A source of entertainment often laced with moral lessons, stories have been an essential part of mankind since time immemorial.
While some have had the privilege of being told bedtime stories straight from their parents and grandparents, others have grown up reading story books or watching shows on television.
One woman in Bengaluru has coupled the art of storytelling with technology and makes the lives of over 6000 children across the world enriched with imagination and lessons through her voice.
Sarla Minni, who calls herself Kahaniwali Naani, or the ‘storytelling grandmother’, is a city-based retired teacher. What began as a daily ritual of recording stories and sending them to her grandson and grandnephews and nieces, soon grew into the lady sending weekly stories to her followers as WhatsApp audio messages.
It was Sarla’s niece, Parul Rampurya, who encouraged her to expand her horizons and reach out to a greater audience. After sharing Sarla’s recordings among her friends, Parul discovered the stories were loved by their children and urged her aunt to take initiative further.
So starting in March, Sarla became the storytelling grandmother and started sending out stories. Mostly featuring animals as main characters, these stories come in English or Hindi and are usually some eight minutes long.
And a lot goes behind the initiative.
“I research folktales from all over the world, read different versions of each story. Then I work on a script, record it and send it to my niece and daughter who give me feedback. After I hear from them, I broadcast it to my subscribers. I try to improvise the stories I read so that they can be understood by even toddlers. But I try to make them interesting to pre teens as well”, Sarla told The Hindu.
Being passionate about stories herself, Sarla has warm memories from her childhood days where stories from the Hindu mythology were passed down from her aunt. Though most of her stories are imbibed with Indian culture with contemporary vibes, she tries to include teachings from different cultures and faiths as well.
With many children living far away from their grandparents as a result of nuclear families, Sarla believes that her stories are bridging this gap and help the kids have their share of tales to grow up with. In fact, she fondly remembers a call that came all the way from Kashmir from a parent.
“She said that she lives with her family in a small town, just 30 km from the border. They have no formal schooling system and very irregular Internet and mobile connectivity. She told me that whenever they are able to connect to the Internet, the children look forward to listening to my stories. She said that she uses my stories to teach her children basic concepts in literacy and numeracy”, Sarla said.
She has also gained a fan base in countries like the UK., the US., Dubai, Nigeria, Switzerland and Australia – all in the span of four months. Sarla claims that the rise in the number of subscribers has purely been through word-of-mouth, via thrilled parents.
Her son and daughter-in-law, who are software engineers, have become a part of Sarla’s storytelling and have created a website with a form to help her manage the subscribers.
The Kahaniwali Naani hopes to reach as many children as she can. “I believe that stories are a child’s birthright. Of course, I hope to make my stories more interesting and perhaps, have different stories for different age groups. But I would never charge for them,” she added.