Radhika Bagdai is a well-known storyteller and her name is taken with great reverence in the early childhood educators' and parents' circuit. Her innovative ways of performance-based storytelling with makeup, costumes, props, movements, singing, dancing and modern twists to classic fairytale and Indian mythology makes her the most sought after storyteller in these parts of the country.
Corner.Network sought her out to listen to her story.
When did you start storytelling as a profession?
I became a storyteller unofficially 17 years ago, when I delivered my first baby.
But, officially I started storytelling when I initiated my journey as a kindergarten teacher 10 years ago. I was teaching the English language through stories to preschoolers. That was the first seed towards professional storytelling. And when I moved to Pune five years ago, my passion became my profession.
Under what banner do you do storytelling?
I work under the name “LiveStoryArt by Radhika”. There is a little story behind this name: As a teacher in Ahmedabad, I was asked to attend a storytelling workshop. The storyteller conducting the workshop mentioned that oral storytelling is like a live art. I found her analogy so apt and the statement stayed with me in my heart. So when I started my journey as a performance-based storyteller, I remembered this analogy and named my company ‘LiveStoryArt’.
How did you develop this love for storytelling?
My mother tells me I have been weaving stories since I was a kid [laughs]. But jokes apart, the principal of the school where I was teaching was able to tap into my distinct art of storytelling. According to her, I was blessed with this art and mentioned that she noticed how once when I was doing a storytelling session for almost a 100 junior kindergarten students and their teachers for 40 minutes, no one budged an inch; all were listening in rapt attention. I had been quite oblivious to it. The principal who was also my mentor said that “if you can have the undivided attention of such young toddlers’ for so long and can connect with them then you can connect to anyone of any age!”
A little later I was able to connect the dots - I had inherited this gift from my grandfather. As a kid I remember our whole family used to gather at night to listen to stories that he would share with us. They could have been his personal life story or experience or Akbar-Birbal, Panchatantra stories or even Osho’s preaching, we all enjoyed those times. The unique bit of this story time gathering was that it was done for pleasure and not purpose. For me he is the best storyteller ever.
What did you do before that?
I have studied fashion designing and was exporting designer outfits to Nairobi and London for a few years. But later I was drawn to the field of education and taught in an IB Preschool in Gujarat for five years. To enhance my storytelling skills, I did a course known as “Music Together”, which allows kids’ creativity and self-expression to blossom along with learning music in a fun way. To add a little more depth to my knowledge of kids, I did an ECCE course (Early Childhood Care Education) which I passed with distinction.
How many years have you been doing these workshops, and how many people have you reached?
I have done several story performances in Mumbai, Pune and in different cities in Gujarat. I have been a part of Pune’s LitBug Fest since its inception along with ‘Bhimthadi Jatra’, Udaipur Tales, International Kids Film Festival, and other similar platforms. I have totally lost count of the number of shows I have done.
I also conduct a teachers training program for the art of storytelling. I recently conducted a workshop for about 50 teachers at Nand Vidya Niketan Essar School, Jamnagar.
Why did you want to be a storyteller?
I believe the universe is made up of stories more than atoms and everyone loves to listen to stories. So I decided to turn my passion into my profession and became a storyteller. This art-form helps me to ‘reach out’ to people in a positive way and bring a SMILE on their faces. This is my bit in reviving the ancient art of oral storytelling.
Another reason for being a storyteller is to bring back the joy of listening to stories for pleasure as we used to do as kids. I design my session in a way that parents and kids can enjoy. There is a child in everyone, and stories help to bring forth the child in each one.
You have had several interesting experiences during your workshops. Could you narrate a few?
Once I was asked to do a story performance for Diwali where the theme was “Say No to firecrackers”. I wove a story around animals and the effect of firecrackers on them. Everyone enjoyed the show and I was content with my work. After Diwali I received a call from a parent who was present at that show saying that she always told her kids not to burn crackers but they never listened to her. After my story performance they promised her that they will not burn crackers and they kept that promise. This is the impact of stories on our lives. It was that day that I realized the responsibility I hold, as a storyteller.
Has your storytelling changed the way children learn?
All the stories have a moral or a learning. But when I narrate or perform a story, I don’t impose the moral or takeaway of the story on any child. I believe each child is different and each one has his/her own learnings. I further believe that they will show their understanding and learning in their own way and at their own given time.
I try to show this perspective to parents and teachers as well. Once this shift happens in them, kids are free from the burden of showcasing their learning. And this gives the children freedom and space to be themselves and learn at ease. So, yes! my storytelling is bringing a positive change in children’s learning.
Any personal favorite characters and stories?
All the villains of any story are my favorite as I believe all the bad or negative characters have their own positive side. As a storyteller I always try to show the positive side of a villain; my story ends on a positive note with the villain transforming into the hero.
One of my favorite characters is the Big Bad Wolf. Although in my 'twisty tales' he transforms into the Big Friendly Wolf!
I would like to conduct more teachers’ training programs, so that the art of storytelling can be used by many more and millions of children could benefit.
I want to write books too - “Classic Tales with a Modern Twist” to make them more relatable to today’s kids.
I wish to continue performing Indian mythological stories to let children know about the rich Indian culture and heritage.
You can reach out to Radhika at firstname.lastname@example.org
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