Peter Viegas truly believes that a story that connects with you will certainly find its way to you. “It’s not that any story you pick up is bound to resonate with you. Once you start looking for stories, you read and find the one that you can relate to the best,” adds Viegas. His passion for storytelling led him to form The Storytellers in Pune, a platform wherein the young and old get together and revel in the art of storytelling.
It all started in 2011 when Viegas attended a storytelling workshop at a conference in Bengaluru organised by Acoustic Traditional, an organisation that promotes oral storytelling and tribal folklore by documenting and archiving them. “What is happening is that every time the elder generation of storytellers die, the stories die with them too. The younger generation either doesn’t get to hear them or they aren’t interested in passing it on. Unfortunately, then the stories are lost forever,” he explains. Aside from coordinating workshops and performances for The Storytellers, Viegas runs his own packaging business in Pune, the city that he was brought up in.
This year, the Storytellers are all set to perform all the nine stories from ‘A Tale of Dark and Grimm’ by Adam Gidwitz. The book follows Hansel and Gretel as they walk out of their story into a world filled with dark mysteries, edible houses and bloody trails. Interestingly, Viegas looks at the stories from a perspective that draws parallels from them and relates it with today’s reality. “There are instances in the story where there are either heads or fingers getting chopped off but I want to use these similarities as a dialogue to engage with younger people. There is so much subtext about bad parenting decisions. For instance, Hansel and Gretel’s father wants to revive their grandfather so he sacrifices his children for it. When the grandfather comes alive, he revives the siblings. But Hansel and Gretel don’t trust their father anymore since they think that he is capable of doing this again. I don’t see how this is different from honour killings that take place in India today,” he states.
This endeavour was started in 2012 and now has around 20 storytellers. Telling a story is not just about reading your lines out loud, but it is not a theatrical performance either. It is more of a listening experience where the storyteller engages with the audience using different expressions, hand gestures and voice modulation. When asked if he is expecting a large audience, Viegas says, “I don’t really want a huge audience. If that’s the case, then people won’t be able to connect with the story that’s being told. I’m happy if there are about 20 people. It’s a very individualistic experience. You won’t really enjoy it sitting in a packed hall.”
Storytelling in itself is an experience that can also be very therapeutic, Viegas says. It is used as a way in which the listener or the reader can connect the story to his or her own personal experiences and relive them. Viegas recollects a time when there was a storyteller who found it difficult to read out a part that involved death. “I recall he would just go over the part in the story where a boy’s mother died, very quickly. He would say it without any emotion or feeling. We would ask him if there is anything wrong and if the story had something to do with his mother. He didn’t tell us anything but it got so bad that he had to leave.”
In an attempt to keep people away from their gadgets and busy life, Viegas aims to restore community space through this initiative. “In the older days, there were no gadgets or other such distractions. People sat together and told each other stories and that’s how they passed their time. It was a form of entertainment and a way to keep the community together, so it needs to be revived,” he signs off.
When & Where: Aug 6 – Pagdandi Books Chai Cafe, 9pm; August 7- Gyaan Adab, 6 pm
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