Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shall I tell you a tale?

(This guest post has been written by Prasanth Vijay with inputs from Avinash Maurya)

Shall I tell you a tale?

Of oceans and streams...

There was one Scheherazade, for whom each story she told added another day to her life. And there were others who lived to tell tales. In India, telling tales were no mundane deal. It was an art perfected over the centuries. And those tales- they took the listener to worlds unknown, built castles, made heavenly beauties dance, waged wars and inspired him to create stories of his own. What's more, they could even transform daft princes to able kings, challenge mainstream history and form bedrocks for religions! Such a plurality of them we had, so that just one of our texts of stories called itself "the ocean of the streams of stories". And how many such oceans there were! Add to this a whole legacy of tales in lores, ballads and songs which were never written down but only narrated- from one generation to the next.

In a past not so far away our children also listened to stories- from kindly grandmothers who put them to sleep, from ingenious mothers who employed tales to make them take their meals. But so much has changed now. Those grandmothers, themselves addicted to the saas- bahu soaps and those mothers, forced to slog all day long at their workplaces, find no time to tell tales to their children. Call it the upshot of technological development and economic advancement, we have lost something that ensured the flow of a rich culture and an abundance of values through the ages.

Of 140 characters...

The recent rendezvous of Avinash Maurya, a young entrepreneur behind the MBA coaching portal handakafunda.com, with story telling started with a modest 140 characters. Social media enthusiast and very active in Twitter, he was drawn to @soundcloud's tweet about the launch of free audio books by @prathambooks. His admiration for the concept increased when he read more about the idea. What happened then is a tale in itself, better heard from the horse's mouth.

Over to Avinash: "By that time, I knew I wanted to use those stories in some way. But didn’t know how. Soon, I landed on soundcloud.com/prathambooks page and scrolled through the list of stories uploaded. Pratham Books knows its readers really well. I felt so when I saw the same stories told in various languages. Suddenly, I knew how I could put these stories to their best use. I downloaded the hindi version of 'Pehelwanji' and 'Royal Toothache' thinking it would be a great way to learn and have fun for the kids my mom teaches."

Well, his find proved to be more than rewarding in a few hours. The next day when Devilal, Kamala, Ravi and Arjun, 5 to 10 year olds from the nighbourhood, came in for their daily dose of fun and studies, they were surprised to see a laptop on the floor. Avinash continues, "My mom quenched their curiosity regarding the laptop and told them about the stories that were to be played on it. Like all kids, stories had always excited them. My mom had recited the stories of Snow White and Imaandar Lakadhara to them earlier. But in this new digital era, I personally wanted see the reactions of kids to this new way of storytelling."

Arjun,Devilal and Kamala listening to Pehelwanji



The children were instantly captivated by the stories. They laughed out loud at the silly suggestions of the donkey to the tiger in the 'Royal Toothache' tale and the diet of Pehelwanji. It was the style of narration that made them listen more intensely. The message of the stories were also conveyed easily. However, the best part of the whole exercise came a couple of days later when children could recall not only the stories but also the small details like how many rotis did Pehelwanji eat and which animal was the doctor in 'Royal Toothache'. Ravi, the youngest of them all, could recite parts of the stories to his brother Arjun.

Everyone having fun and Ravi looking at the camera

Of small steps and long journeys...

Jack Dorsey, the creator and co-founder of Twitter recently tweeted, "Amazing to consider how the simplest technologies have shifted civilization in deeply meaningful ways." Though it's extremely apt about the platform he built, it is as true about initiatives like this one. It's a time when the world is increasingly realising that there is lot more to education than that gained inside classrooms. Radio mirchi and Pratham Books have taken a small step in that direction. What makes this particular tale more interesting is that the kids to whom this new world has opened up never knew of its existence. Their parents were busy earning one square meal a day and the teacher at the government school never bothered. Now they can learn and have fun at the same time. In a still broader sense, Pratham Books has ensured that the centuries-old stream of our culture is not dried up, that generations to come will also have the company of those tales...

Roma Maurya (Avinash's mum) and the children experience the digital era of storytelling

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