We have all spent our childhood listening to stories from grandparents and parents. Stories used to be one of the most popular ways to keep children engaged and in the process children would develop love for folktales and stories and spend hours listening to them spellbound. But with the advent of digitization and screens, the tradition of storytelling has taken a backseat. However, Deepa Kiran, an oral storyteller from Kolkata has still not let the tradition slip away from young minds and continues to carry forward the custom as a professional.
A globetrotter, who has covered almost the entire map of India and ventured into foreign shores like Indonesia, Columbia and others, loves to follow her passion of telling stories to teachers and students alike. “I like to use contextual stories and train teachers of English Literature in oral storytelling so that they can reach out to students through this art. My art of oral storytelling is mixed with other creative forms like dance and music which makes it more interesting. For the past 10 years I have trained more than 75000 teachers and through them have reached out to countless students which makes me deeply content,” shares Deepa who has been visiting schools in rural and urban areas of different countries.
Reaching out through the art of storytelling
“One thing I have noticed during my work is that most people have forgotten the joy of listening but whenever they hear about “oral storytelling”, it brings back memories of their childhood and creates a sense of nostalgia. However, over the years I have realized that it is important to include creativity, in the form of music and dance, in the art of storytelling to keep the listeners captivated. From my childhood my mother has kept me engaged through dance lessons and violin lessons so I knew these art forms well. Also, my father was a bibliophile which had turned me into an avid reader. I learned to put all of it together into the storytelling process, making it highly interesting,” says Deepa.
Deepa Kiran regularly gives lectures at the International Training Programme at the English and Foreign Language University where 60-150 people from more than 70-80 countries attend her lectures, in order to learn English. Due to the pandemic, the lecture series are now conducted virtually.
“However, the process of oral storytelling has its challenges as my audience is often clueless about how it will be, but once it begins, people literally end up falling in love with it’, adds Deepa.
Process and approach
“My approach depends on my audience and is tweaked accordingly. I set the ball rolling with a brief description followed by a small intro, and then I move forward with my stories. As I travel to different schools across the rural and metro cities, I see that every student’s perception is different and I adjust my stories accordingly. This at times becomes a challenging task,” shares Deepa. According to her, students in the metro cities are more gadget and tech friendly, hence their perception about stories differs from students in rural areas where stories still amuse children greatly. “I enjoy identifying with different cultures and backgrounds which helps me to connect with my audience at different levels” Deepa enthuses.
Oral storytelling is indeed challenging if we talk about it as a profession. “From being a gold medalist, to pursuing a job in the corporate for some time, to doing my MA in English Literature and finally stepping into this profession – required lots of courage. I had my own sets of challenges both at the personal and professional front, but I know that every field has its own challenges. If we have chosen something, we must be ready to face the consequences as well. Following my passion for storytelling, traveling to places, working as a part time anchor for different events to managing my two high school boys and bringing them up all by me – sums up my journey. This is what I have chosen and at the end of the day I have no regrets,” notifies Deepa.
Future innovations in the field of storytelling
“I would love to give the art of storytelling a contemporary feel and also give it a universal appeal. I am working with a community from Andhra known – the Leather Shadow Puppetry – who has an interesting story to share. I would love to dive deep into their traditions, background, origin and culture and include their tales in my storytelling sessions. Through this we can bring back old traditions into the storytelling process and attract contemporary audiences. I want to work with more traditional oral folk-storytellers, make each English language teacher proficient in storytelling and finally, include more local context into classrooms” signs off Deepa merrily.