Creating Free Culture, One Story at a Time

Community Building at ThoughtWorks isn't just limited to technology. We want to be the glue in bringing together change makers from all walks of life who want to make positive impacts on society. One such group are the folks at The Kahani Project.
"Kahani" is the Hindi word for story. The project aims to set stories free for children across the world, using digital audio. Their modus operandi is simple. They crowd source audio stories from volunteer storytellers and distribute them either using their website or through mp3 players for children who are visually impaired.

Storytelling in Pune
A few weeks back when Kahani founder Ajay Dasgupta and I met up at one of our weekly storytelling meetups, we decided to host a storython at ThoughtWorks Pune. The idea of a storython is quite similar to that of a hackthon. Get a bunch of storytellers together at a venue, bring a bunch of books in, set up a few laptops and start recording. And record, we did.
Within a space of a couple of hours, we'd added 20 stories to the Kahani collection. The event was great in not just getting a lot of audio-stories out in the commons, but also to build bonds amongst storytellers.

Why Stories?
A sceptic may ask why an event like this is important or makes any difference to society. As a born-again storyteller and an avid reader, stories to me have been vehicles of culture. In a way, they represent oral histories of the people where the story comes from.
So while the Panchatantra may seem like a set of animal fables on the surface, they reflect the moralities of the time and the connect that people of the time may have had with nature. While Satyajit Ray's works may give us a peek into post Independence Bengal, RK Narayan's work often reflects middle class stereotypes of those times. While Akbar and Birbal stories are fun to read, they also tell us a lot about Mughal times though only from one perspective. And while there's all this rich culture to explore and learn from, the pressures of our time make it difficult for kids to experience this diversity fully.
On one hand there's the march of globalisation and by accident or design, in current school systems, western culture seems to trump the local. On the other hand, the influence of new media, the Internet, television and the pressure of academics take away opportunities that children may have had earlier, to learn from stories. Efforts like Kahani don't just surface local culture through regional languages, they also give children and adults the opportunity to build bonds across generations through the act of listening and telling stories.

How You Can Participate
Well, there's a storython, every few weeks if you are in Pune. Follow The Kahani Project for updates.  If you aren’t in Pune, don't despair. All you need is a laptop with Audacity installed on it. On the Mac, Garage Band will do nicely as well.
And you'll need stories.
The idea is to limit yourself to retellings of folk tales and avoid contemporary, copyrighted work. If you scroll down to "Children's Books" on this link, there are lots of good books to download and tell stories from. There are a lot of nice books on Project Gutenberg as well. Pratham books has a lot of Creative Commons content. Then there's Brothers Whim. So you aren’t exactly short of resources. The only catch is to find regional language stuff online. Those usually have to come from personal collections.

So ask your parents, rummage through your childhood books, find stuff from your cousins or raid a local library. Inspiration is everywhere. Once you've found the inspiration, here's a guide to help you add your story to the Kahani project.