History and culture are intertwined and a better way to celebrate the rich heritage of India is by sharing this through stories. India is no stranger to the ancient tradition of oral storytelling, and a few are determined to take this craft forward by incorporating it into walking trails focusing on providing wholesome experience by engaging audiences and incorporating local stories.
The Indian capital has been at the center stage of the burgeoning industry of heritage and food walks that have mushroomed across every corner of our country - promising a date with the history. They have plenty to offer from food and heritage walks to old Delhi bazaar and haveli walks.
But the run-of-the-mill presentation style has brought in monotony, leaving limited scope for improvement. This was the challenge Yuveka Singh faced when she started her storytelling organization, Darwesh, in April, 2013.
Initially she started with regular walks and slowly from her experience felt the need to push boundaries and included performances during the walks where the actors narrated historical events through dance and theatre.
“Storytelling has always remained the crux of our walks. But it was during one of our walks we realized why not bring these dead characters to life through performances and transport the audience to those times,” Yuveka Singh said.
“Since then, it became extremely important for us to use the open space creatively and put them together in a picture. So we are always looking at a better way to narrate a story and pick up different lenses to look at Delhi,” she said, adding that they creatively use open ruins or spaces to narrate a tale through performances.
The Delhi-based group has offered performance storytelling on the life of Razia Sultan and walked through the ruins of old Delhi to retell the stories of begums and nautch girls.
The stories need not only come from history. A sight or a building too has a story to share as it stands witness to the glorious past. So are local customs and traditions that have a deep-rooted relationship with the days of yore.
It is these stories Chennai-based organization Storytrails offers to those who want to explore beyond the checklist and travel itinerary and are willing to soak into the unique character of a city.
“We leave ourselves very little time to soak in the elements that give every place its unique character — the customs, mores and the ways of their lives. But then again, even if you wanted to, where do you look for such intangibles? You will find them in stories - stories that exist behind ordinary, everyday sights,” Storytrails founder Vijay Prabhat Kamalakara said in an e-mail interview from Chennai.
The IIM-Indore alumnus founded Storytrails in 2007 out of the idea that travel destinations ought to be experienced and not just seen.
Its trails in Chennai and Madurai are walking tours, but are not designed to be those of any particular neighborhood. Instead, each trail revolves around a different theme and takes through places and experiences that are relevant to the theme.However, “telling a story interestingly” is the focal point of all the walks. Based on this, Storytrails has curated walks like Jewellery Trail, Bazaar Trail, Spice Trail, British Blueprints and Once upon a Madurai, among several others.
The string that ties both these organizations is their passion for research and getting the facts right — as these are the main ingredients for building a credible image.
Along with this, Storytrails ropes in local performers, shopkeepers, dancers and arrange visits to traditional havelis, buildings and homes to give the participants a peek into history by staying in the present.
“We are not just storytellers, we are facilitators who have the duty to tell our group how this building was historically relevant and how its inhabitants feel about the place,” Yuveka Singh said, adding that during one of the trails she introduced the group to the lost-tribe of “behrupias” (imposters) and how they shared the journey of their life.
“In the normal course of life, we don’t bother about these aspects, but this is what we are doing — helping others to share a story,” she added.
Similarly, Sandiya of the Storytrails team said the emphasis during the walks is to focus on what goes beyond the obvious.
And a perfect example of this is the Jewellery Trail, where the group is not introduced to the “obvious” world of yellow-metal, but the stories behind gems and traditions related to jewelry are explored.
“We tell them how, by looking at a woman, you can tell a lot about her personality. So we introduce jewelry as a language to identify people,” Sandiya said.
It is these languages they are experimenting with to create a new vocabulary for travel and history enthusiasts. Indians and foreigners alike are warming up to these concepts and learning about history through engaging narratives.