On our way back we were as happy and excited as the Little Girl in Red after an adventure
The story began, as so many do, with a journey. Not the story of a girl cloaked in red who must carry a basket of food through the woods to her bedridden grandmother, but one of a group of storytellers, as excited, on their first visit to The Expo 2020, carrying in the hearts of their phones a little of themselves — stories born from memories, experiences and thoughts woven into tales, waiting to be told.
We were all residents of the UAE and a visit to the Expo was definitely in the stars, but being invited as participants to The World’s Greatest show was nothing short of thrilling.
It all began with a phone call from school, when I was told that the stage at The Indian Pavilion would be thrown open to storytellers from my children’s school, among other exciting events that evening. The lovely Ms. Toshiko, an accomplished English teacher herself, assured me that I would be sharing the stage with some exemplary senior school English teachers and students, all of whom had contributed extensively in the field of Literature and Drama. Her assurance only got me worked up, as I tried tapping into the best of my abilities that I hoped would contribute to living up to what I already knew would be a great show.
Tapping into the best of yourself in feverish fervour can make philosophers of you. That day when creating a story became the very essence of my existence, I realised that stories took birth before humans walked the Earth. They were born when the first rays of the rising sun made day, when the moon’s waxing and waning changed tides, when the sun moved along the starry horizon and created seasons. Stories have been man’s most ancient GPS that quenched their thirst for knowledge, leaving us starving for answers; they taught, educated, rendered a beacon of hope and guided us into making us what we are today. Every story, they say, has already been told, and yet innumerable versions of them are waiting to be heard. Netflix, the Hakawati of our times, have blurred the barriers of language and geography, as all eyes and hearts are set on the stories of squid games, heists, black lists and documentaries from across the world.
This thought dragged me back to reality as I wondered if in this day and age of streaming entertainment, would the primitive practice of storytelling interest an audience?
The teachers and students didn’t think so, because storytelling, they agreed, continues to enliven humans of all ages, one that can be streamed, written, performed or just be told.
True to their words, when the show began, each storyteller presented a piece from their world, some embroidered in intricate verses of poetry and others strung into fine prose that took us through unforeseeable twists and emotional turns. The teens — carefree, excited and the chattiest of our lot — had brought with them the weight of ‘I will not be a battleground’, ‘The sound of silence’ and ‘I am a man’, stealing the show with their performances. The story ‘The Hidden Eagle’ by Avinash Surve touched the stigma of mental health while Aarthi Seth and Sheldon Dias enchanted the audience with a prose-poetry from the streets of Dehradun and Calcutta respectively. I kept up with them with ‘Dreams Under the Sun’ — a story of three friends reminiscing their childhoods, each having brought some of their customs, traditions and food to enrich and transform Dubai into a melting pot of different cultures.
On our way back we were as happy and excited as the Little Girl in Red after an adventure, our baskets brimming with new stories that the evening left in its wake, some of them that might be heard — like this one about the story of storytelling at the Expo 2020.
— Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @MenonPranitha
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