Storytelling, creating impact and awareness
What is it like to make a living by telling stories, creating characters, and capturing people's imaginations? Let's see how it happens!
Indira Mukherjee has been in the storytelling profession since 1990s.
Spinning yarns, narrating stories and tales old as time; there is no better way to bring legends and myths to life than to say them aloud. Delhi-based Indira Mukherjee spends most of her time doing just that. As a professional storyteller, she crafts colourful, vivid pictures and scenarios for audiences simply with her words.
Mukherjee has just penned a children’s book “Ant and Eleph”. The Kindle edition book, now available on Amazon is “actually meant for all age groups. It's about small versus big, ego versus wisdom, love, compassion, it's about inclusion, about organic whole,” the author defines in a nut shell in which Diksha Andotra has done the illustrations and Harsh is the editor.
You must be thinking ‘Professional storyteller?' Yes, there are people who are taking up storytelling as a full-time profession in order to reclaim the worth of the dying art and embrace its relevance. Storytelling has a therapeutic effect on those who listen to it. Whether it's the oral narrative tradition or the art of narrating, storytelling has existed since the dawn of humanity, although its importance might have gradually dwindled over time.
Author of "who will be ningthou", Indira Mukherjee embraced this profession as her bread and butter. Mukherjee, who was pursuing a PhD in political science at the time, decided to chase her passion as a full-time storyteller. Revealing what drove her decision, she claimed that this has somehow been her passion, although it took her some time to pursue it as a full-time vocation.
Mukherjee explains that narrating a story not only fills the space between communicators but also can be leveraged to raise awareness about various social and environmental concerns.
While the purpose of storytelling is to educate children to learn and to read independently, it also has a therapeutic effect on them. Based on her experience in one of her projects, she believes that storytelling can help many.
As relates to the human experience, simplicity is at the heart of any great plot, and we all know that stories let us connect to the simple, powerful parts of our nature that make life worthwhile. A quick Q and A with her reveals many facets of story-telling and her.
The book cover of "Ant & Eleph".
What has your journey been like in storytelling?
This journey has taken me through many different emotions. Like in music, you connect to each and every Sruti, similarly, the road of storytelling has connected me with layers of emotions that might have otherwise remained latent. This journey has culminated in a body-mind connection. It has brought me close to my fellow travellers, regardless of age, geographical boundaries, or the world of imagination, and has at times caused me to merge with this magnificent cosmos. This adventure has carried me into the interiors of our various rural areas, where unrivalled narratives and narrators awaited.
I met traditional storytellers who couldn't read or write and were labelled 'uneducated,' but they touched my core with their insight, which was nurtured by their deep bond with nature, and their sense of humour, which helped in survival.
How did you get into storytelling? what/who inspired you to get into it?
I grew up in a house full of storytellers; my grandma was a fantastic storyteller. My parents used to tell us great stories, and my grandfather was involved in the freedom movement, so we grew up hearing about his experiences in prison as a political prisoner back then. And then afterwards, as a geologist, he travelled widely and discovered coals in many locations.
I still remember that we used to have a huge wooden almirah packed with books. I used to rush back home just to read them. It was an incredible thrill to discover a book and embark on a new journey with the writer. It was simply amazing. In fact, I prefer to read storybooks than my textbooks.
My brother had a vivid imagination. He had an uncanny ability to create stories on the spur of the moment. Unfortunately, he passed away in January of this year 2021.
The young storyteller (in the middle), with her siblings.
With them, I also used to narrate stories when I was young. I used to enjoy their expressions as the storyline I mostly narrate would unfurl. It really was a real treat. And there's a lot to learn about emotions and the layers that exist inside them. That experience remained deeply buried within me and resurfaced when I found myself discontent with my work at IGNOU, where I missed face-to-face interaction with students.
IGNOU provided me with lifetime friends and lifelines, and that is why I worked for four years until an article about Cathy Spagnoli, a remarkable storyteller, came across.
The concept of storytelling as a profession completely awed me. Then and there I made the decision to become a professional storyteller. At that time, I am talking about 1992, there was not a single urban professional storyteller. And so, when I visited schools and told them I was a professional storyteller, students were intrigued. They'd wonder whether there was such a thing as a job like this. I would say, in other countries, there is.
Did you have any ambitions before going into this profession?
Prior to entering the world of storytelling, I was planning to pursue a PhD in political science and study the role of women in politics. But I never considered myself to be driven that way. However, I wanted to work with women and children. I thought that "okay I'll write my thesis for my PhD, and then what? The thesis would perhaps remain within an Almira." And even if I write something, I'll publish it as a book. However, I wanted to do more in the aspect that I wanted to work and participate in work with women. And then much later when I became a storyteller, I had a wonderful project from action mate that was gender sensitisation storytelling.
Since it has been over 2 decades since you started the journey of storytelling, has there been any astronomical difference in the storytelling from the time you began this journey and now?
I wouldn't say there's much of a difference between telling stories to children then and now, in the sense that the narrative captures their imagination and prompts the same type of question they ask. Every child comes from a different background, and that makes a difference; for instance, in a scenario about a joint family, the interaction between a grandparent and a grandchild piques the curiosity of a child who comes from a nuclear family.
In fact, as storytellers, we attempt to present stories to which people can relate while also broadening their horizons.
One of her storytelling session with students.
How did you feel when your work was recognized by NCERT, having every 5th grader enjoy your work "who will be ningthou"?
Yes, I was overjoyed when NCERT called to tell me that they would add the story "Who will be ningthou?"
Before that, I was wondering how many children would even know about this tale. There is a limitation, you know. But, when NCERT included it in their textbook, it reached a significant number of children. In fact, suddenly I would get a call from one of my students telling me about the story proudly.
This particular tale is from Manipur, and I wanted kids all across the country to know about how beautiful our northeast is, it feels like another world.
Children were overjoyed with this tale. This fable illustrates the attributes that a good king must possess. The tale summarises the attributes that every ruler must possess in order to keep the kingdom happy.
You have been outside of India with the purpose of storytelling many times, how has your experience been like on multicultural collaboration?
It's always been a joy to tell stories to children from various backgrounds, and they are enthralled by it. You know in Boston there is a storytelling cafe where numerous storytellers from different places come together to enjoy various types of narratives by their counterparts every Tuesday. There are numerous narrative stories to choose from. I've told many stories from our country, and I've listened to stories from other countries told by other storytellers. It was fantastic since they were all grown up, professional storytellers.
I last travelled in 2013, with the purpose of storytelling. In fact, I had planned to visit last year but was unable to do so due to the pandemic and lockdown. Although a virtual ‘storytelling’ session is still in the planning phase.
What advice would you give someone looking to become a storyteller?
I believe that everyone has their own path to take, so who am I to give advice? Rather I have a request from the heart.
You know, a story can be both creative and destructive. It has the potential to bring about peace, harmony, and inclusiveness. On the other side, it has the capability to destroy and to make others feel alienated. So, my appeal to those who are pursuing storytelling is to share stories with the little one that fills them with full of optimistic future, about the lovely earth we are now dwelling on. As we’re here only for a brief period of time, and some of us might leave without accomplishing our tasks.
For the past two years, people have had to live in a pessimistic manner. Let us endeavour to make this earth a better place for as long as we are here, as long as we have something to find. Simply attempt to bring joy, peace, and harmony. You must be able to think critically. Simply share the love for all humans, for all life's forms, for our flora and fauna.
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