The art of storytelling with Navin Pangti- A didactic experience

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By Team Srijan Jan 8, 2012

Storytelling is an art well practiced in India and is quite ancient in nature. Stories evoke curiosity and lure individuals irrespective of their age. It was the story telling technique that our ancestors adopted to narrate the great battles won, the mythological stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata and also to meticulously describe the family trees and ties. Till now, especially in the traditional Indian families fables play a rich part in a child’s upbringing.

In one of the Beyond Tech sessions at Srijan, the founder of Dolka Innovations Pvt Ltd and an innate storyteller Mr.Navin Pangti mesmerized the gathering through his thought provoking stories.

Within a span of two hours he left the professionals thrilled, emotional and into gales of laughter towards the end of the session. He not only gave everyone a good time with his heart touching stories but also taught the art of story telling well. After all there is a tale, a series of events behind the person you are, the incidences are nothing but tales and more tales that make up a life.

 Pangti took off with repudiating the idea of being a T-shaped individual against being oneself .He  felt that the whole idea was to change according to the demanding situations. In Pangti’s words “Kuch banna nahi badalna hai”. He then went on to gesture- fully narrate a children’s story about a bakri (a goat), who in the first scene moves up a hill- crosses a bridges to graze in the field of lush grass. In the second scene he described two bakris(two goats) coming from opposite ends and how they violently run into each other in an attempt to cross the bridge. While in the third scene the same goats coming from the opposite ends when try to cross the bridge patiently are able to reach their respective destinations. It left the listeners wondering as to why they couldn’t graze in the same field. The story had many more connotations and interpretations according to Pangti .The idea behind the trivial tale were to communicate the difference in individual perspectives and how the idea of being T shaped was unworkable.

 Post this, very cheerfully Pangti moved on to narrate a story about a chattan (a rock face) whom a farmer struck everyday in order to collect rocks and sell them to earn a living. This infuriated the rock face who wished he wasn’t a rock face at all and was something worthwhile like the farmer. Fortunately, the wish fulfilling angel was passing by and granted his wish of becoming a farmer. ‘Tathastu’ (may it be granted) uttered the angel and turned him into a farmer. However even after the fulfillment of the desire Mr. Rock face was utterly dissatisfied with the life of misery, poverty and unhappiness and so he changed his mind and wished he were a ‘seth’( a rich man). Even this wish of his was happily granted by the angel. After spending several weeks in luxury with nothing to do and wealth all around he once witnesses a ‘jaloos’ of the King (a parade where the King is praised for bringing victory to the state) and this makes the Rock face sullen yet again.  And now he wished he were the King of his state. Like his previous wishes even this one surprisingly, was granted by the angel. He becomes the King heartily however to his misfortune, during his kingship his state suffers extreme drought conditions that are tough to solve despite distributing the entire food stock amid his people. Only a few downpours could do wonders. All the people of his state were now waiting for nothing but the rains.  Mr. Rock Face turned gloomy secretly wishing he were a cloud so that he could pour rain showers in his state for a fertile ground where crops could be grown. And so as always the wish fulfilling angel makes him a cloud. As a cloud he would whirl around pouring raining in his state, in his own village and the drought conditions soon gave way to health and happiness. Mr. Rock face continues whirling around pouring rains every now and then making his people happy and at times unhappy. One thing remained constant- the rock face who had taken his place. That time he realized how happy he was being one. While pondering over it, the angel appeared again and pestered him asking as to what did he want now? And he wished to be restored to his original for- a rock face that he was.

The speaker jauntily ended the narration leaving the Srijan-ites exhilarated. Pangti then awaited the answers to the second story he narrated. The story though was hilarious was profound in nature and carried a deeper meaning- that of being oneself. Often in the midst of aping others, or after witnessing other’s success and life, we often are left with an urge to be like them. However, there are times we fail to recognize our own selves. The aim of having a speaker like Navin Pangti was not just to have fun or a day without work but for self help, to maintain one’s individuality even at one’s work culture and outside.

Navinji then threw light on the types of stories narrated- children stories, story sequencing activities, adult stories- with an emphasis on religion. He then explained ‘Dastaan’ that has a tale within a tale, episodic stories narrated by natives to the travelers. 

The day being dedicated to storytelling, Pangti came up with another kahaani (a story) about the two most beautiful women in a village who have no knowledge about their own beauties until a saint walks into their hut and gives them a ‘mirror’ as a reward  for the services they carry out for the saint. The moment they glare at the mirror their egos sprang up each declaring her self better looking than the other. It’s then they come up with the plan of moving out in the street and counting the number of people who’d give each the two attention. In this process one of the two girls named ‘satya’(meaning truth) even goes up to the extent of giving up her clothes in order to seek attention however, the other girl named ‘kahaani’(meaning a story) who also moves in the street draped colourfully does not give up her clothes and lands up getting most of the attention. What could it possibly depict? Self respect versus attention? Such stories are very open ended in nature and have to be understood from a situational point of view. The speaker’s task is to share the story however; it’s for the listener to interpret.

By now the youngsters at Srijan were quite enlightened as well as somber. But the show went on, Pangti- the chronicler came up with yet another beautiful story that spoke about a lil boy from an affluent family who was very fond of collecting stamps and each day he’d begin collecting stamps along with his poor friend from the same village. Navin then went on to describe the intense friendship that the two shared and how after the rich boy falls  ill following which the two are unable to meet one another and in that duration the boy’s father hides the stamp collection in a ‘sindook’(a small box) in the basement so that his son would leave the poor guy’s company and concentrate on his studies. On recovering from the illness the boy finds the stamps missing, the lad thinks of his friend as a thief and a betrayer, breaking the friendship thereafter. However, years later after the boy grows up and his father dies- he discovers the old stamps from one of the cupboards where his father had hidden his collection when he was a child. It is then that he becomes regretful of everything he’d done right from being a loner, not loving his wife and children whole heartedly,  and how he longed to travel around the globe but couldn’t make it due to the sense of betrayal that he friend instilled in him only to discover that it was a misunderstanding. That childhood incident leaves an indelible imprint on his memory and even fifty years after the occurence of the event he doesn’t  come to terms with forgetting it.

Similarly, like the story Pangti told, there are a lot of incidents and people that form a part of our lives and even after a part of our lives becomes a past, it continues to haunt us and that further continues to affect us. Following this, Pangti taught the art of prioritizing life and for this too he had a story. A story about how a professor brings a few props to the class, one amongst the others is a jar in which he puts a number of balls and asks the class if it was full to which he gets a positive reply. After this he puts a number of pebbles in the empty spaces of the jar leaving the students astounded and again puts up the question if the jar was full, to and again he receives a positive response. Then he takes out some sand and begins pouring in the jar leaving the class thrilled and on top of that he pours two cups of tea. The whole idea behind this entire exercise narrated by Navinji  was to teach a lesson on being aware about one’s priorities , be it prioritizing people or  other elements like anger, mockery et al in the jar of life. Anger, mockery, sadness being the sand- if put first would leave no space for balls-balls being the most essential elements that consisted of the family and an individual’s loved ones. The jar story instilled a sense of confidence in each of the professionals and lightened the atmosphere. Also, it was noted that all of his stories centered on being oneself.

Succeeding the jar story followed another story whose narration went on for long nevertheless attracted the most. The tale narrated in the end was a ‘lok katha’ ( a folk tale) which had been taken from Vijay dan Detha’s (a Rajasthani writer and a Sahiya Academi award winner) volume of short stories- “Baatan ri Phulwari”(A Garden of Tales), the story’s name being ‘Rijak ki Marjada’( The King’s victory)  was translated in English by an American woman who called it “A True Calling”. 

This story describes a “bhand” (A clownish character who does impersonations and other antics for a living. More versatile than  a "bahurupiya," the man of countless guises).

Being a bhand was a talent which wasn’t deceiving in nature rather it completely wrapped an individual in a situation where the boundaries between the original and the one being the enacted blurred completely. The Hindu Mythology, explained Pangti was full of bhands, for instance God Shiva who could transform himself into anything or for instance  Vishnu transforming into “mandagini” were all examples of bhands.

Now this Bhand that Pangti spoke of  was the greatest of all the bhands ever born as he had the ability to transform himself completely into the character he enacted. And so the bhand plans to become a Mahatma and enters his own village. The villagers actually go on to believing him as the Mahatma and begin worshipping him. The bhand after succeeding in his attempts chooses to stay in the Seth’s house who is the richest in the village. The Seth is elated to have a God like creature in his house and so he does the best he can to serve the Mahatma. The Mahatma in turn enlightens the Seth and his family with powerful lessons about life and after life and that of renouncement of worldly pleasures. After listening to the Mahatma the Seth becomes guilt stricken and is reminded of how fraudulent he had been and how cleverly he had extracted a lot of wealth from the villagers. The Seth then decides to give his entire wealth to the Mahatma. However, the Mahatma refuses it and takes his original form- that of a bhand but the Seth refuses to believe and still presses upon giving his wealth. Declaring himself a Bhand, he moves out of the Seth’s house with only five gold rings as his fee for becoming a bhand. The villagers after witnessing this incident praise the bhand and the news of the great bhand spreads like fire through the village and reaches the king. The King calls and asks the bhand to display the talent in his court as well and asks him to become a devil, but the bhand pleads the king to change the disguise and allow him to enact someone else as -if he’d enact a devil, it’d certainly result in someone’s death. The King was however adamant and calls the bhand coward and fearful.

The bhand agrees to enact in the devil on a condition that he’d not be reprimanded if he kills someone during the time he puts up the act. The villagers being aware don’t dare to come out of their houses from the fear of being killed. Only the King and his ministers are present during the act. The bhand leaves the ministers and the king spooked and they collectively run for their life. Towards the end of the enactment when comes the time to kill someone, it is only the brother-in-law of the king who is seen around. The bhand in the guise of the devil eventually kills him, drinks  his blood and thereafter ends the whole act after which the he restores his old form of being a bhand The whole drama stupefies the King and infuriates the Queen however, as promised he loses the right to punish the bhand. While the Queen demands justice for her brother’s death. The situation leaves the king perplexed and indecisive. 

In ancient days the barbers would come and advise or drop a suggestion to the king if a case was tricky or tough for the king to crack and so the barber suggests the King to command the bhand to be the sati (Sati in the olden Indian tradition was a widow who had to burn in the funeral fire of her husband.) of his brother.

The King appreciates  the suggestion given by the barber, rewards him immensely for solving his dilemma  and commands the bhand to enact a sati of his brother in law. The bhand obediently follows everything the king commands and the next day happily sits on the funeral pyre that burns him to death.

The above story is named “Bhand “ by Pangti and not what the original title says. It is because it was the bhand’s sacrifice, his dedication to his profession- that of enactment that led to his unjust death. The story not only speaks about the devotion towards the profession that the bhand had it also speaks volumes about the shallow political society in which we stay and continue to stay in. The innocents voice are still in minority. Corruption, Mal practices, deaths due to negligence continue to occur even in a democratic set up. 

Out of all the stories narrated by Pangti the bhand’s story was the most powerful and hit the listeners at Srijan directly in the heart. Being aware about oneself, being oneself was all Pangti was heading to explain through his stories. Sometimes, the topics one wants to discuss can be too ugly or grave to discuss however, when told in a disguised manner can be embedded in the minds of the people.

The general air of the Srijan Technologies office had gone sullen after the ’bhand’s death’ but Pangi had his amicable ways of bringing back the cheer. He deviated the youngsters by asking each one to narrate a story that had affected them or would like to share. He himself cooked up a story regarding a Srijan employ and asked each one to add a little and cook up an interesting story on the employee. This left everyone in splits of laughter and the faces turned crimson as each one humorously made up his/her part of the story that turned out to be comedy-like. 

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