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When stories transcend borders and cultural differences
Through its storytelling fest ‘Under The Aalamaram’, city-based group Kathai Kalatta is bringing storytellers from the UK, South Africa, Singapore and Kenya to Chennai to weave together different cultures and human emotions through tales.
Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution — more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to,” notes author Lisa Cron in her book, Wired For Story. Storytelling has existed ever since man walked on earth — starting off as tales that were passed on from one generation to another, then as cave paintings, rock art, dance and written texts.
Even with millions of books passing on myriads of stories on a variety of subjects from around the world, we tend to hold the stories that our parents and grandparents told us much closer to our hearts. Realising the power of such narrations, city-based group Kathai Kalatta has been trying to revive the art of storytelling, at a time when a large part of our lives are spent before digital devices.
Through its one-of-a-kind annual storytelling fest Under The Aalamaram (under the banyan tree), the group has been bringing professional storytellers from world over to our city since 2014. These stories are not only humorous and interactive, but promise an insight into various cultures — while making the audience laugh, think and even shed happy tears.
The 6th edition of the festival, that will travel to cities across the country, will see storytellers from the UK, Singapore, South Africa, Kenya, Italy and the US. Each of the storytellers will offer a glimpse of cultures, folk tales, and traditions of his or her country — through tales peppered with tunes and folk songs in different languages.
For instance, Bongiswa, a storyteller from South Africa, will be bringing with her a bag full of stories that talk of South African history — its evolution from the Apartheid regime (racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 to 1990s) till it becoming a democracy. “The stories will showcase our culture, our way of life, talk of human rights and promote reading. During my previous visits to India, I have realised that there are a lot of similarities in the cultures of South Africa and India. The way that the countries value their past and traditions is similar,” Bongiswa notes.
Another visiting storyteller, Craig Jenkins, a Londoner, who has been telling stories professionally for the past 15 years, attempts to explore the aspects of gender and identity through his interactive and playful narrations. “I will be exploring stories with themes that are universal, along with vivid expressions, action and music. When living through uncertain times, especially like the political climate of the UK with Brexit, stories allow us to reflect and find meaning. Even if the story is about a monkey and a crocodile, they stand as metaphors for larger social issues,” Craig asserts.
The co-founder of Kathai Kalatta and a professional storyteller for over two decades, Jeeva Raghunath adds that stories come with a power to cut across creeds and races to unite people. “Storytelling is a way of uniting the world for peace. The audience gets to have a bonding experience with the storyteller through songs and words,” she remarks. After Chennai, the fest will also travel to Coimbatore, Erode and Salem in the state, and then to Delhi and Mumbai. Watch ‘Under The Aalamaram’ in Chennai on September 1 at Museum Theatre from 7 pm to 9 pm.