By SHWETA RAJ KANWAR | February 6, 2018

“I believe every one is a story teller. If you do not want to attend school or wish to take a day off from office, we all know how to cook up a pretty convincing story (Laughs). Once you are convinced of what you want to convey, you will be be able to convince the listener with ease. Once you are happy telling your story, you pass on the same energy to the listeners”Nicky Chandam, Founder and Managing Director Octave Foundation

February 3, 2018 was a day of story listening for Shillongites as two story tellers from Manipur and Delhi made their way to the ‘Abode of Clouds’ bringing folk stories from times immemorial but with a dash of humor and contemporary spice. Nicky Chandam and Nitin Sukhija from Wari- a story telling platform under the banner of Octave Foundation, are on a mission to revive the art of story telling. This was their maiden attempt in Northeast India at the Heritage Club, Shillong.

Speaking to TNT- The Northeast Today, Nitin Sukhija, Nicky’s team member who forms an integral part of Wari said, “Story telling always gave my purpose a new high and Nicky gave me a purpose to pursue the same. The best part about our work is that we actually sit together and add punches to our stories. The stories are readily available, but what the story conveys and how do we make them fit for listening in the present day context is what sets it apart. We add a touch of humor into our stories so people leave the venue with a smile on their face”.

Born and brought up in Manipur, Nicky Chandam has been living in Delhi for more than a decade and worked in MNCs for more than 10 years until 2014 when she chose to quit her job, perturbed by the situation in the National Capital owing to the increase in cases of racial discrimination against Northeast Indians. On January 29, 2014, Nido Tania, a 20-year-old Student from Arunachal Pradesh was murdered in the Lajpat Nagar area of Delhi, triggering widespread protests. Nicky could not remain silent any longer and that was the time she decided to do something about it. And that was when she launched the Octave Foundation in 2015 with an aim to bring people together to celebrate the cultural diversity.

She realized there was lack of narratives in mainstream media and entertainment, which play an instrumental role in shaping up public opinion and awareness. The school textbooks does not talk enough about North Eastern Region despite many proposals being made repeatedly. This further alienates the people of the region from the national ethos and allows mistrust to seep into their minds. Likewise, even in Northeast India there is a sense of suspicion and lack of trust for people who do not belong to the region. Cultural exposures about other regions is low and hence even when travelling or migrating to a new region, many a times people from the Northeast assume it is safer to be in their respective communities even if in a different city.

“I come from a background of art & culture. My grandfather was a theater artist and I was exposed to the stage at a very young age. Three story tellers of Manipur totally fascinated me through their performance of ‘Epom’- the kind of comedy that would talk about the issues of society in a humorous manner that brought about acceptability among people. I wanted to do something like this. I have been a part of the Delhi art & culture space for almost as long as I have been living there and this opened up new ideas. Hence I thought that story telling would be one medium through which we can try telling the Northeast folk tales to other parts of the country. I believed that as we go on narrating more and more stories from this part of the world to people, the perspective of mainland India towards Northeast people would gradually change. Moreover, the art of story telling has been dying, thanks to the digital media. But yet, I went ahead with this idea and thankfully people have accepted this initiative.

It is this love for her language, and her need to get Delhi to understand Northeastern culture that made Chandam come up with Wari, a storytelling project under the banner of Octave Foundation, in Delhi- “I launched Wari in June 2016 with its centre in New Delhi but gradually launched it in other parts of the country- Wari is a Manipuri word which means story. It attempts to rediscover the art of storytelling for adults and children. A one of its kind curated show of fascinating stories translated and adapted from different time zones and cultures performed by various artists. Wari is a curated storytelling production created by Nicky Chandam and Anuja Jaiman. The word Wari means story in Manipuri language.When I started Wari, I was all alone but now, we have 6-7 core members who do story telling. We have also collaborated with more than 20-30 artists. Also, for the 1st time ever, a Northeast Indian organization, Octave Foundation will be hosting a Qawwali in Gurgaon. This has never been done before under a Northeast Indian banner”.

They perform next at Gurgaon where they will be presenting a musical evening of Qawwali:

It is important to mention here that Northeast India is not just about rock bands, fashion shows, cultural fests. Such events have been organized in the past but nothing much has changed over the years if we really look deep into the situation.

“We must understand that we ourselves stereotype ourselves”, Nicky says while adding, “We cannot only be represented by pork or beef, rock music and the likes. Northeast India is much beyond what we think it is. So I am trying to bring out the unexplored domain of the region through the stories. By researching stories and narrating them to people, I myself get to know a lot about the region. It is more a journey of self realization”.

Chandam attributes her love for story telling to her late grandmother who passed away in 2014- “She was that person who gave me enough and more stories. She read the Ramayana and the Mahabharata for me and she was the person who passed on the tradition of oral story telling to me. Those stories grew inside me. The agony of untold stories had to find a way to come out in one way or another  and the story of Taptaa that we presented in Shillong is just one among the many Manipuri Folk stories that find its way out for people to listen, to understand and to know more about our culture”, she said.

“I also grew up reading a lot of story books like Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. We have a team of 6-7 people and we discuss stories and make them more appealing for listeners by incorporating modern day events and happenings. These stories were mainly told to children to make them fall asleep or to farmers who had to remain awake to guard their fields all night and to make these stories fit for modern day adult listeners is definitely very challenging. Since I have been exposed to theater, I use theatrical elements.”, she said when asked about her interest in the kind of stories she presents.

It may be mentioned that Nicky faces the problem of stuttering but a noteworthy phenomenon about her story telling ability is that whenever she is on stage, the narration is smooth and pretty appealing. She is an inspiration for many who believe in what they wish to achieve while sidelining their obstacles. Chandam’s  message to upcoming youth from the region is – Start listening and Start opening up!

You can get more details about Octave Foundation by clicking on this link: Octave Foundation

Follow their work on Facebook here: Octave Foundation

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