The voice of timeless truths

As Story Hour comes to Hyderabad, young authors and producers speak to CE about mythology, bias, politics and classics.
Image used for representational purpose only. (File | Photo)
Image used for representational purpose only. (File | Photo)

HYDERABAD: Lives and hearts are touched when the young and curious set out to write and create. Such has been the story of teenage authors Shreyas, Ayur and Arush. Story Hour, a platform that creates audiobooks and shows based on timeless stories passed down through generations, held its first performance initiation and discussion in the country, at Hyderabad’s Federation of Telangana Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FTCCI), on Sunday. The event showcased their 15-minute flagship puppet show on Ramayana, and a discussion about their audiobook— A Brief History of Indian Independence.

Neelima Penumarthy, the founder of the Story Hour, encouraged her sons Shreyas and Ayur when they told her they wanted to write their version of the Ramayana, almost 6 years ago. “I benefitted so much from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Malgudi Days and so many such books, without even knowing it. Story-telling was a huge part of raising our kids — when I saw how an audiobook changed the way my kids gleaned from the story, I was amazed. When my older son Shreyas, a lover of drama and my younger one Ayur, an avid reader, both wanted to write the Ramayana, I knew an audiobook would make the story a lot more perceptive,” she tells CE. What started as a small experiment by the kids in 2016, today has its own puppet show/film and audiobooks also in Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati, Spanish, German, French and even Braille, apart from English!

The one-hour audiobook, which was named one of the ‘Best Audiobooks of 2017’ by The Times (UK) was translated to Telugu by Neelima’s mother, and narrated by students from Devnar Institute for the Blind. Kendriya Vidyalaya, Uppal translated the book into Hindi, and their students narrated it. Neelima explored the possibility of conveying this narration through puppets.

Speaking about his experience working on the book, Ayur (now 12) says, “Around the time we started writing it, I was seven and Shreyas was 12. Though we worked on the Ramayana all our lives in poster-making, plays etc., we realised there wasn’t really a good and engaging version that was accessible to kids. An audiobook was the next logical step and both of us had so much fun working on it. Since my voice hadn’t broken yet back then, I took up all the female parts of the story including Sita, whose voice was more soft and gentle while my brother emulated Ravana and others, who had these thunderous and cruel voices. It was a great bonding and learning experience,” he shares.

The brothers did a fair amount of practice, and given that they had some experience doing drama, doing the voices came fairly easily. Ayur then worked with Arush from Hyderabad to write A Brief History of Indian Independence. “We met in the middle of the Covid pandemic and worked together for this project, making the best use of technology. The biggest challenge of it all was to condense all of the Indian independence, which is a massive subject, into a one-hour audiobook. The second challenge was to be unbiased in our approach and offer a neutral view of affairs — especially because the subject usually tends to involve polarising. Our idea was to paint history and not politics, and then encourage people to go out and learn more about all of it on their own,” says 18-year-old Arush, whose book was also MP Shashi Tharoor-approved and lauded!

Neelima Penumarthy
Neelima Penumarthy

The event had Telangana Information Technology and Industries Department’s Principal Secretary, Jayesh Ranjan, in attendance, who congratulated Neelima for introducing the country’s rich heritage and culture to a global audience. “It’s an amazing effort to bring the greatest Indian epic Ramayana in so many languages. I am glad that this initiative has been conveyed to us in our longest popular form — puppetry,” he said.

Neelima says her next project could be one centred around English history, given she lives there, and adds, “I plan to produce works by authors who are teens and elderly, because the former display an uninhibited approach and the latter, an experiential one.” She concludes by saying they could soon have the Ramayana in Italian and the book on Independence be narrated in Hindi and other languages.

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The New Indian Express