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Storyteller on a mission to spark children’s imagination, creativity

Kamal Pruthi’s workshops help children learn to communicate better, be more creative and let go of electronics.

Anando Bhakto  New Delhi | 18th Jul 2015

Kamal Pruthi plays the kabuliwala during a workshop at his home.

nside the decorated chamber at Rangat in East Delhi, where props, fancy attires and musical instruments litter the floor, giving the hint of the recreational activities that take place here every weekend, eight-year-old Prisha would not let Utkarsh finish his story. She is keen to enact it herself.

And as she narrates a folk tale from North India, with a surprising control of voice and gesture, Kamal Pruthi briefs other children, all aged between five and 12, about the style and technique involved in storytelling.

"I want to inspire people with the value of stories in our lives. I want to free children from the monotony of a digitised world and kindle in them the penchant for listening to and narrating stories. I want to see them communicating more," Kamal, the pioneer of Delhi's storytelling movement, tells this newspaper.

With 49 storytelling shows to his credit, Kamal has already covered schools in Punjab, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Haryana, besides the National Capital Region, and has made people aware of his movement.

He says his movement aims to make children speak in their mother tongue and bring them closer to their parents. "There is a communication gap between parents and kids these days. This happens because while the children are engrossed in a tablet or laptop, playing their favourite game or application, parents are too tired to initiate a conversation after a hard day's work."

But interesting stories enacted zestfully can fill the void, he argues. Sonali Jain, a parent whose son has participated in Kamal's shows, agrees. "When a child learns a new story as well as the art to enact it, do you think he or she will keep it to himself/herself? He or she would obviously be filled with the enthusiasm to enact it to his/her parents as well as people of the neighbourhood," asks Jain, professor in Goldfield Medical College here. She says the storytelling movement is a good way to make children more interactive and more filled with imagination.

Rangat, Kamal's residence, has already transformed into a hub of fun activities, where children from diverse background have a happy time interacting amongst themselves and also learn from their mentor how to enact stories. "It is fun. When we go back to our homes, we are flattered by everybody to share the stories. Our friends also want us to perform for them," says Utkarsh, an eighth grader at Bal Mandir Public School, Defence Colony.

For Kamal's young pupil, he is the ever entertaining kabuliwalah. Dressed as an Afghan peddler in a quintessential pairam tumban (kurta pyjama) and turban, with long unfurled hair adding to his enigma, Kamal begins his shows with a lively song that he has written and composed himself. His students would play the instrument, while he would hobnob with the children and attract them to his stories that he enacts rather than narrate.

Rangat, Kamal’s residence, has already transformed into a hub of fun activities, where children from diverse background have a happy time interacting amongst themselves and also learn from their mentor how to enact stories.

"I speak in an Afghani accent for two hours at a stretch and use voice modulation, props and actions to bring life to my stories," says Kamal, an alumnus of Sri Ram Centre for Performing Arts. He has also attended a three-week theatre-training workshop in Germany in 2006 under a scholarship awarded to young theatre persons of the world.

Honing the children's problem-solving skills is an important element of Kamal's pursuit. He usually punctuates his stories with quizzes, where children are asked what would happen next. He says the responses are overwhelming and very often children come up with interesting suggestion that help him mould his story.

"Kamal's problem-solving methods seem to be paying off well to students. In his classes, even the most unresponsive students show enthusiasm," says Anandi Giridhar, coordinator in Shikshantar School, Gurgaon. Giridhar believes education and story-telling are linked together. "Whatever is taught in the classroom is very abstract. But when it is done through a story, children connect beautifully to it," Giridhar adds, suggesting that literature, and social sciences ought to be taught through the medium of storytelling.

When asked what the message behind dressing up as an Afghan kabuliwalah was, Kamal said he wanted to create a symbol with which children could relate. "Santa Claus is a favourite of everybody, but, unfortunately, he comes only once a year. So, I decided to put on the guise of an Afghan kabuliwalah, who would be equally interesting. He would also visit the children more often," says the 33-year-old with a grin. An Afghani storyteller will also send out a positive image of the war-torn country in the supple minds of children, he insists. "When you say Afghanistan, people immediately relate it to the Taliban and bloodshed. Such a grim introduction of any country or community is not good for children. Through the kabuliwalah, I want the children to relate Afghanistan with something positive," explains Kamal. He was recently the national mentor for teachers at the Katha Festival, which was organised by a New Delhi based NGO called Katha. Kamal also participated in the Chandigarh Literature Festival.

One of the highlights of his shows and workshops is the involvement of the parents. "Kamal's shows are a very good way to unwind. It is also a great environment, where you can accompany your children; meet other children and their parents," says Jain. "His shows take place in different neighbourhoods and hence it is easy to commute. Generally, such shows are hosted in central locations where people from far off places would not be able to visit."

Yet, for all its attraction and good message, Kamal's shows are constrained due to difficulty in arranging finances. "People talk about the importance of arts and culture, but they are not willing to shell out money. Sometimes principals ask me to do the shows for free. How will people like me carry on with our initiative if there is no means to sustain ourselves?" Kamal asks with a hint of chagrin.

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