An art, an expression and a lost experience sums up the beauty and wonder of storytelling.
On Thusday, Candor got to witness the rare sight of children sitting on the floor with their fullest attention to the man in front, who so very enthusiastically and passionately narrated the simplest story with so much complexity and modulation. From 5 year olds all the way up to 18 year olds listened to 1 story and rejoiced the half an hour Mr. Craig Jenkins had to offer to rekindle the inner children in the 18 year olds and the true childishness in the younger ones. After a rather hilariously narrated simple tale, which he renamed ‘Papa crow mama crow’, from the Panchatantra with a twist of his own, Tanya and I caught up with
Mr. Jenkins for a quick word..
Tanya: Before we start off, thank you so much for that wonderful
experience Mr. Jenkins! The papa crow mama crow story is something etched in our minds now.
Craig: Thank you so much Tanya!
Tanya: So where did the inspiration for storytelling come from? It’s not the commonest thing today!
Craig: So, my story telling teacher, when I was a student at university, was a story teller called Vayu Naidu from Chennai and she first told me a crocodile and monkey story – the first one she ever told me. And I’d never heard a story teller before, never seen anyone story telling before.. I’ve seen people read stories, but
never stand and tell a story. And I just loved how simple and engaging they are!
And then I remember she told me a story from the Ramayana and I said ‘Okay,
that’s- I’m hooked now”. So I worked with her for a few years in London and then
I wanted to come to India and wanted to explore where the Ramayana had come from and I wanted to understand the more in depth telling’s of the stort. So I came in 2010 and I worked with a theatre group in Kanchipuram, in a school.
And then it just hooked me. So I just came back every year.
Ananya: Why India? There’s so many vivid and equally distinctive and fascinating cultures around the world! Is there anything that you find particularly magnetic about Indian cultures and epics?
Craig: Good question! I think it’s just the stories. It was the Ramayana that got me hooked first and I wanted to come to explore it more and there’s just something about that story that’s just timeless and universal and every time I come I see different layers of it.. and I love idlies! (laughs) So anywhere there’s idly I will come.
Tanya: You should love South India!
Craig: Yeah! Yeah, I spend most of my time, nearly all of it in South India. So I love idlies and stuff. But I think it’s the stories that brought me back each time. And over time you build relationships of friendships and you know.. this feels like
home now, actually! Feels just as much home as London does!
Tanya: You said ‘Stories are for everyone’ and you looked keen saying that.
What made you realize that?
Craig: Do you know what? I think a lot of people make mistakes saying that stories are just for children. Storytelling is something that’s so human and something that we all do and anyway. And I just think that we need it. I think especially as we get older and our lives get busy and they get full of so much other stuff like work worries or study worries and things like that. And actually to sit and escape in a world of stories is so important. For half an hour even just to disappear and become a child again it’s really really important. I think the mistake some people make is that they don’t look at how to engage the story with an older audience and it’s about looking at what’s “in”, what’s cool, what are people listening to, what are people talking about. And use that within the stories
as well. So in the papa crow-mama crow story, I used a WhatsApp reference,
Justin Bieber references and that’s speaking a kind of young-adult language. With the small kids, they won’t understand it. But it’s about being flexible enough with the story to change it to suit audiences. Because I never learnt the stories words for words.. I know the stories and every time they’ll be different. I’ll change them depending on who’s in the audience or what space it is or what the energy is.
Ananya: In a way, it is rather sad that today, not many can sit through a story. They’re on phones and they get restless because they have ‘better things to do’ and they lose out on such an experience!
Craig: Yeah! Yeah, that’s true actually! A lot of people are more interested in
going to see cinemas or playing on the computer or watching kind of India’s got talent or whatever. But for me it’s like people say this is your competition, but or me I say it’s not. Because all I have to do is be aware of these things use them in the story telling. I think what happens and why stories are so important because it requires people to use their own imagination, they have to create their own characters, they have to see the scenes, they have to smell the smells, they have to taste the taste. When you go to the cinema that’s limited because it just shows you this is what this character is, this is what they look like. And actually storytelling is much more internal and a personal process. So I think that’s what
gets lost when you lose something like storytelling.
Tanya: So you told us about some of the big projects you have like Abhimanyu and Draupadi and you’ve talked to us about how you take scenes from the Mahabharta and connect it to surroundings and our environment. But it’s not at all times it works flawlessly, does it? People do tend to get offended by what these tales can present in a modern world, for instance in Draupadi, you couldn’t have missed the part where Dusashan had to undrape her Sari.
Craig: I mean, any story you tell, any piece of theatre you make, anything you write has the potential to offend someone. You know, papa crow mama crow may offend someone! (laughs) Some people liked the Abhimanyu project that we did, some people liked the Darupadi project, some didn’t. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable when you challenge them or confront them with pertinent issues.
And people want to pretend these things don’t happen, not only in India but also at home where they pretend that women aren’t victims of assault and abuse.
Actually, the offence often comes from people kind of saying “I don’t want to see this”. What the story does though, it allows you to address these issues in a kind of indirect way so it’s not about pointing a finger at an audience, it’s like looking at the characters and then reflecting on that. So that’s why I use the stories I think because it’s not about accusing an audience or shouting at them.
Ananya: Finally, how was your experience at Candor? You’ve spent a whole day here, with the little ones and now with us.
Craig: Oh it was absolutely amazing! I think the biggest thing for me was having an opportunity to work with everybody. So to work with the really small ones and then work with you guys as well because it epitomizes my kind of quote which is- stories are for everybody and I really felt that today. And the teachers were so supportive and everybody was involved. So nice to sit and have lunch with the kids who shared the stories and kind of talk about it. It’s just been really
Think you guys are really lucky at this school, it’s really wonderful!
Ananya: We indeed are very lucky to be here right now. It was a wonderful
chat with you Mr. Jenkins! We hope to see you back again soon!