This time we feature an individual who is a known storyteller and has an incredible story on himself to share with others. Ameen Haque shares with Mums and stories his journey in establishing Storywallahs. He also talks about his inspiration and support in life including his mum and others in the family. We get to know from him a few insights into the innate abilities that a good story can impact children and adults.
“ I grew up listening to a lot of stories. My mom did not tell me Panchatantra stories, Arabian Nights or Akbar Birbal stories. No folktales, no mythological stories. But there were stories all around. My mom would tell us (me and my brothers) stories about our family history, our roots, our nana & nani, about her sisters and her growing up days; about partition, about how we lost our Nana to Pakistan and on our Mama to Bangladesh and so on. When we visited family friends, all of us children would stay up till late listening to the elders talk – and a lot of their talk was stories.
And since my mother was a teacher, the house was full of books and comics. There was a ‘reading library’ opposite our house where we would go most evenings to read comics and story books. I was a big fan of Indrajaal comics and Amar Chitra Katha.
I was brought up by a single parent, my mother- Adhila Haque. She had studied agricultural science and used to teach at Home Science college at Vidyanagar, Anand in Gujarat. Since we had no television at home for a long time, actually till I reached high school – all you could do in the evenings was play, read and talk. We didn’t even have a cycle or a scooter. So we would walk to every place. And during those long walks, we used to talk. I am not sure if I remember what we used to talk about specifically – just this memory that we used to talk.
Our parents grew up in a different time – when PSU or Government jobs were considered the best jobs. I am the first entrepreneur in our family. My mother was indeed apprehensive and it would be natural for most parents to be. I don’t see that as an obstacle or lack of support- rather I see that as the presence of a lot of love and genuine concern. I was also working as a part-time consultant for a brand strategy company and considering I have two daughters and a mother to look after so that sense of ‘responsibility’ was always there at the back of the mind. So one can say, I wasn’t brash at all….just took one step at a time.
However my wife was quite supportive. After my mom saw my work – she came along with me once to a school for autistic kids where we tell stories, she was overwhelmed and convinced. Now, whenever she is in Bangalore, she comes along for all my storytelling sessions and whenever we have a family get together, she always asks me to tell stories at the gathering:). And I can see both joy and pride in her eyes.
There wasn’t any clear plan neither any understanding of market potential. I just followed my gut. Early on, we set up a very basic website with 3 offerings – 1) storytelling performance 2) Teacher Training 3) Corporate Workshops. However business wasn’t forthcoming. For a long time there was no work. Then I started telling stories at cultural spaces – bookstores like Atta Galatta & Lightroom, Theatres like Jagriti & Ranga Shankara and people got to know about work in Bangalore. I started traveling – to storytelling festivals in Chennai and Singapore – so that people would get to know about Storywallahs and set up a page on FB. Slowly word started getting around and work started trickling in.
I still remember how, once I was telling stories at an event venue and after I finished a lady who had come with her kid walked up to me and asked if I could train the teachers in one of the schools in Bangalore. That’s how we got our first teacher training assignment.
Another time, a very senior executive had brought his kid for my storytelling session and ended up introducing me to his CEO – they company now is a regular client of our corporate services.
So, there wasn’t any concrete plan. As word spread, we got more work and then word of mouth got more work. People would walk in and say, ‘Hey I too would love to tell stories, can I work with you?’ and that’s how our team got built.
Today we do very diverse and interesting work – from telling stories to coaching senior leaders and application of storytelling to problems like Innovation, Change Management and Conflict Resolution. A lot of our work is in helping brands and organizations get their story right. And then we do a lot of training as well…so it’s all kinds of applications of storytelling.
Stories are how we make sense of the world. Most of our decisions are based on stories. And finally, stories are also like a window to the world. Imagine sitting in a train with no windows – how would you feel? Stories are like windows – we peep outside these windows to see the world outside – so that we can understand ourselves and our own place in the world better.
In the education world, the days of rote learning are over. Stories are the best way to learn anything. What we learn by rote, we not only don’t understand it but also tend to forget it. However what we learn through a story, we remember for life. Stories can be used to teach anything – language, math, science, even sex education.
In the corporate world- No matter which business you are in, you are already in the storytelling business. Leaders need to tell the vision story; sellers need to tell the product story and HR people need to tell the organizational brand story to employees. No matter what you do, you are a storyteller. How do we master this skill that we never studied in college? That’s why Storytelling Coaching and training is becoming important.
A strong imagination is a natural by product of listening to stories. And only one of the many benefits of listening to stories. Nothing exercises the imagination better than listening to a story.
However, stories should not be told with an end objective like that. Then there will be no difference between stories and math. Everything will become a class. A story is not routine…it is surprise, a delight, a break from your regular routine. Stories should be told irrespective of anything. Stories should be told for the love of telling and listening. Stories should be told because it is the best glue that bonds families together. Because it creates a strong bond between parents and children. “
“ To talk a few of my favourite stories that are narrated they would be:
1) A story I tell called “Five” which is an adaptation of an Anandi story from Africa – it has a witch, magic, lots of action and some very funny situations.
2) A story called ‘The Rainbow Bird’ about how the crow got its black colour
3) A story called ‘Why does the Sun Rise Every Morning?” This is a chain story…i.e. one thing leads to another….all building up into a chain reaction…and then when I perform, we do it in reverse too.
To advise youngsters who want to pursue storytelling, I would say read a lot.- all kinds of stories. And watch a lot of movies. A good teller is first, a good listener.
Stories can be told in many ways – theatre, cinema, twitter, oral storytelling, writing are all forms of storytelling. Start with a medium that excites you and one where you have some strengths. And no matter what, keep telling. The more you tell, the better you get – hopefully!”
Wishing Ameen Haque all the very best in life and we thank him for sharing his journey with Mums and stories.