Oct 1, 2018

The One In Which We Try Telling A Story

I believe that each one of us has two types of voices inside our head. One is a negative little voice that is forever discouraging, trying to convince us that we will fail miserably at everything we try.The other is a positive voice always shouting encouragement.
These two voices in my head fought a bloody battle a few days ago. But before I tell you who won this battle I must tell you about Kommune.

Kommune, co founded by Roshan Abbas, is a brilliant initiative that curates live performances of not only some of the best story tellers in this country but also gives a platform to the creative speaker within us to perform. I have been to several Kommune events and have been enthralled by stories from Roshan Abbas, Tess Joseph, Hari Sankar, Anshu Mor, Kubbra Sait, Ankur Tewari and many more. Kommune also has something called story slam where people like you and me can go up on the stage and tell our stories.
The stories are based on real life experiences and perhaps because the speakers allow the audience a peek into their innermost thoughts, the audience instantly connects with the stories.

So last weekend, Kommune had another event in Delhi. This time it was a story telling workshop followed by a Story slam. The workshop was conducted by Roshan Abbas and Hari who gave us many precious nuggets of wisdom about the art of storytelling.

Kommune usually has a theme for story slam and the theme this time was nostalgia. Now inspite of thoroughly enjoying the workshop I was totally unsure of speaking at the story slam the next day. You see that nervous, negative little voice inside me goes into an overdrive every time I want to attempt something new, especially if it involves speaking in front of more than 2 people.
It whispered maliciously in my ear how I will stutter and stammer and forget what I want to say or worse people will simply find me boring and laugh. Meanwhile the other voice, the one that speaks up very rarely suddenly woke up and asked me to get my act together, shut the hell up and participate. Part of me wanted to go up there and speak and break free of my fears and a part of me just wanted to sit quietly, listen to everyone and then slink back home, my fears and inhibitions intact.

At the workshop, while discussing nostalgic memories, Hari had talked about photographs from our childhood, taken using a film roll, much before smartphones and digital cameras came into existence. I had spoken of my childhood memory about how my mother loved photography but wanted each picture to be perfect and insisted we change out of our ‘ghar ke kapde’ into our ‘bahar ke kapde’ before the photograph was clicked and how most of our family pics were in our garden.

So now I had a nostalgic thought associated with a childhood picture that I needed to weave a story around. Saturday passed with no inspiration. I decided to write something on Sunday morning. Sunday morning came and went and I had nada. It was almost time to go to the story slam. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t know what to wear, it was raining, I didn’t want to drive, I was sure there would be no parking at the venue. Inspite of these thoughts, I was still forcing myself to come up with a story. I timed myself as I spoke aloud, creating the story in my head, adding and deleting things as I went, in a desperate attempt to have a coherent story within a 5 minute time frame (Hari had told me he would haul people physically off the stage if we went over the limit !). In the cab on the way to the story slam I was suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that I would forget my story half way through and so began a frantic jotting down of the main points on my phone.

At the story slam session, who ever wanted to tell a story had to write down their names on a chit, put them in a basket and Roshan or Hari would pull out the names one by one. There were to be 10 speakers randomly chosen. So I didn’t know if I would eventually get to speak or not. Too much trouble for such a slim chance whispered the evil voice in my ear.

Anyhow I wrote my name on the chit and put it in the basket. I was joined by my lovely friend Kajal Kapur and we waited for the show to begin. The show began with a few songs by one of Kommune’s featured artists that I barely listened to as the good voice and the bad voice were playing their own symphony inside my head. Then came the time for the first speaker.

Roshan read out the name. It wasn’t me. I don’t know if I was relieved or disappointed. Second name, not me, third name, not me, fourth name not me. By this time I was a nervous wreck, restless and fidgeting in my seat. I wanted to go up there and speak, at the same time I hoped I would never have to open my mouth in front of this room full of people. The worst was when the fifth name was someone called Aditi and the sixth name was also someone called Aditi. What are the chances that two people with the same name would get a chance but one Ruchira would not get picked? By the time the 7th speaker was called I was doing deep breathing in an attempt to calm down. I was so exhausted with all those oscillating thoughts in my head, I was barely enjoying the performances. Something which I really regret as some of the speakers were really good. Then after 9 performances it was time for the 10th and final speaker.
I waited with bated breath, not sure what I hoped for as Roshan picked up the chit and read out the last name – Not me.

I felt a whole lot of conflicting emotions then.But I think somewhere the predominant emotion was also that here was one chance of proving to myself that I could do this and I had missed it. With this one small, teeny weeny disappointment came an avalanche of negative thoughts – I never get anything I want, I just keep trying with no results, life is so screwed up and unfair. While these dark waters of thoughts were churning in my head, the 10th speaker narrated his story and left the stage.

Roshan came back on stage and we assumed that he would now announce the end of the session. Instead he looked at his watch and decided that there was still time for one more story. As if in very very slow motion he picked up a chit, opened it up and …read out my name. Before the negative voice could freeze me on the spot, I jumped up and was behind the mike. Such was my confidence in myself that I will screw up that I didn’t even bother to ask Kajal to take pictures, forget recording my story.

I started speaking. Into my second line Roshan interrupted me. I was sure he wanted to me to stop and go back to my seat but all he wanted me to do was wait because a few people were trying to come in and he wanted me to start once everybody had settled down. While we were waiting, he narrated some story about marketing Maggie noodles in the 80s that I didn’t hear a word of.

I was back behind the mike and finally telling my story. After a few lines, I realized with a start that the audience didn’t have that bored, dazed look on their faces. On the fifth line a few in the audience actually smiled. Gradually my palms stopped sweating and my heart stopped doing its frantic tom-tom against my chest. The audience were really listening to me! They laughed when I was funny and clicked their fingers (Kommune’s version of clapping) when they thought I said something they could connect with. And suddenly I realised that I was actually enjoying myself. I finished my story and the applause I got should have been all that I needed to erase the last of my self-doubt. But I was still unsure about how I had performed. I got my answer when I was voted the best speaker at the story slam.

I was not perfect that day, I had fumbled and jumbled and made mistakes while speaking, yet I had managed to capture and hold the audience’s interest. But even more important than the appreciation was the fact that I had taken that one crucial step in overcoming my fears.

Kajal bless her heart had recorded my story on her phone so it is there for posterity as a constant reminder for me to not listen to those nervous bring-you-down voices in my head, to believe that your time will come, be it at a story telling session or at something you really want in your life. All you need is a little bit of patience, a bit of faith in yourself, and an ability to squash down that voice in your head whenever it rears its ugly head to say something negative.

So here is my first attempt at story telling for all of you.

The first line is missing from the video “The Delhi of the 80’s was full of small government colonies and I grew up in one of them …..


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