We all have several stories to talk about our lives. When you hear the word story, what comes to your mind? Just after listening to my question, many of you may have started thinking about the most exciting stories you have heard or maybe the worst experience that has impacted your life forever. Recently, I was conducting a story-writing session with ‘out of school’ young girls living in urban resettlement colonies of Delhi. I started the session with word mapping activity and asked them what comes to their mind when they hear the word story, their responses opened up a new window for me to delve into the young minds. Many of them talked about childhood memories when they used to have more fun in their lives. At the same time, they also shared their most fearful experiences of their lives, which are etched forever. Most of these girls, even though just being of adolescent age, shared that the memories of their childhood were the most cherished ones, where they were given some kind of freedom from domestic work. But now they are treated as adults who have to manage everything inside the house. Some of the learners also pointed out that stories reminded them about history. When they hear the word story, the history comes alive.
Through the initial conversations, when I digged further about the word story, a significant number of learners remembered about their grandparents as they used to narrate stories to them. During the discussion, many of them also linked the word story with friendship. When they think of stories, they remember memorable times spent with friends during childhood. In contrast, some of them also remembered horrifying experiences about their lives and for them stories are more about such experiences. Many of these girls had migrated to Delhi during childhood or after getting married and memories of their villages came alive when they thought of the word story. For these dropout girls, time spent with school friends, including the funniest moments, comes to their mind while thinking of stories. Some of them shared that stories are all about Dil Ki Baat. (Conversations from heart).
While majority of them were talking about their personal experiences, few girls explained that they imagine stories as Raja Rani Ki Baatein (Conversations About King and Queen). A group of young girls who had migrated to Delhi after marriage had very different experiences to talk about. They remembered Ghar Ki Yaadein (Memories of Home) when they listened to the word story because they still do not feel part of this big city. While talking to these girls, I realised that even a simple word like story has so varied meanings for different people.
After the initial rounds of discussion around the word story, we started the process of story-writing with the learners. It was really interesting to know that the majority of them felt like stories are written by great writers. According to them, stories published in the books or magazines are written by very well-read and experienced people who are highly educated. So when I asked them if they would be interested in writing their own stories for the library book, they looked surprised. Many of them started laughing as if a joke was cracked. Few of them, started questioning me for sharing such far-fetched ideas and tried explaining to me that stories are not written by young people, especially those who have never been to schools or who have dropped out early.
I decided to narrate the story of a woman, who was like any other woman living next door. They were completely engrossed when I narrated the story of Baby Haldar, a domestic helper who turned into a famous writer from West Bengal. I can still visualise the sparkling eyes and faces of these girls who were listening with utmost attention. Many of them were relating their lives with Baby Haldar, because they could see their own reflection in her story. It was amazing to see the excitement of these young girls when they were informed that Baby Haldar had travelled to different countries to share about her life story across the world.
They were excited when I emphasized that each one of us has our own stories and we can work together to write our stories that can be used in the library of the center. This way the library will not just have books written by famous writers, but will also include our stories and we will decide what is to be written. After initial encouragement, some of the girls started narrating their own stories and it was documented during the process in their own language and expressions.
It was amazing to observe these girls when they were narrating their stories. After writing each story, all the girls were asked to come up with its title. It was interesting to see how different learners responded to the same story and gave different titles to any one story. It was collectively decided as a group to share the final title of these stories
In this process learners talked about their various experiences. Some of them wanted to talk about some horrifying experiences that were really disturbing. These stories were close to their hearts and they wanted to talk about it with their friends in the story writing session. For some other girls, story-writing was all about sharing some lighter moments with everyone. Some of these stories were related to the school days. However, there were a group of young girls in the session, who had come to Delhi after getting married and they wanted to talk about their stories in a different manner. For them, it was not just about friendship or challenging experiences in lives, but it was also about how society perceived them. They actually wanted to narrate what they felt when back in their villages they were discriminated because of being girls. Overall, it was an enriching experience for all of us and it really helped us in understanding each other at another level where it broadened the understanding of diversity among us, with appreciating people for who they are and recognizing the importance of their life experiences
Thus, this story writing session was not just about writing stories, but it was also about learning from each other, knowing each other and building a kind of collective learning space for girls. People from different castes, religions, regions and gender identities were able to connect with each other. Despite lots of similarities in their stories, there were differences based on their childhood experiences. These stories reminded me of my own childhood and I reflected back about childhood memories. By the end of the session, even the girls who were earlier hesitant to take part in narrating stories eventually joined in the story writing session and narrated their stories. They recognised the value of their own experiences and showed a keen interest to become a storywriter like Baby Haldar in future.