An epitome of Zindadili
Today’s blog is just fantabulously phenomenal like it’s super energetic! Trust me I am falling short of words and adjectives right now! Let me start by asking you a question –
What do you plan to do when you at 60? Retire? Rejuvenate? Simply enjoy life? Would you say yes, if I tell you to work at 60? And not that CEO kind of jobs where you get AC cabins, meeting rooms etc. but going out and connecting with new people, motivating them for something new, moulding their personality into something different.
No right? Not interested!
Many of you would choke me to death (haha) or probably try breaking my bones for my stupid thought. But, if I say that today’s blog interview is all about a woman who is 63 years old and wants to work till eternity changing lives through her art form. That this woman is an epitome of zindadili and has an unmatchable zeal towards life and work. Mind you, even the teenage kids and college boys can’t match up to her energy.
She laughs her heart out in every single moment she can (truly a believer of the phrase – Laughter is the best medicine I guess). Ladies and Gentlemen, today’s guest of honour is a storyteller, a TedX Speaker and the founder of Kathalaya – International Academy of Storytelling. I am talking of none other than the Mother of Indian Storytelling – Ms Geeta Ramanujam!
We got into a candid talk with her, wherein she explained how she found Storytelling or the vice-versa.
Storytelling happened to her suddenly; it was the time of summer vacation in school when she and one of her colleague thought of trying a workshop for kids on storytelling, just like that. “I was not sure whether anybody would come also or not, is it going to be successful or not, it was more like a trial thing”. But it was this initial workshop which happened accidentally and became successful and she suddenly felt that this might be the door she was looking for. She thought of giving it a try and see if she can make this work. “I had my own fears as it was a new field also but I always had been a risk-taker, I go by my intuition. So when this whole thing suddenly came in front of me, I decided to take my chances as I was clear by that time that I won’t waste my energy for somebody else when I can build something for my own. It was like starting a business or start-up.”
Cool! Isn’t it? But did she ever think that an experiment would take her to places or make her a world-renowned name?
“I didn’t think that time that Storytelling will grow so much. Being honest about it, I thought that only the revival would take place. So it will reach a point and will flatten out. It’s been 20 years now, and I feel that it’s just spreading its wings, the flight is yet to be taken.” she smiles.
Okay! That was honest! But then, why did you incorporate ‘Kathalaya – International Academy of Storytelling’?
At that point of life, there were 3 things running simultaneously in my mind:-
- “It’s been 20 yrs. as a teacher and economically I was not satisfied. Not that I didn’t love my job, I loved it or I wouldn’t have stick to it for so long when Rs. 300 was my monthly paycheck and a mere Rs. 10 my increment. I had to bring bread to the table. I was very confident that when you do good work it will pay you off. So, this was the breaking point, the stagnant in my life that I had to think for how long I should wait.”
- “A lot of times at home or otherwise, we still have that discrimination of man and woman, also a woman is a second person of the house. She is always given the second choice, not the first. I wanted to prove something different that even Women can do something and grow and herald a new thing, especially in Indian society. So deep down I had it in me that I wanted to empower myself.”
- “I had been to a lot of rural areas in one of the projects offered by my school and I thought what it is that can reach to everyone alike, because there’s this side of me who wanted to reach out to them, but then, without money, I won’t be able to do it. So is it possible for me, to also take Storytelling which can universally appeal to every child rather than only to the elite class.”
“So after a while, I started getting money, then funds, then people and reach out also. Reaching the tribals and rural gave me immense joy. At that time I was not thinking how I would sustain myself as I was cheaply funded. So initial years was only reaching out sessions. It was only going away from the city to other places; I didn’t do a lot in Bangalore as well. Only when I had the academy in place and did the 1st festival in 2006, then people started asking me ‘How will you sustain yourself!’ That’s when it struck me that I really need funds and do what I want rather than doing what people want me to do. I planned my course of action in stages. And then the thought came, whether I should mobilize myself as a Storyteller or form an academy which will be long-lasting, and coming from the educational background I chose the second option.”
And, these entire things fell into place, she was the risk-taker, had immense creativity in herself to cater to the world and a determined soul who was ready to fight back every battle, and the war. His idea also struck one of her colleagues and with his added little support, Kathalaya- International Academy of Storytelling came into being.
Wow! Gave me goosebumps! So, how were the initial days with Kathalaya?
Initially, I was the PR, I was the marketing person, coordinator, facilitator, all in one. I was young you know, so there was this ocean of energy inside me that time.”
She laughs knowing that I would cut-in as I know that at this age too when most people just bare to live, she is a complete power-house. Her energy, her laugh, her way of living is unmatchable. She patiently listens to this, starts laughing again, and there she goes, “So you can only imagine what I was 20 years back” and we burst out together (I was literally rolling on the floor).
After wiping out my tears, I continued. For a long time, there were no other storytellers. Did she enjoy the monopoly?
“From the year I start i.e. 2000 till 2012, I had no challenges. There was no other Storyteller, I was the only one. So everywhere and anywhere people would approach me for everything. Like for workshops, for children, for events, for festivals, anything. Till 2012, I enjoyed the complete anarchy of the whole thing (and she bursts again). Because people only had one Storyteller. So if you see news also, till 2012 it’s only Kathalaya and Geeta Ramanujam everywhere. Like, I remember going to Ms Sudha Murthy in 2000 and saying that I am a Storyteller and I need funds to which she said but we only help the poorest of the poor. So I don’t think even she would have thought of writing stories at that time. The idea must have dawned only much later.”
Hmm! Quite a tenure you had Ma’am!! Seems that you were having a gala time throughout. But still, let me ask, whether she faced any challenges/prejudices from society/family?
“What are you going to earn anyway? It’s not going to fetch you too much’ is what I use to hear from people around me. Also, in my maternal family, since I was not even Graduate when I got married, they started questioning that ‘People who are graduates are sitting idle, what you will make out of this?’ I just looked at them wondering that it was you people, who got me married early. And now you are asking what I am capable of (she bursts out again). There was no point shouting, reacting.
I Just felt how unfair it is, that when there is a boy in the house there is a different treatment. If she’s a girl she has to succumb to all these rules and regulations. While all this went through my head, I came to a conclusion that I cannot give up. Doesn’t matter what discouragement I face, I would just move ahead.”
“Few men came into Storytelling around 2012, and I remember one of them telling me, “Oh you are a strong woman, you will take anything.” He along with few other people said this while leaving me (we were earlier working together) which came as a shock to me. I didn’t know at that point that they were planning otherwise. And as a man you know, you can always put yourself up to the business houses and get whatever you want. So coming to me and saying this, that you are a strong woman and you can take it, is a mere assumption. People think that – Oh! She has pulled herself so far, she can still do it. I believe that this man-woman thing is not completely resolved.”
I must say I was not expecting this. Even people like her have to go through these kinds of situations. Alas! Knowing this, I asked who else has contributed to her journey so far?
I don’t think energy should be wasted on complaining, arguing etc. Energy should be preserved and spent on building yourself.
“My daughter has been my constant inspiration undoubtedly. Down the line, I have fought my way through, but it was a silent fight. I don’t think energy should be wasted on complaining, arguing etc. Energy should be preserved and spent on building yourself. A large part of the motivation came from my days of teaching. I spent those years in wonderful schools, firstly the Aurobindo School and secondly the Krishnamurti School. These people, these philosophers gave me the strength, other role models being GandhiJi. All the lessons that I learnt from the legends and philosophers of all time kept me going. One has to be very strong to build himself/herself up.”
So, as a Woman who established herself all by her own, she must have very strong thoughts about the issue of Women Empowerment! Isn’t it? I asked and pat came to the reply –
The typical stereotype has to go completely. The question is, why are we still watering the plant of this social injustice?”
“Only the elite, vocal and intellectual woman blabber about this, very less things are done on the grass-root level if compared. The conditioning is still the same because it has been like this since the very beginning. How do you break that DNA that still exists? The thought process that willingly or unwillingly we still pass? The mannerism, attitude and the key thing I feel is missing, is respect. Woman and Man both are a human being at the end of the day. It is not the job of a woman to do this, this and this and the man’s job to do all that. NO. That has to break. The typical stereotype has to go completely. The question is, why are we still watering the plant of this social injustice?”
Women are conditioned only to give. This is what they feel and then the frustration comes up. And in the end, they get a bad name also. It’s the violent mind we need to school not the violent body
“If you look at nature, all trees grow in their own way; they don’t compete or crush each other. There can be a grass growing, just beside a huge tree; both grow in their own manner. Both have their own importance. And also, among trees as well, not all trees grow in the same size and shape. So we need to respect the inequality. This comes from respect. From not looking down upon anyone. The attitude is the main thing, the behavioural trait. Even a small thing like calling the woman by name, people still don’t do that. They call like, Hey You, or she is my Mrs What’s this? Small things like why even today it’s the job of a woman to cook twice everyday and the man just sits. Having said that I also believe that women are also to be blamed for this. They take it as their duty to serve. Women are conditioned only to give. This is what they feel and then the frustration comes up. And in the end, they get a bad name also. It’s the violent mind we need to school, not the violent body.”
What is Women Empowerment according to you?
“I like the statement of Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel – ‘If I am not for myself, then for who am I?’ So a woman needs to understand that she needs to empower herself. Why should she wait for somebody to empower her? And then they wait for the right moment, she says ‘If not now, then when?’
Also, I love the old principle of Ardhnarishwara where a man has both the woman and man’s quality and inside a woman the shakti and shiva exists. So we are half man and half woman exactly, it’s high time that we understand it as well.”
Wow! Such inspiring lines. Knowing this much about her, I had to ask – What’s your motto of life Ma’am?
Travelled to more than 43 countries already which is almost half of the world and preached everyone she came across – ‘The Art of Storytelling’. When asked to tell her life mantra, she said –
“I always bow down to the universe/nature/god whoever is up there for my belief that a lot of planning is not required. When you do a good thing, it will know how to take you forward.”
“I am like a river; it’s in my nature to flow! Happiness is within; nobody can take it from me. I want to be happy always, that’s it!”
And then after exchanging multiple pleasantries to each other, she hangs up, letting me be in the zone of bewilderment and fantasy at the same time. I just can’t write what it feels to be around her, to talk to her, to attain knowledge from her.
I always knew her as a mentor, guide, teacher and all, but today I got to know her as a Woman and the kind o rebel she has been in her life. Though I can go on and on talking about her but would like to sum up my emotions with this strong rebellious couplet by Parveen Shakir Ji:-
कुछ तो तिरे मौसम ही मुझे रास कम आए
और कुछ मिरी मिट्टी में बग़ावत भी बहुत थी
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