Stories



Stories: 

They should come with a manual.

We should be warned before they begin.

And told exactly 

When they will end.

Stories:

They shouldn’t catch us off guard like this.

They shouldn’t leave us floundering,

Astounded,

Hanging by the threads.

Knowing not whether they unravel

Or whether they keep weaving new strands.

Stories: 

We make them, 

We break them,

We flow in them,

We float.

And sometimes we soak in them

All the weariness of this world

The tiredness of the souls

And the lethargy of many half-dreamt dreams.

Stories:

They fascinate us,

They terrify us.

Stories: 

They lure us,

They seduce us,

They gnaw at us.

Stories, stories, stories! 

Take away the stories!!!!

 

No! No! Don’t listen to me!

Give them back!

Please?

Stories:

Give me those bitter-sweet stories

Let me live in them

Let me get lost in them

Forever. 

By Prionka Ray ©

 

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I Gathered What I Needed


From things, tangible and intangible, I gather what I need. And then I walk under the blue sky, lighter in steps, unhindered and free. I am done paying my dues, and I am done fighting the battles. But I am done now, and as I lay down my arms, my mask, and my armour, I let the runners pass me by. They run past with their shiny badges, picking up speed. But then their road is not mine to take. Their lofty promises are not mine to make. Their goals, they weigh me down. Their shiny baubles, they blind my eyes. So, I shy away. But a few noble ones extend their hands magnanimously. I feel awed by their presence. I am dwarfed by their stature. I am grateful of this gesture, I say.

But I am done treading paths not mine, so, thanks, but I will stay.  Then they promise me a land of treasure and I assure them that I have treasures of own. Yes, those (irrelevant) gratitude notes, the (invaluable) hand-written letters and the (little) acts of kindness. They are confused by now but I carry on. I tell them of my valuable memories, my hefty faith, and my dazzlingly impossible dreams. I have indeed gathered what I need. And now I walk barefoot on this dusty road, free to believe, free to be. This race is yours, not mine, I tell them. The battles are yours, not mine. And this pace is yours, not mine. I have slowed down, and happily so. Run past me my friends, I say. I will surely cheer you on. Do share with me your stories someday. Oh yes, I will still be awed, and I will still be pleased! But if you decide to walk with me, then I will share with you, my peace.

 

Stories are Meant to be Shared


Hello! Hello! I have been missing, and that’s because April and May turned out to b
e real busy. They were full of happenings, events and collaborations. And so I had an enriching time meeting people, being inspired and then gushing about it all on social media. Amidst all these ‘gushing about’, I was faced with a dilemma: to share or not to share. But before I go to to that juncture of my narrative, let me step back and talk about the events that led me to it.

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It all began with a diplomatic event that I co-organised for my clients. And in the process, I had the privilege of meeting many strong, powerful and superbly talented women. These were diplomats, heads of organisations, Doctors, artists and professionals, who were not just talented, and confident, but were also women who believed in the power of their stories. Whenever people with passion and purpose articulate, there’s always much to learn from each view-point. I was not just inspired, but also heartened to see how stories had the capacity to reach out to people who would have never assumed what you have gone through and wouldn’t know otherwise, what your ideas are. These stories may have originated from a personal space perhaps, however, as soon as they were shared, they became a place of resource, a place to test ideas, to validate experiences and to learn. Learn, I surely did.

And on a morning, overcast with clouds, the guests arrived at the embassy, and  we celebrated 50 years of bilateral ties between Indonesia and Singapore. Along with that, we celebrated the inspiration behind Ibu Kartini of Indonesia. It reiterated the fact, that years after we are gone, our stories, our ideas and thoughts will be passed down. My sincere thanks to Indoconnect & the Indonesian Embassy for trusting me with such a beautiful and meaningful occasion.

For the second event, I had the opportunity to share my own story. This time, I was asked to share my ‘Empathy Journey’ as a mentor to teens-at-risk. This is a topic close to my heart. Nevertheless, it’s only when I began gathering my thoughts before the event, that I realised that even my own story needs introspection. I realised that empathy is not a tap to be switched on when I am mentoring or when I am volunteering, it’s a way of life  that should be a part of everything I do. I shared my epiphany, my leanings from the many inspiring people that I have met, and my learning from the many failures and successes that I have seen.

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Ted Ed @ NYGH 2017

As I shared my story, I felt grateful to have been given this opportunity to address a crowd of young impressionable students. I hoped that I left some bits of my stories behind in that glittering hall, stories that could be used as a resource, as a validation and, as a positive learning.

Eventually, I was asked: should stories be shared? I thought back to the many who would say no. And then I thought of the few powerful and inspirational ones who would say, yes. I paused and took a stand: Positive stories and positive emotions are meant to be shared. The more they are shared, the more they reach people and touch them, engulfing them in a mist of positivity. They validate a positive intention and allow a feeling of wellbeing. Asian culture frowns upon boasting. However, I have seen the stories inspire many towards positive thoughts and positive actions. Ok, so what about negative stories? That would be an interesting debate, and we shall keep it for another day. But I can safely say that some people have a knack of turning even the negative stories to a positive one. One such young lady is Aija Mayrock. The spunky author, performer and activist turned her bullying experiences towards a positive road to success. I greatly enjoyed interacting with her. Look out for her interview in my next post.

For now, keep sharing!

Stories and Us!


Stories and Us!

stories

Our world is made of stories and we are defined by these stories that we tell ourselves. Who then would know if the stories became reality or reality inspired these stories! Exploring the art of storytelling and the unique stories in us all is the The Singapore International Film Festival and nurturing this storytelling in the young students is the National Story Challenge.

SGIFF

Asian premiere of Interchange at the 27th SGIFF. (Photo credit Bonnie Yap, SGIFF)

Asian premiere of Interchange at the 27th SGIFF. (Photo credit Bonnie Yap, 27th SGIFF)

Championing the voice of Asian Cinema, the 27th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) rolled out the red carpet for its gala opening yesterday at Marina Bay Sands. Celebrated Malaysian auteur, Dain Iskandar Said opened the 12-day celebration of independent cinema with the Asian premiere of his fantasy noir thriller Interchange. Present with him were award-winning Indonesian TV personality and actor, Nicholas Saputra, husband-wife duo Iedil Putra and Prisia Nasution. Other noted guests were last year’s SGIFF Cinema Legend Award recipient, actress, Michelle Yeoh, Korean director Lee Sang-woo, acclaimed Southeast Asian filmmakers Eric Khoo, Joko Anwar, Brillante Mendoza, and Vietnamese-born director Tran Anh Hung, who will be receiving the IWC Filmmaker Award – the first to be presented in Singapore – on 26 November 2016.

Michelle Yeoh and Mike Miluan (Credits: Bonnie Yap, 27th SGIFF)

Michelle Yeoh and Mike Miluan (Credits: Bonnie Yap, 27th SGIFF)

SGIFF Executive Director, Yuni Hadi, said, “It is heartening to see the gathering of so many passionate film lovers at the opening of SGIFF. While the industry witnesses the transformation of cinema reflected in how we watch and make films today, the timeless stories told through film will always continue to engage and captivate us.” Over the next two weeks, SGIFF will present 161 films from 52 countries, and a varied slate of panel discussions and masterclasses with renowned filmmakers and industry experts.

I am excited to catch some of the movies. Having interviewed Indonesian Film maker, Nia Dinata recently, I am looking forward to watching her movie, Three Sassy Sisters!

National Story Challenge 2017

Story Challenge

Story Challenge

Meanwhile, to nurture the stories while young, is the The National Story Challenge Tournament. The challenge is an original improvisational storytelling competition created by The Theatre Practice, and is open to students in all primary and secondary schools in Singapore.  Registration starts from 19th December! Details here

And last, but not the least, here’s my contribution to the stories: reading stories to the children at the community centre, where I am part of the committee that organises programmes for youth and children.

Storytelling at the community centre (Source: Prionka Ray)

Storytelling at the community centre (Source: Prionka Ray)

The wise said, that we become the stories we tell. If that be true, then let the voices be heard and let the stories define us again and again and again…

Reading now: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Happy B’day dear H, wherever you are…


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Source: Etsy

Today is a special day. It’s my mom’s birthday. (Happy B’day, mom!) It’s also the birthday of a little girl that I befriended, a girl who touched my heart. She lived in a foster home and I was asked to go and meet her. It was a sunny afternoon five years ago and I still remember our first meeting. She looked at me, sizing me up, trying to gauge if I was trustworthy enough, funny enough, nice enough, kind enough…Those initial meetings were hesitant and she was cautious and closed. A little girl, who had seen enough of life, to be wary of situations and people both. I am sure, there had been many like me in her life too, trying to be kind and preachy and condescending.

One day, I stopped trying to be the adult that she met regularly and instead decided to be just a listener, a listener of her many small and big stories, a listener of her ramblings and a listener of her thoughts, spoken and unspoken. I realised that I enjoyed listening to her. I began to look forward to meeting her. Those warm afternoons, those rainy days, those overcast evenings, those little walks, all became special.

She was a kid when I met her first, but soon she turned in to a beautiful teenager, full of life and I grew very fond of her indeed! However, there were many unpleasant and pleasant turns on her road and I, as the listener of her thoughts, felt both her sadness as well as her little excitements along with her. Who was I to her? We spoke of that often. On official paper, I was a registered volunteer and a mentor. Was I a friend, a confidante, a counsellor? She couldn’t decide, so she just said, you are Prionka to me, as if that one word would explain what I meant to her. Having said that, she smiled her full smile. I smiled back.

Little girls grow up. H grew up too. She is integrated back in to the society and not under special care anymore. I have no way of contacting her now but I think of her often, especially on days like these. Doe she still like to eat the boiled eggs? Does she still forget unpleasant memories? Does she still hold dear, the teddy bear that I had gifted her on her (13th or was it her 14th?) birthday, I don’t know. I get to meet other girls but I miss her still. And I wish the very best for her.

My dearest H, if you ever read this, please know that you are amazing and I will always remember you! Happy B’day with love!

Prionka

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Truth and the Stories


The ninth month of the year holds a special place in my life. September, a month dedicated to the Virgos, the fast cars of Singapore Night Race and the venerable teachers, is also the month that reminds me of the passage of time. Most of the year seems to have whizzed past and by now I have a fair idea of how it fared. Was it good? Was it bad? By now, I ought to know. So, September is reserved for contemplations, consolidations and evaluations.

In my contemplative state, I have gravitated towards mythological tales as well as contemporary plots.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a rendition of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata and the book presents the viewpoint of Draupadi, a woman. In changing the narrative, Divakaruni manages to subvert the patriarchal slant of mythological stories. The reader is led to question the idea of absolute truth and readjusts known perspectives.

I have always been drawn to multiple perspectives as they force me to look at life, events and people differently. And somehow, the more I age, the more I value different perspectives and the more I realise that there is no absolute right or wrong. We all are right. We all are wrong. It simply depends on who narrates the story at that point in time.

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In The Palace of Illusions, Divakaruni gives an alternate POV to a story that has already been told and retold countless number of times. Additionally, in adopting Draupadi’s voice, she lays bare, social issues and throws light on how power belongs to select few in the society. However, the protagonist here is no wilting flower either. Her character displays ego, willfulness and pride with equal flourish.  The Place of Illusions is thus, a powerful book that takes a feminine viewpoint and yet presents the flaws of the character. It’s a must read for those who enjoy history, social commentary and an important contemplative resource for those who appreciate the nuances of characters and of life itself.

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Another book that makes you question the construct of truth is, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by the Pakistani writer, Mohammed Hanif. The story is based on the plane crash that killed General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, the former president of Pakistan. The book won the Guardian First Book Award and Hanif’s writing is both provocative and pithy, as he explores the various possibilities of Zia’s death.

What strikes in both the books, whether it is a mythological and historical narration or a contemporary commentary, is the common theme, that truth or the notion of truth, can be manipulated by a select few. This realisation somehow makes it even more important to be open to multiple perspectives, both in life and in stories, so that we don’t miss out on things that remain untold.

So, where does September bring me? It brings me to the stories that I may have missed through out the year or perhaps, even before that. It brings me to a place that’s hopefully less judgmental and less biased than before. It  brings me to the place of understanding, that to believe in just one story is to ignore the many others that are equally valid.

 

 

The young volunteers: Part I


volunteers

Today I am going to talk about volunteers (yes, the ones on the left), but that’s coming a bit later. Before that there’s something else that I need to talk about. I am unable to start this post without acknowledging that something has gone terribly wrong with the world. It seems that it houses strange creatures and they are all crazy. It is also safe then, to assume that since the end was once prophesied, the crazy earthlings are trying hard, oh so very hard, to meet that deadline of doom, and they are actually eager to hasten the destruction. An obedient and hard-working lot, they are. So what, if they are slightly deranged? So what, if they are simply selfish? So what, if they commit atrocities against each other?  They still have many endearing qualities. Don’t they?

After all, they are diligent when they grab available (and unavailable) land; they are meticulous when they shell schools; they are methodical when they shoot down civilian planes and they can justify when they kidnap girls. Heck, they even shrug responsibility when their own staff rapes their own 6- years old student in their own school campus! See?And seeing is all that we do. We see the newspaper coverage, the pictures, the news feed, the forwarded messages and so on. It is almost as if we are amused to see these earthlings as they massacre, squander, raid and rape. So, do you want to see some (more) heart wrenching pictures of blood and gore, of rape and despair?

Oh, you do? Bad luck mate, I refuse to pander to your curiosity. I refuse to be a part of this ‘they;’ ‘they,’ who are mad enough to massacre this world and ‘they,’ who enjoy these stories of gore. Yes, I agree that we need to know but no, we don’t need to glamorise. We need to empathise, yes, but no, we don’t need to pry in to their grief. They deserve the dignity of pain and they shall have it.

Whose side am I on?

It is that elusive side, where people give peace a chance; where war is not an option; where no one, I repeat, no one, for any gain, political or otherwise, have the right to violate another life, in any way. Yeah, I am on that unpopular side. With such non- confrontational attitude, I will never attain success: so be it. I am also on the side, where hope is brought in to the forefront; where inspiration is celebrated, where empathy is a quality that makes you want to do and not just simply a quality to be talked about. And so, people who have done something beyond the ‘usual’ should be celebrated or at least congratulated on a job well done.

So, what about VIBGYOR High school in Bangalore? Do I want to congratulate them as well? Nah! Here’s their website. You can congratulate them yourself for allowing the rape of a 6- years old student by their own Physical Ed. teacher. Feel free to pass your ‘congratulatory’ message.

VIBGOR HIGH School

People to contact: Rustom P. Kerawalla (Founder-Chairman); Ms. Kavita Sahay (Director – Schools & Academics); Mr. Pratik Patel (Director – Strategic Planning & New Initiatives); Mr. Vispi J Vesuna (Trustee).

 

Meanwhile, even if this world is crazy and dark, there are indeed some stories that inspire and so, this is where I let go off my sarcasm, and present The Young Volunteers, Part I.

These are the ‘bright sparks’ of the world and they represent the youth that refuses to give up on humanity. Not only are these youngsters smart and driven, but they also are resourceful in their own small ways and show us some simple ways of giving back to the community.

 

Nidhi & Ishita Thakkar

Occupation: Students

City: Mumbai

Cause: Teaching slum kids.

 

Nidhi & Ishita Thakkar

Nidhi & Ishita Thakkar

 

Determined to make a difference in their immediate community, Ishita, and her friends, Arpit, Bhumika and Parth, set out to meet the people of the slum nearby, and convinced them to send the kids for ‘free tuition.’ Thus their first class was ready but the lack of space proved to be a deterrent. The team wanted to reach out to more students but didn’t know who to approach. Eventually, the Principal of KVIS, Ms Reshma Hegde, allowed them the use of the school premises and in barely 3 months, their class strength rose to an astonishing 20. This has encouraged the teenagers to cruise ahead and Ishita, aged 18,  is now determined to start her own NGO.

 

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IMG_3691Nidhi, on the other hand, started out by volunteering for The Candle Project and a year later, moved on to an orphanage, to teach a group of children, aged, 8-11 years. The engineering student, likes calling them, ‘my kids,’ as they have become much more than just ‘her students.’ She teaches them basic English & Mathematics  and now they are able to spell, read and count. She is ‘proud of them’ and justifiably so. Nidhi says that she may have started volunteering for a cause, but now she is there every weekend, simply because they end up teaching her ‘more’ than she teaches them: from being ‘oh so patient…to being satisfied with what you have.’ When they scribble ‘thank you’ note to her, they mean it and that’s what, she says, makes it all ‘so worthwhile.’

 

Kokila Bhattacharya

Occupation: Student

City: Bhopal

Cause: Activist, Volunteer & Artist

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Kokila’s biggest mission, she says, is to ‘spread awareness about corporate crimes and corporate responsibilities.’ The teenaged activist likes to ‘decode advertisements that brainwash’ and feels strongly about all ‘aspects that encourage futile consumerism.’ Recognising the role of activism in the present scenario, she is equally vocal about Climate Change, Social justice and Journalism through design. Her mission, she says, is to be a ‘good human being.’

Kokila started volunteering in her early teens by joining ‘Justice for the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy’ and other related environmental concerns with the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal. At age 16, she had organised an awareness event, called, “Bhopali Bachche,” that aimed to sensitise the young about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, arguably the worst industrial disaster in the world. They went on to raise money for the victims who are still suffering from the aftermath of the tragedy. This was achieved through film screenings, photo exhibitions and signed petitions.

The designer is also associated with creative projects, where she writes, designs, ideates and volunteers. The list of projects includes, The Peace Gong, a children’s newspaper based in Kashmir, AFRC India in Kerala, Prayatna and Ahambhumika Bhopal, a rural education centre where she volunteers as a teacher. Kokila works untiringly and when she says, “The youth are an invulnerable force,” I am inclined to agree.

Whether it is Ishita’s quiet determination, Nidhi’s easygoing camaraderie with ‘her kids’ or Kokila’s focused activism, the youth has arrived with a calm confidence and we should heave a sigh of relief.  Even in Singapore, the pilot intake of youth corps are ready to embark on community projects and more youngsters are finding innovative ways to give back to the society.

Here are some of them:

Halogen Singapore

Project Sunshine

Mother Teresa Club

The Volunteers Switchboard

Care Singapore

 

There are many more stories and many young volunteers to celebrate but that’s for another post. Till then, here’s hoping that the world stops spinning so precariously. As I pray for the families who have lost their beloved around the world, I look at the youngsters and say…

There’s hope still….