Every Diwali night, I’d sit in front of my father, and get him to tell the ‘Papa Bhaloo’ story. It had space travel, talking animals, and candy-laden trees. The story has stayed with me. Another storyteller, my nana, rhymed words, and weaved them into stories with trains, animals and a lot of sound effects. He’d go for his evening walks, I’d climb on his shoulders, and he’d tell me tales – really tall ones. All those stories stayed with me.
All of us have stories we grew on – Folk tales, some ‘real’ ghost stories told in the dead of the night, some made up right then to distract us from the pain in the scratched knee. All of us have tales that we half remember, and half make up to tell to our children- to infect them with the absurd, delightful world of words. I was forever walking on candy clouds, dreaming of little people in the drain, and giving words to the chatter of birds outside my window.
So naturally, when her little grandson moved away, stories were the only passage to his world there, my mother figured. And hence she stumbled into the world of podcasting. Every night, she would diligently record tales that she remembered from her own childhood and ours, and podcast them. Gradually, other children discovered the stories and soon it grew. Story after story she honed her story telling skills, and fell in love with the ritual. Now, all four grand children have grown beyond those tales but there are hundreds out there who regularly listen to her stories told in Hindi.
First there were the folk tales, then there were the mythological ones and then she started running out of stories. Who could have imagined! No great stories to tell! We surfed, scoured bookstores, dug up dusty old books – but all ended in the copyright complications. That is when I accidently stumbled upon Pratham Books’ Muchkund and his Sweet Tooth. Just to be sure, that there are no copyright violations, I mailed to them and to our delight, we were told that we were free to podcast and share it! Within days the story had audience figures running in four figures. If one story did that, imagine what hundreds others would do.
So, while a child of Indian origin in the United States hears the story, since his parents found a tool for him to be in touch with his roots, a bunch of kids that gather around at Shishu Greh (home for abandoned children) to listen to the stories, also giggle. When I leave the stories on the iPod, my older one who pretends to be a grown for most part of the day, sneaks up, and listens to them before hitting the pillow. The little ones who come to our place laugh through their missing front teeth while I play the podcasts for them. Why, there are times when in the name of good parenting, I have sat there, and listened to them myself! Stories are a great leveler – age, literacy, economic class – all labels are blurred by the joy of listening to a good story.
On the World Literacy Day, when we told the story, ‘Paplu, the Giant’ to children who had never heard a tale before in their lives, we had no idea we had infected them too! We found them next day, at our doorstep, wanting to go to school, wanting to hear more. They had been just found by a tale. That’s what stories do – they find you, enchant you, change you, and then stick with you forever.
If just one story could do that to a bunch, imagine a world of stories for a sea of children everywhere. Imagine each child being found by a story, enveloped by it, and led into the world of words. It is here that organizations like Pratham Books come in.
They relentlessly battle to make sure that a story finds each child – from Karishma in the slums behind my college, to a bunch huddled under the tree in a remote village upcountry. They bring beautiful books with vibrant colours and lovely stories closer to these children. However, what we see is how beautifully they bring stories alive, and what we somehow miss the constant struggle behind it. To work on shoestring budget, with huge dreams for so many children out there is no easy job.
Hence, I hope that each one of us pitches in – to make sure that there is no child who doesn’t know what a giant is, or where the tiny people live, and what a candy cloud looks like. So here’s to them, to more stories following more children, to grandmas never running out of stories, and to children discovering themselves in the wonderful world of words.
So how can you and I help? As of today, just by clicking here and joining in. Be a part of the #PBChamps programme. The idea is to use one book to conduct reading sessions. These sessions are conducted free of cost and mostly with children from under-served communities.
Go ahead and welcome some children into the world of stories.