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At IGNCA Kathakar Festival Storytellers Entice Both Children and Adults

In Entertainment, Nation
November 14, 2016

On a warm Saturday morning here Jaishree Sethi was among the earliest to take the mike and narrate a folk tale from Rajasthan. Sethi’s tale of a water carrier was among the numerous stories that captivated the minds and hearts of the young and old alike at the sixth edition of the Kathakar- International Storytellers Festival, hosted by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Nivesh.
Day two of the three day-event that began on November 11 at the lawns of IGNCA saw Katy Cawkwell, Giles Abbott and Jaishree regale the audience with their tales.
The Delhi-based Sethi soon got an audience of children involved in answering a string of brain teasersbritish-storyteller-giles-abbott-storytelling-session-at-kathakar-at-ignca-in-new-delhi-the-3-day-festival-which-began-yesterday-brings-together-storytellers-from-india-and-abroad before plunging into another folk tale from Rajasthan.
For Cawkwell, who is visiting India for the first time said it provided her an opportunity to share her stories more widely.
“This is my first time at Kathakar, but I have heard from other UK storytellers how the audiences are much more enthusiastic participants in the story, so I have chosen stories where there is an element of this,” she said.
“I first heard a professional storyteller when I was 13 years old have been working as a story teller for the past 20 years. The thing that I love about storytelling is that is very flexible. I have told stories around campfires and while walking on mountains. It is a good art to travel with,” said Cawkwell.
She said she found people in India very enthusiastic and friendly. “It is a challenge for me to tell stories in English for some children who are not very fluent in the language but they are very responsive to the actions. I believe stories bring joy, they bring people close,” said Cawkwell who has a session devoted to birds.
Abbott, also from the UK who lost his eyesight partially in 1994 and found that he could bot read books and stories. “I used to listen to stories told by somebody else and remember them and try and tell it my way. I like to tell stories for adults more than children,” said the narrator who specialises in Viking and Celtic tales. This is the second time that Abbott is participating in the Kathakar Festival of the IGNCA. The professional storyteller’s repertoire includes narratives based on historical characters like A O Hume and the British poet Alexander Pope.
This edition of the Kathakar, co-organised by the NGO Nivesh, runs for one more day in Delhi before moving on to Mumbai and Bengaluru.
“We usually hold festivals all across the country where we invite authors from various countries to come to India. Nowadays children rarely live with their grandparents and such oral storytelling is on the decline. We hope that children get tochildren-listen-raptly-to-a-performance-at-kathakar-at-ignca-in-new-delhi-the-3-day-festival-which-began-yesterday-brings-together-storytellers-from-india-and-abroad listen to a range of stories across different cultures. It is an attempt to open the world and imagination to the children especially the underprivileged,” said Prarthana Bisht from Ghummakkad Narain, one of the organisers of the festival.
“It was an amazing experience for me I learnt a lot and loved to listen to stories by Jaishree and the two storytellers from Britain,” said a school student.
Another student who had witnessed Giles Abbott’s performance in the last year’s edition of Kathakar brought her friends along this time. “Giles is a brilliant storyteller, I love listening to him,” she said.
Other highlights of the festival include a ‘Qissebazi’ by poet-actor Danish Husain from Mumbai and a panel discussion on ‘Contemporising Stories’ besides a Kamishibai group from Japan- Spice Arthur, which specialises in traditional Japanese storytelling.
Previously there were performance by a shadow puppetry troupe from Kerala who enacted a portion of the Kamba Ramayana via the ritualistic art form of ‘Tholpavakuthu’.
“Although we have performed in Delhi before, this is the first time were did a daytime perfomance. Usually the tholpavakutthu is done using leather puppets which cast shadows from behind a dark background screen,” said K Vishwanatha Pulavar of the Tholpavakuthu Sangam.
Sarah Rundle, a professional storyteller from the UK used no props and relied on her voice and animated gestures to narrate stories from the Silk Route. Those included the story about a “boy who drew cats” and another one from China about a woman and her pig, where she got the audience to sing along with her.
“I absolutely love to tell stories. This is the second time I am performing at Kathakar. Children are the same everywhere; give them a good story and they are hooked,” said Sarah.
“The idea is to showcase different trading of storytelling across different cultures. These nechildren-participate-in-jaishree-sethis-performance-at-kathakar-at-ignca-in-new-delhi-the-3-day-festival-which-began-yesterday-brings-together-storytellers-from-india-and-abroaded not be just contemporary stories but can be a mix of both old and new. It is fascinating to hear stories from different parts of the world, ” IGNCA Programme Director Dr Mangalam Swaminathan said.
She said this year the festival is being expanded to Bengaluru for the first time.
Misako Futsuki, Director of Arts & Cultural Exchange, The Japan Foundation, adds, “We are very happy to invite Spice Arthur since we hardly have a chance to invite a storytelling group from Japan. We have traditional storytelling in Japan, although it’s disappearing in this fast changing world. Spice Arthur is trying to make it more lively and exciting with their original interesting way of storytelling. It’s rapid, rhythmical and entertaining with interesting stories. I’m sure, people in India will love them!”
Another first is the festival’s partnership with BookASmile who are the Supporting Partners for the festival. Farzana Cama Balpande, Head- BookASmile said, “Listening to stories is such an integral part of childhood. In the days before screen media overtook our imaginations, we depended on stories narrated by our parents, grandparents or relatives. This indigenous art gave depth and dimension to our thoughts as we grew up. BookASmile is delighted to support Kathakar in their endeavour to take enriching stories to children across Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.”
The festival aims to support the government of India’s Right To Education Act which mandates reading and libraries for all schools. The idea for the festival is to travel to children and areas where they do not have access to books, stories and reading. The festival works with private as well as state government schools including the municipal and state government schools as well as NGOs. Books are also donated to schools to start class libraries where there are none.
The festival so far has been addressed by the likes of (Late) Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Margaret Alva, Sunil Shastri, Mohit Chauhan, Nandita Das, Sushma Seth, Emily Gravett, Joanne Blake, TUUP, Joseph Baele, Xanthe Gresham, among others.