Sweta Vikram on Changing the World with Stories

No matter which country or culture you are born into, chances are you have both narrated and heard many stories in your life.

Stories help shape our perspective of the world and connect us to it. They add meaning to our lives. Stories help us learn about other people, places, and cuisines and nourish the curiosity within. They pave way for understanding, empathy and unity, and also create magic and wonder in the world. If you see yourself reflected in a story, don’t you get the feeling, “I understand myself better now”?

Even in a professional scenario, good storytelling is a central component of leadership. Why do people willingly spend thousands of dollars on Apple products? Don’t get me wrong. I have been a devoted member of the Apple fan club for way over a decade. I am aware that other brands can fulfill (perhaps) my needs. There is something about the Apple storytelling that resonates with me on a deeper level and establishes faith. Think President Obama or Bill Clinton and what makes/made you want to listen to them? It is their ability to tell effective leadership stories.

Stories Amplify the Voices of the Unheard

Mamta Singh of Story Matters.

Mamta Singh is a New Delhi-based independent documentary filmmaker, a writer-director, and the founder of Story Matters, a production house that is committed to telling stories that matter. I love the poignance with which Singh says, “What are we but our stories? We are all a collection of stories and experiences. Some are our own, some we hear and see around us. Every single one of these stories is powerful and deserves to be heard and told. Storytelling helps us pause and take note, reflect, understand, appreciate, empathize & more.” Singh believes stories and storytelling are powerful, cathartic, and healing.

Singh is both inspired and motivated by people, places, and their stories. “The best part of my work is that I get to travel to places I wouldn’t have and meet new people and have experiences that inform, educate and enrich me. Motivation would be to get these voices and stories out there.”

Asked if there are particular stories she is drawn to, she responds, “Stories of women who show great strength and resilience and emerge winners against all odds. My first feature length documentary – “Women of Varanasi,” four stories from the holy city – looks at women who have taken up professions that were for centuries supposedly meant for men. In a society as patriarchal as it can get, it is quite an achievement for these women to be knowingly and unknowingly creating ripples in the socio-cultural fabric of the city.”

Stories Pass Down Knowledge

Dr. Shweta Singh of Ticking Tales.

Based in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Dr. Shweta Singh is a woman with a mission to get more children to read and develop an interest in stories.

“In Salman Khurshid’s words, ‘When a child is born he/she asks for food first and then stories.’ So, these stories are for all. Certainly, for those who ask for and those who cannot, need it even more,” says Singh, the founder of Ticking Tales  as well as a kids’ author, storyteller, parenting blogger, doctor, and a hands-on mom.

“Our reading program works well in transforming non-readers to fluent readers within a few months,” she says. “Being a unique combination of audio and books, it all develops their expressions and narration skill. Children with special needs have also shown miraculous results with us.

“We weave stories, create stories, and live stories. We help children realize their creativity, keeping individuality alive and lead a thoughtful path, all through stories. We conduct workshops for both parents and teachers. For teachers, ‘Storytelling in the Classroom,’ and for parents, ‘Raising Readers at Home.’ … We work towards building a community where every child loves to read. We do this through our online and offline sessions, and also making stories a part of every childhood through our story app, Droomplanet.”

Because of COVID and remote learning, Droomplanet, is now being used by listeners all across the globe, including in countries like the U.S., the U.K., Singapore, Philippines, Australia and Canada.

Stories Teach Us Compassion

Anju Kataria of Khazana.

Anju Kataria is a Minnesota-based business owner of Khazana. She believes that you get in life what’s written in your share. She has faith in humanity and believes in the power of the universe. Kataria started collecting treasures from around the world when she was a child growing up in India. Before the pandemic, Kataria traveled the globe to meet and work with passionate craftspeople. Every project at Khazana supports and connects with local and international artists.

Once the pandemic hit, she launched “Tree of Life” (a virtual gallery event) and shared stories to keep the connections between creators and collectors alive. She feared that the pandemic would end rare and beautiful forms of artistic expression that have been practiced for centuries. Many of her artisans live and practice their craft in rural areas with precarious economies.

“The Tree of Life” is an ancient symbol that represents nourishment, growth, renewal and human interdependence. It is also the perfect metaphor for Khazana’s 29-year journey.

“Our mission — to support the work of emerging artisans and to nurture rare and ancient art forms — offers artisans exposure to a broader marketplace and creates tangible connections that reach across the globe,” says Kataria. All the profits from any virtual sales are going directly to the artists. It is intended to work as an economic relief to the master artisans.

Kataria is passionate about keeping the stories alive for generations to come.

“When the time comes to venture out into the world again, we hope that the connections forged now, through these artworks, will inspire you to visit the artisans in person,” she says.

Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that storytelling is our obligation for generations to come. Good stories do more than create a sense of connection. They can forge relationships, convey the nuances of culture, build businesses, highlight social atrocities, unite people with shared interests, and celebrate big and small moments, amongst other things.