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Chillibreeze Interview with Geeta Ramanujam
Interviewed by Reshma Krishnamurthy Sharma for Chillibreeze
Geeta Ramanujam is a storyteller who set up Kathalaya: House of Stories, a storytelling academy in Bangalore. It is the first and the only globally recognized academy for storytelling in the world. Geeta uses storytelling as an effective educational and cultural tool in many leading educational institutions in India and abroad.
She has conceptualized a Diploma program as she felt the need to further the confidence of storytellers to take up storytelling professionally. She is also International Storytelling Network’s Indian coordinator.
1. Tell us about your career as a teacher and a librarian. What inspired you to take on the art of storytelling?
I taught English and Social Sciences for over 12 years for classes, nursery to 10th grade at Valley School Bangalore, one of the alternate schools in the city. I believed in teaching everywhere using integrated learning. So I would teach under trees to explain a particular concept and when it came to history lessons to show Indus Valley artifacts, I would take the children to a potter and so on. The teaching career equipped me in dealing with children and I even designed several curriculums. I was then posted as a librarian in the school. I found that children read less so I started narrating stories to them.
It was around this time that I got an offer to conduct a week long storytelling workshop in the city. The workshop was such a huge hit that it inspired me to think of it as a serious profession. I set out to start Kathalaya in 1998 with two others but now, I am the only founder member. The other two have moved on with different interests.
From a teacher who was not even a graduate but who had valuable support from the management to complete her Bachelor of Arts, Masters in Economics, History and Political Science and then do my B.Ed to M.Ed while teaching, the journey has been challenging. I have to admit that getting into teaching was a forced career option for me. I was allowed to work only as a teacher and I had decided to make the most of the profession.
It is wonderful to be recognized by numerous centres and academicians as a professional storyteller. For 16 years, we have trained over 57,400 adults here and at schools and various sectors in the society. I learn something every single day from people I come across, especially children. I have narrated stories to children in urban spaces, children in rural schools and children with special needs. We recorded a set of stories and gave it as a tape to 28 schools for blind children as part of a Rotary initiative. I have traveled to various countries to do performances, to listen to stories and meet global storytellers.
We organize Kathothsava, an annual storytelling festival, our collaboration with the Swedish government to narrate stories. The journey has been marvelous with all its challenges and we hope to do well in the future too.
3. Who according to you is a good storyteller?
One who is grounded, able to communicate with his or her audience regardless of language barriers and is highly creative in communicating concepts. So you need to be highly sensitive and this reflects in your narration and the way you are able to engage your audience.
Definitely! I recall a recent incident at a workshop - I was narrating the story of how planet Earth moves on its axis; a 4-year-old child stood up, started turning around in his position, and said, this is how the Earth revolves! Probably five or six years back, I would not have even narrated such stories to kids but today, I understand that they are up to date with concepts such as hurricanes, science and nature.
5. Is storytelling only for children?
Not at all. This can be taken as a profession if you have the passion and grit to carry on. We have conducted several workshops in corporates where we narrate stories of children to professionals. It helps them in improving their listening skills, communication skills and is a great de-stressor. I have people at the end of workshop telling me they felt child-like and had gone back in memory to their childhood.
Because I love narrating stories with an element of humour, one cannot go on with the same set of stories, I do create them as well. Maybe that would be my line of career in the future as I know I may not be able to carry on like this forever. I have written over 600 articles as a freelance writer. Now I like to write poetry and whenever I think of a new story, I write it as a gist so that I can shape it later.
7. Your advice to budding storytellers
Good storytellers are born. Learn the art of observing things around you and possibly the art of doing nothing (Laughs). Yes, it can make you can think of a situation where the leaf is swaying and telling something to the tree, a mountain talking to its passersby and so on!
8. Are you inspired by other storytellers?
Storyteller Antonia Rocha from U.S has an impressive use of language, choice of words and a beautiful voice; there are several elements that I admire about his narration. Another person is this lady from Austria, Karen who narrated a story in her home on why the “Sun does not rise every morning?” Her house was located in the mountains and it gave a completely new meaning as she was narrating it with such passion. Her narration came straight from the heart!
9. Any particular story narration that has stayed with you?
I has conceptualized a story based on a mountain in Tiruvanamalai and then narrated it the foothills of the very same mountain. It was twilight and a group of children was listening to me. It suddenly started raining and there was a power outage. After a few minutes a diya was brought. The entire scene - nature unleashing her fury, the mountains in the backdrop and the diya - everything added to the narration. After a few minutes, I noticed a few saints listening intently to the story. The moment was surreal and it will be with me forever!
Interviewed by Reshma Krishnamurthy Sharma for Chillibreeze.
Reshma is a communications executive at a leading maternity hospital in Bangalore. She is also a freelance writer and has written for the Hindu and Deccan Herald. She writes on lifestyle, women and parenting. In the past, she has worked in PR and advertising. She was also an RJ with FM Rainbow 101.3MHz for six years.
Check the results of the writing contest for the First Quarter, 2012
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