Women In Unusual Occupations: Storytelling

Next in our 'Women In Unusual Occupations' series, we meet Praba Ram a storyteller in India.

In the ‘Women In Unusual Occupations’ series we talk to women working in relatively new professions in India. Meet Praba Ram, a Storyteller.

Telling stories is the quickest way to befriend children and all of us must have grown up with our fair share of stories. But Praba Ram has taken story-telling to the next level as she is a professional storyteller. Here, she talks in detail about her job as a storyteller in India. 

How did you gravitate towards becoming a storyteller?

I have always believed in the power of stories and books, and their positive impact on children, especially when introduced in the early years of childhood. Keeping in line with my passion for reading, children’s books and early literacy, for almost two years, I was involved in bringing the ready-to-read story-time program to my community back in the US. When I moved back to India last summer, bringing the joys of reading-aloud and story-time to community centres, bookstores and libraries here in Chennai was simply an extension of my work there.

Along the same lines, I’ve recently launched a structured emerging-literacy-based reading/story-time program called “Little Reading Bees” for the 0 to 8 year olds. The program is very well-researched. Each module, comprising 10 weeks incorporates a variety of book extension activities focusing on a plethora of learning units, literacy outcomes and literary genres.

We also do parent/child sessions for babies/ toddlers as a fun bonding-with-books kind of an activity. The early years are the most important, and research points to the many positive benefits of exposing children to books in the formative years of childhood – i.e. from 0 to 5. It is highly correlated with increased cognitive and language skills, school success and most importantly, a life-long love for learning. I have a partner in Mumbai who’s as passionate as I am with books and collaborates with me on Little Reading Bees, after recently quitting her full-time corporate job in the banking industry. Together, we are very excited to launch the program in both metros!

Since storytelling is a relatively new activity (outside the home), could you tell us a little about what it involves? How is it different from Grandma’s stories that we’ve all heard as children?

A contemporary storyteller uses several props, puppets being the commonest of all. There are all kinds of puppets like finger-puppets, sock and popsicle. But to me, picture books are in fact the simplest and the single most important prop because my story-time is all about sharing the joys of reading aloud.

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And then, there’s lots of singing and voice modulation and expressive reading, finger-plays and such. I took a tiny lemon and a huge watermelon for a prop to show children the difference between “what’s big” and what’s little” Of course, nothing can beat Grandma’s stories! They come with a certain warmth (read as squishiness and smell of spice on her saree) that just cannot match up to any other contemporary storyteller’s prop!

How does one get to becoming a storyteller?  

There are institutes like Vayu Naidu and Co, World Storytelling Institute in Chennai that train people and Katha, that train people who want to pursue this like theatre. My training was more hands-on, during the couple of years of implementing story-time for the ready-to-read program in my district back in Virginia.

What is the scope for storytelling in India? 

India is a land of languages and stories. There’s tremendous scope to innovate our story-telling methods, and adapt them accordingly based on rural and urban settings. I think there are forums online where people exchange ideas, as part of a global storytelling group.

 What advice would you give to women who want to take up storytelling?

Volunteering for your community preschools, libraries, and other centres can be a great platform for that initial honing of skills in a risk-free way. Meet-ups with your peers in the field and sharing ideas might also be fun!

Tell us about a memorable incident/milestone that happened to you in this line of work.

I have so much fun with the kids. I don’t have one single incident to recall, but several. One thing that’s always a blast is the introduction. I typically take my handmade, little owl puppet called “Snowy” along for story-time. I tell them he is quite sleepy considering he is an owl and that he is nocturnal and all… Now during the day, as he gets ready for bedtime, he loves “stories” and so wants a book read-out to him, to put him to sleep. Children totally love that kind of stuff, and I have tremendous fun telling the same thing each time, while also sneaking in some fancy words like nocturnal. The kids interact with the owl, saying hi and hello to little owl. I follow it up with, so we all know owls are wonderful listeners. They have really sharp ears. Could you all get settled nicely and get “Snowy” ready for the story-time? Kids love the fact that they are the ones telling snowy a story, through books!

*Photo credit: Praba Ram.

Previous interviews of ‘Women In Unusual Occupations’ series:

Jaya Narayan – Life Coach


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