Kahani Ki Dukaan
The ancient Culture of India began more than 5,000 years ago with the Indus Valley Civilizations. Over the years, communication started with various forms of storytelling (Kahani Ki Dukaan).
They used visual stories, such as cave drawings, and then shifted to oral traditions, in which stories were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth.
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India being a land of diverse cultures, every state and district follow their own style of storytelling. It is a way of preserving the culture and beliefs of a tribe or community and passing them down to the next generation.
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With the passage of time and the impact of development and growth, most of our cultural and heritage art forms have gone through tremendous change.
As wild organic food and natural resources are depleting or becoming extinct, so are our cultural practices. With every passing year, fewer and fewer people are practicing traditional activities.
Conserving folktale culture is important because it is a connecting thread between older and newer generations.
Folklores have been recognized as Intangible Heritage Culture by UNESCO, under the category of oral history according to the 2003 convention.
Thankfully, slowly people are realizing the importance of this folklore, especially in literature, because they are filled with moral values.
These values, passed on from generation to generation, create a synergy of modern and traditional values.
This is where Anoop Chugh and Jasmine hold high esteem as change makers.
They are the founders of Kahani ki Dukaan- Rural India’s Natak Company.
Their main aim was to revive the dying art of storytelling, using theater and vocal forms.
Their purpose was to bridge the gap between urban and rural by making art accessible to rural children and to turn rural children into storytellers.
They are one amongst many unique individuals who have left their fast city life behind to start performance art spaces for rural children in villages.
Anoop belonged to Delhi. He worked in the advertising field.
Traveling in the Himalayas was a passion and storytelling was his inert dream. Life was mundane in the concrete jungles. His professional life kept him occupied during the weekdays.
He found a solution to connect with like-minded people who shared similar passions. During the weekends, he started getting strangers together at living rooms for performance art.
These get-togethers took the shape of storytelling sessions, mostly connected to travel. From here rose the idea of looking at thousands of lost stories dating back to our ancestral heritage.
Anoop started doing performances with these folklores and slowly these sessions picked up momentum and more and more people and travel lovers joined in.
He was a performance artist, always wanting to bring art to remote corners and tell stories of rural India. During these performance gatherings, he met a lot of interesting artists including Jasmine.
Jasmine was a shoe designer. She was well established in her career in Delhi, but she was aware that her calling was elsewhere. Being a designer, she too enjoyed connecting to our Indian heritage stories and always wanted to revive sustainable traditional craft from rural India and turn rural women into compelling stories.
Over time, managing both, a full time career and following their dream, was like walking on a tight rope. This is when Jasmine and Anoop decided to quit their city life and move to a quaint mountain village.
Jasmine and Anoop, along with four other artists – Abhishek, Vikas, Al Qawi and Kavita, decided to take the big leap – create a rural performance art space in a small village called Gunehar (Himachal).
While everyone traveled to Himachal to start an airbnb or a cafe, Jasmine and Anoop realized what these villages wanted were expression arts spaces for the local children to explore their creativity.
Initially six of them setup a month-long project in Gunehar, where they were invited to as storytellers for an art festival. They wrote stories on different characters from the village and turned them into posters which they plastered across the village.
Post the festival, children wanted to continue with the concept and demanded Kahani ki Dukaan should stay forever.
That’s when Jasmine and Anoop launched Kahani Ki Dukaan as a foundation with performances in the village courtyards. The space became a post school hangout for rural children where they came for art, music, theater, performances and expressions.
“Kahani Ki Dukaan means a story shop. They are a hub of human stories, a bazaar where you find elements of culture and lifestyle from Himachal.”
They started village walks for day visitors who would come to their story museum and attend live story sessions, workshops and village food walks.
Over time, few more people joined their core team.
Through their art residency program, a lot of artists joined them to create projects in and around the village.
Allan Martyr, aka Babloo, joined the team to compose and write songs with rural children; Anagha Kusum, came to setup children’s museum; Amankshi joined to introduce Pottery; Rishita introduced movement therapy; Soujanya Boruah added insight into birds of Kangra and how to identify their sounds while Ansh came and taught filmmaking to the children among other resident artists.
They got more and more involved with the local villagers and their daily issues.
Having a social bent of mind, they decided to support the locals by reviving their art forms and skills.
As they got connected with the villagers, they started various women’s entrepreneurial initiates to support them financially.
They started creating mats from old clothes and selling those on Instagram, creating revenue not just for the Dukaan but for women of Gunehar as well.
They trained local women to make these mats from old clothes lowering carbon footprints.
As Anoop says,” To the young women wishing to work at grass roots, sexism is prevalent not only within the rural community where you work but also in your peers. The flashes of feminism found in rural women through their everyday struggles are rather inspiring and push you to stand your ground”.
Some of other initiatives they run in the village are Solo women travellers from Gunehar. They take older widowed women of Gunehar on travel across Himachal to explore the state they so fondly love and sing about.
The mobile library initiative sets up weekend libraries across villages around Himachal to distribute storybooks using theater and storytelling.
The audio wall soundscape has captured the songs and voices from Gunehar for the uninitiated.
They are in the process of building a repository of stories online about Kangri and pastoral lifestyle of Himachal.
Village panchayats often invite them to host cultural and social awareness programmes in the village.
Promotion of menstrual hygiene and environment preservation being the last two events they hosted in the village apart from Gunehar’s first feminist stories festival featured Jasmine’s curated women stories and Dhaar chidi’s art installations.
Parents and children take pride in the fact that an expression art space is available in their village unlike any other village.
They intend to setup such story shops in different villages across India and create skill design centers for sustainable handmade rural products. They also want to start a rural children story festival for travelers.
During their first tenure as Kahani Ki Dukaan in Gunehar (Himachal) children lapped up the concept and co-created various stories in the village based on real characters.
They created a rural foundation which became a post school space for children to hang out and get introduced to newer expression arts. The challenge was to bring children from different castes together under one roof.
They found a simple solution to it. Everyday children kept a new name and stopped using their surnames in the process. This broke down all shackles of caste and religion. A Brilliant and progressive idea.
After winters, they intend to set up a similar performance center in a remote village near Barot Valley and trace the history of Gaddi tribe of Himachal through art installations and storytelling.
They want to create multiple expression art spaces in and around rural India to preserve the local culture & lifestyle through stories of rural India.
They have been featured by various media houses such as Conde Nast Traveler, Homegrown, The Indian express, Better India and popular vlogs on Bir.
They believe that “Rural India is home to human stories and surprises. We should not go by the stereotypes of rural India and rather explore and experience it ourselves to get amazed.”
As we all know, there is great potential in our next generation youth to hold onto their heritage and culture. All they need is motivation and inspiration.
Anoop’s message for the youth is. “Don’t work from the mountains, work FOR the mountains and its people.” And if the majority of our populations focus on these marginalized rural Indians, change is bound to happen.
These two along with their teammates have diligently tried to keep our Indian storytelling heritage alive and running.
Jasmine call for change- Her message ” To the young women wishing to work at the grassroots, sexism is prevalent not only within the rural community where you work but also in your peers. The flashes of feminism found in rural women through their everyday struggles are rather inspiring and push you to stand your ground. “
Anoop and Jasmine are true supporters of our cultural lineage as they want to preserve everything sustainable through folklore and work for positive change.
Instagram : @kahanikidukaan
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