All eyes and all ears: Vishakha Chanchani's storytelling workshop, Aug 2008

'All eyes and all ears'. That's what this workshop on appreciating stories was called, and it aptly described the participants who attended. Only, you needed to add – all noses, taste buds and epidermis as well! Indeed, the recent workshop organised by Sutradhar and conducted by storyteller Vishakha Chanchani encouraged us to explore stories using ALL our senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

We began by illustrating the title as a logo – various interpretations of 'All eyes and all ears' came forth, some colourful, some black-n-white, some cartoony, some like sketches – all different, unique to the respective participant. A noisy game of pass-the-parcel followed, because not only did we play the game, we created our own music – singing, whooshing, mooing, thumping, all in chorus, all helping move that parcel along! We rolled the words around on our tongues till we almost could taste them!

This was followed by a collage which involved cutting 'sound bites' from magazines. When we read out the work, many participants were reduced to tears of mirth – the resultant rhymes turned out to be so apt and so funny. We had a 'shopkeeper' yelling out her wares with a series of gibberish, a lady with a cold sneezing and snffling – all through the cut out letters we had pasted together.

Then, we received big sheets of drawing paper and a pencil. We took our pencil for a walk – exploring the sheet of paper all over, for many minutes, without removing the pencil point from the paper, all against a backdrop of music. We then added splashes of colour using crayon or paint, or even bits of rag. Suddenly, Vishakha asked us to share our sheets. What followed was a 'jugalbandi' – two of us adding to the same sheet of paper, each with a different medium. I used yellow paint while my partner used a green crayon. The beauty of the exercise was that we weren't allowed to speak to each other, just draw, and respond to each other through art. This was so absorbing that many participants didn't want to stop the exercise!

Fresh papers, and a fresh exercise. 'Play with your name. Visually and phonetically … write your name with your left hand. Write it as a mirror image. Rhyme it.' This really jolted us – in a pleasant way of course. One's name is something one is used to saying and seeing in one way only. To suddenly see it and pronounce it differently helped us realise that when we break age old perceptions, creativity follows. I wrote my name in Hindi several times, with and without the vowels, and was surprised to see the formation of the letters which followed each other each time.

We then feasted on Vishakha's collection of picture books in different languages. Since we had already covered, without really knowing it, illustration and typography, we could appreciate the books better.

Just when we thought there would be no greater surprises, another one came along. Vishakha handed each group a sheet with a story on it. It looked innocent enough, till she told us what we had to do with it. 'Make a picture book. You have two hours today and two more hours tomorrow.'

Make a picture book in four hours? Impossible. We shook our heads. This was the craziest thing yet, not achievable. Overriding our objections, Vishakha handed out the sheets and colours. 'Start,' she said, with a smile.

We started. It was bewildering at first. But quickly, each group grasped the task. We divided the work, divided the story, and got right down to it. Slowly, pages started emerging with text on them. Magically, illustrations appeared beneath frenzied fingers. So what if the frog Savita drew didn't at all resemble the frog Dilshad drew? Everyone would know it was the same frog!

Believe it or not, we completed the task. Then, each group read out their stories, holding up the books they had created. We sat, enraptured, watching each group present. Could we have achieved this in the short time available? Yes we had. And what it did was to understand our own abilities more – and to have faith in what can be done if only we believe we can do it! Many participants said this would alter the way they would view a book henceforth, appreciating every aspect of it – text, illustration, page break up and layout, everything.

The grand finale was yet to come. We broke into two big groups – one 'natural art' and one 'sound and acting'. Each group created a story in about an hour, and then presented it through the chosen medium. The 'natural art' group had made props and backdrops like rangolis on the ground – creating a tree and a well out of scraps of natural material (leaves, bits of bark, seeds …). Utilising that, they sang out their story in a fascinating folk-tale way.

Our group, the 'sound and acting' group chose to enact the experience of one of the participants, Barbara, who had arrived from Australia on the first plane that landed at Bangalore's new airport. In a ten minute skit, we compared the sights and sounds of India to those of Australia. It was a mix of giggles and deep thoughts, a very rewarding skit to participate in.

All in all, the workshop truly opened out all our senses and intelligences. We moved effortlessly between word and rhyme, story and poem, music and picture, text and song, illustration and sculpture, dance and theatre!


Sonali Bhatia