The city's first international storytelling conference and festival will feature some known names from the West and India, and some unknown names from the city, including a bunch of 10 year-olds, who can tell you what it's like to learn about Mother Nature from forest dwellers

Wordfully Yours, a Mumbai University Department of English initiative, will hold the city's first international conference on storytelling, where several national and internationally-renowned storytellers will spin their yarn to a captive audience, this week.

(From left to right) Mumbai University faculty members Donna Reen and
Dr Coomi Vevaina with Neena Nair, lecturer at Valia College, have set up
Wordfully Yours 

Put together by the Head of Department Dr Coomi Shahrukh Vevaina, the conference titled Magic Of The Word: International Storytelling Conference-Festival-Workshop, will be a week-long series of events that will include storytelling sessions by Indian and Western storytellers and workshops for adults and children. A narration by actor Naseeruddin Shah will kick off the conference on October 7, followed by a narration by theatre person Dolly Thakore on October 8, at the University campus in Santacruz.

Children enact their stories a few weeks ahead of their performance at
the international storytelling conference that has been organised by
Wordfully Yours

The first day of the event will also see performances by schoolchildren and collegians from the English department at another venue -- Valia College in Andheri. Groups of 10 children from at least 10 schools, including Kamla Mehta School for the Blind and Gnanmata English School, a school for tribal children in Palasari district, will tell their original stories in a section of the festival titled Celebrating Human(e)ty.

These performances find their genesis in the efforts of Vevaina, and her colleagues Donna Reen and Neena Nair. Together, the trio started Wordfully Yours in January 2011, with the express aim of teaching children the healing powers of responsible storytelling.

"I have been a storyteller for 15 years, and I have realised that it is important to tell stories that are fun and contain the right values. Children, especially, need to be told stories that don't preach. Our effort is to give rise to discussion, because that shows that the storyteller respects her audience," Dr Vevaina said.

MS Gopal can attest to that. The freelance photographer, who has been documenting the build-up to conference, was present at the first rehearsal of the schoolchildren that was held at Valia College on September 17.

Students from eight participating schools put up their acts in front of Dr Vevaina, Nair and Reen. They had written their stories in August during a workshop that Wordfully Yours had conducted in their schools.
"In August, we had asked the children to submit original stories on the themes of environment conservation and cultural harmony," said Dr Vevaina. While the subjects were serious, the professor made sure the kids had fun writing, and telling their stories.

Gopal was struck by how storytelling came naturally to the kids. "All of them spoke like grandmothers narrating a tale. It seemed to come naturally to them. Even though many of them were taking the stage for the first time, they had no stage fright. It was clear they were having fun," he said.

Gopal also marked the difference in stories that were told by the children, who ranged from age 6 to 14.
While the children from Hindi medium schools dealt with stories that were more immediate, like electricity theft, those from English medium schools broached the issue of inter-racial harmony.

The kids approached these issues creatively, said Gopal. For instance, one school put up an elaborate play in which two children played the part of snooty city-goers who think they know it all, and visit tribals with the express aim of educating them. However, the city-goers end up learning a lesson or two instead, about the beauty of Mother Nature and the need to protect the environment.

Another group presented a story of a girl who migrates to London and finds it difficult to fit in.
Yet another presented one on conserving electricity, and depicted characters like the corrupt electrician who rigs metres and the greedy neighbours who steal it.

"At the end of the day, we all tell stories. How well you do in life, comes down to how you put your story across. More attention needs to be paid to the art of doing that," said Gopal. This conference is clearly a step in that direction. Besides the performances by schoolchildren, the conference will also feature national and international storytellers from France, Spain, Japan and Egypt.

A workshop on  the art and technique of storytelling will also be held. Visit