Friday, February 24, 2017

Notes from JLF : Rohini Vij

For the sixth year in a row, we partnered with the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival and Teamwork Arts to manage to outreach component of the festival. In its sixth year, the Outreach from January 16-25th, 2017 was hosted in 100 schools in and around Jaipur. Here are some stories from the people who added all the magic to the events :

Rohini Vij says...

‘I am a storyteller. I have an imaginary bag on my shoulder and I travel from one place to another telling stories to children like you. All my stories are inside this bag and whenever I have to tell a story I just dig into my bag and pull it out.’

This is what I told an eager group of children at Govt. P.S. Parvatpuri, Gunni school in Jaipur during my first session in JLF-Outreach 2017, organised by Pratham Books.

The thing that really melted my heart was that the children really believed every word I uttered. They waited patiently for me to dramatically dig out a story for them and once I was done telling the two stories that morning a girl with a very concerned expression walked up to me and said, 'Didi please put these two stories back in your bag for other children.’ For a moment I was speechless, I then smiled and clumsily pretended to put the stories back into my bag, much to the satisfaction of the girl.

This one line uttered by the girl has been playing in my head ever since. Picture this, here is a 5 or maybe 6 year old child far away from the amenities some of the children her age are fortunate to have access too. Attending school in old worn out clothes probably passed down to her by her siblings or neighbours, unwashed face, torn bag, oversized slippers, listening spellbound to stories that probably temporarily drifted her away from her world into another, yet so selfless that once she got her share of the stories she wanted to be sure other children like her don't remain deprived of them.

This and many such magical moments describe my experience at JLF-Outreach a fabulous initiative by Pratham Books. Each time I tell stories to children I go back feeling great about what I do. Those few minutes they make you feel like a celebrity. After the story they are bursting with energy and they all want a piece of you, literally! Their goodbyes are full of positivity, their appreciation is upfront, and they are hopeful that you will be back again. That magical rush is probably what makes me want to tell stories more and more. ‘It's almost addictive’, I told Yashdeep a young engineering student from Amity University who was a part of the volunteer team at the festival, when he asked me what I loved the most about my job.

There were some helpless moments too. When I was telling a story at Prayas Inclusive School, a 13 year old boy suffered an epileptic fit during the session. This happened in the middle of the second story I was telling. While the boy’s body shivered and his mouth began to froth I watched him suffer helplessly for what seemed like a lifetime. The children who was so cheerfully engaged till until a moment ago were absolutely silent during the attack - perhaps feeling as helpless as I was. The teachers of course rushed to the boy and tried their best to provide him comfort. He was unconscious for a while before he came around. He was then taken away to rest. I was then asked to resume the session. That was perhaps one of the most difficult experiences of my life. A group of children visibly disturbed after what had happened to their friend and also waiting to know what happened next in the story. For me to transition into my role as a storyteller at that difficult moment was indeed a challenge. Of course I told them the rest of story with as much gusto but the incident truly tested my skills as a performer who was herself experiencing a myriad of emotions.

As I traveled back from Jaipur to Kanpur I felt a sense of calm and joy. I was exhausted yet bubbling with energy. Storied had spilled their magic, yet again. I looked out of the window, it was dark outside yet after every few seconds I saw a glimmer of light.

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