healing, environmental issues, educational purposes and countless other projects.
Geetha Ramanujam’s Kathalaya – The House of Stories, in Bangalore, keeps the art form free of digitalisation. Ramanujam, the Director of Kathalaya, believes that the storytelling baton has not yet been passed permanently from bards and folk artists to bloggers and the twitterverse. “It is possible for professional storytellers to stick to the traditional art form and still keep it interesting. When I make presentations myself, I don’t use power points and multimedia, but the reception has always been great. At Kathalaya, I’ve tried to make sure that we keep the old ways of storytelling alive. And it does work. We have hundreds of interested people approaching us for workshops in both personal and professional storytelling.”
Together Geetha Ramanujam and Eric Miller have founded The Indian Storytelling Network, an online portal and confluence inspired by the International Storytelling Network based in Spain and marking the Indian chapter of the Global Storytelling Revival. The Network, in communication with other storytelling organisations around the world, facilitates and assists storytellers as well as festivals and conferences. Its goals focus on reviving and building upon the country’s storytelling traditions and acting as a bridge between performers, trainers and audience.