Some things happen by chance. For Vani Balaraman, it was storytelling. Founder of Cuddles and Reads, storyteller and mom, Vani literally stumbled upon storytelling and found a vent to the story weaver in her. Find out more about her in this interview.
Tell us about the storyteller in you.
I work for a technology company, I also double up as a bed time story teller, a terrible cook, a highly imaginative Piscean, and I take great delight in cooking up stories – most of which strike me when I am on the way to work, and stuck in a traffic jam. To that effect I should thank the Bengaluru traffic for turning me into what I am today!
I was born and brought up in a small town in Tamil Nadu , Neyveli where I spent my growing up years . I have enjoyed a truly cherished childhood thanks to my mom who left no stones unturned to ensure we had the best experiences. No wonder I love the illustrations and stories in books published by Indian publications delightful, as compared to international titles.
I want my stories to reflect the beauty of our country and its rich culture.
What influenced you to become a storyteller?
In 2012 , I was at work and was looking for activities for my son who was 2.5 years then. Back then, I wasn’t aware of story workshops, kids’ events and libraries. I was just another working mom, with a small kid in the daycare, that fell sick often and me battling the corporate. It was September and when I look back now, I have no idea how I landed on Pratham books blog and learnt that a champion program was happening 2 days later on World Literacy day.
With just 2 days in hand for preparation, and with neither a hard copy of the storybook nor a banner in hand, I went ahead to do my first ever story event with just a color print out of the story – Susheela’s Kolam! The story is hence very dear to me and so is Pratham books and all their events! That was when Storytelling wasn’t as popular as it is today. I hadn’t visited a single event before. What I performed that day for kids from our apartments, was my first brush with storytelling and I think I fared well. This year in 2016 , I would complete my 5th year as a Pratham books champion.
Now when I look back, I think I always had a passion for stories. Even as a child, I wrote pretty good essays in school. While a Bachelors degree in Engineering and surviving the corporate might have blurred my true calling, I am glad I went back to doing what I did best as a child. Today I take story writing and spinning a tale as the best gift given to me, so as to strike a work life balance, something which is a MUST for every corporate individual!
What is the story behind Cuddles and Reads?
On the very same evening in 2012, I attended a Pratham books champion’s story event, organized at Atta Galatta, Bengaluru, by a bunch of theater enthusiasts. I was curious to know how different storytellers perform the same story. Atta Galatta was then operating out of their bungalow in Koramangala, in a lane laden with the most beautiful bungalows and old oak trees. Again my brush with Atta Galatta happened accidentally and since then there has been no looking back. I have attended various events, book launches, and even went on to perform at their book store for the Pratham Champion event.
Cuddles and Reads was started primarily to chronicle the many events I attended in Bengaluru. Now it has turned into a space where I share my passion for writing, narrating stories and providing reviews on books I enjoy reading or narrating to my son. I also share details of events happening across cities. It is a mixed bag where I share my passion for books, stories, story writing, story narration, etc.
People who perform put in a lot of effort to bring the best to the audience. Today social media is the nicest platform to say a THANK YOU to them and when I feel truly touched by a performance, I do a huge shout out on my page to THANK them.
You pursue storytelling along with a full-time corporate job. What are the pros and cons of pursuing both careers in parallel?
It is tough and difficult. Because your corporate job keeps you so busy!.
I would love to take my stories that I have penned to many schools, activity centers and Kid-lit festivals. On many mornings, I keep dreaming about story events – what I could do with a certain book or a story but most of it remains a dream – because my work hours consume most of my time!
On the other hand, I am not under pressure to earn from the story events I do. I do it at my own pace, as and when my work load at my job permits. My story events are also free. I do not charge libraries for hosting me! I also believe, and can afford to take longer breaks between story performances. This keeps my ideas alive and unique. For instance, for Bookasura’s launch event I dressed up as a Rakshasha, something very unique that won many accolades.
[color-box color=” customcolorpicker=” rounded=false dropshadow=false]To that effect a storyteller is the best teacher today, because in addition to knowing the technical stuff, we keep alive our humane side through stories…[/color-box]
How have the stories in your life, including your background in the IT world, influenced your style of storytelling and the way you place stories?
We are narrating stories everywhere. When a team sits together for lunch at work, we discuss movies, we discuss news. These are all stories. I take time out to attend Toastmasters at work, It helps fine tune my communication skills and brings loads of refinement when I narrate to an adult audience.
I take great interest in observing people. From a colleague who narrates interesting anecdotes about his search for a bride, to a team-mate narrating his holiday experience, it is enlightening to listen to people modulate their voice! They may not be professional storytellers by definition, but they are story tellers nevertheless.
Schools now seek corporate employees as tutors for kids, because we bring in our real life experiences on how to survive a tough competitive world. To that effect a storyteller is the best teacher today, because in addition to knowing the technical stuff, we keep alive our humane side through stories, and we can also speak on length about our experiences in the real world!
Vice versa, companies now not only look for professionals with immense talent in technology, they need people who can express ideas clearly and in an interesting manner, and who can interact with a global audience with ease, essentially one who is a good storyteller.
When individuals from smaller towns and villages struggle to cope up with the demands of the corporate world, I often feel sorry; because they have sound technical knowledge but are unable to explain themselves well in a global conference call. This is where I hope to utilize my storytelling skills to reach out to these people and help them become better storytellers, so that they can overcome this gap.
Tell us more about the audiences you work with. How different is the experience between different kinds of audiences?
I have worked with private libraries in Bengaluru where parents get their kids to a story event to help them build communication skills, to keep them away from TV or to nurture a love for reading and writing. On the other hand, I have also conducted story events for government school kids.
My dream is to take stories to the under-privileged kids. Because these kids aren’t attending events or being read to, as the kids from urban families do. Since my husband hails from a small town in Andhra, it is my dream to conduct summer camps and workshops in Vijaywada and surrounding suburbs so that kids from smaller towns can experience the joy of storytelling as well.
Any particular incident/anecdote from your sessions that you would like to share with readers?
This happened in a government school where I narrated a story. A 6 year kid lost her color pencils when she was doing a coloring activity post the story session, and was visibly upset about it. It made me ponder about her family, and how much she valued her belongings.
Today we and our kids are spoilt for choice with every facility and every kind of toy at disposal, but to that kid that day a small color pencil mattered so much, probably something that costed her parents Rs. 20. I wondered if someone at home would scold her for losing her belongings. It touched me beyond words and I even contemplated visiting the school the following weekend and gifting her a new set of color pencils. That is how much an audience affects you.
Any suggestions to our readers how they can help in keeping stories alive?
Read, write and share the stories, share the love for stories. Never feel embarrassed to share a story you have written because stories are meant to be shared!
Don’t Miss: We love storytellers as much as we love storytelling. On Tell-a-Tale, we’ve featured a lot of talented storytellers, in the past.
Are you a Storyteller? If you’re a storyteller who is actively pursuing storytelling and would like to be featured in this column, drop us a mail at contact AT tell-a-tale.com or reach out to us via Facebook.