This Montessori-trained teacher is one of the most important storytellers working for Storytrails in Chennai. Lakshmi Shankar the operations manager of Storytrails has something in her voice that makes people want to listen to what she has to say — in this case her story and otherwise story trails for children — with undivided attention. From the sights of Chennai to the customs that are blindly followed, she always has a story to tell.
Lakshmi, who spent her childhood in Chennai, studied at Rosary Matriculation School and then did her BCom in Ethiraj College for Women. She took a huge break after that, when she got married and moved to Mumbai. The effervescence in her nudged her to do something for society and, she volunteered at a spastics’ school in Mumbai and later in Bangalore, where she realised that she loved interacting with children and telling them stories.
“When I found out that I like a telling stories, I got trained as a Montessori teacher, to use my passion in a productive way.”
When Lakshmi moved to Delhi, she was unable to be a full time teacher because of her young children so she started telling stories at home. She recalls how she used to narrate stories from Jakarta and Panchatantra to four children, for an hour everyday.” She found that children are receptive and keen to listening and knew she had everything she needed to be a good storyteller. At that time British Council, Delhi needed a storyteller and there could have been no better candidate for that job than Lakshmi.
She worked there as a freelance storyteller for about four years until she came back to Chennai.
She recalls how she bumped into what she loved, “When I came to Chennai, I thought I should give teaching a shot, I worked at Sishya School but I think storytelling was my destiny. I saw an advertisement of Storytrails and pounced at the opportunity. I spoke to Vijay, managing director of Storytails, and Krishnan, a storyteller, and the next thing I knew I was living my dream.”
What exactly does Storytrails do?
Storytrails is a group of 12 storytellers who take participants around to significant places in Chennai and tell them the stories behind every sight they encounter there. They started with talking about the history behind the various monuments in the city to business travellers on tour, but realised that it could be made more interesting if the stories they narrated were based on the customs and rituals followed by the locals. The research based organisation, spends a lot of time collecting interesting facts and stories to be able to create a fascinating experience that touches watchers’ lives.
Lakshmi recalled how a parent suggested that this sort of presentation to impart knowledge could be used to enlighten children about the world around them. Story trails for children are theme-based or story-based. Elaborating, Lakshmi said, “If the story trail is a bazaar trail, children are taken to the bazaars, given shopping lists, made to bargain and buy items. The objective is to make the experience entertaining and pack it with as much learning as possible.”
Has Lakshmi’s storytelling skill ever come in handy?
Yes, Lakshmi has used her storytelling skills in the most interesting of situations. With a sheepish smile, she spoke about how her stories kept her children and the children in the community entertained during frequent power cuts and how she had to continue telling them stories even after the power came back.
“There was a day when a trail got delayed and a group of children were waiting for the other buses to come to the venue, so the trail could start. To keep them entertained, I started telling them story after story, and this is when I realised how handy it was to always have a bag of stories ready for emergencies,” she said.
Lakshmi, who handles operations at Storytrails says she cannot think of a future away from this. Storytrails, which started as a small unit in Chennai expanded to other cities in the next few years and Lakshmi is certain that she is going to see it all through. She says, “Storytrails is my home and storytelling defines who I am, I am not looking to change ever. The trail that led me here will take me forward.”