I was delighted to be chosen on the BTB new voices mentorship programme and until someone pointed it out to me, I had not realised that to be given an opportunity to start on a new path in life at the age of 62 is indeed amazing.
Storytelling is part of my family heritage as well as my cultural heritage. Both my parents were story tellers in their own way and they both had professional Kathakaar /storytellers in their families. I am part of the living tradition of oral story telling . Story telling is ingrained in the day to day Gujarati Hindu way of life. As a child I heard stories from my parents at home often after dinner as there was no television, I heard my mother and her friends telling stories to each other at various religious festivals which were celebrated at our home, I heard my father, who was a Hindu Priest, tell ‘Katha’ stories to his congregation sometimes lasting for many days. Not a week would pass by without hearing stories told in one form or another.
I came to Wales as a refugee and grew up in the Rhondda. Becoming an artist of any sort was sadly not an option for me. It was important for me as it is for many refugees to have a steady reliable income. I knew this at the age of fifteen and chose chemistry over art and became a dentist. I have been working as a special needs dentists for the past 31 years. This mentorship is giving me an opportunity to wake up that artist within me who has been lying dormant since I was fifteen.
I left Wales in 1989. Having been traumatised by being uprooted when young , I found it difficult to settle down anywhere in the UK. I had this hankering, this ‘hiraeth’, for my lost home. So in 2004 I came back to Wales and planted myself in her soil. It is only when I settled in Wales that the stories from my childhood started thawing in my heart and I started retelling these stories which were waiting to be told.
My aim in this mentorship programme is to learn how to retain the ethos of the Gujarati oral story telling tradition and retell these stories in a more professional setting to the world at large. I have chosen three mentors , the amazing Jan Blake , who is helping me master story telling skills which are needed in professional storytelling. Jan and I spent one session just talking about race and how to tell stories which are not indigenous to this country. The story I am working on is Satyavan – Savitri which my mother used to tell us as children. It is a story about an amazing woman who outsmarted the God of death in order to rescue her husband from his clutches.
I have always sung and have incorporated singing and chanting with storytelling but I do not play any musical instruments. So, I am working with an artist from India. Uttara Chousalkar , who I met this year at Sanatan Siddhasram in West Bengal. I was taking part in a retreat in the Baul storytelling/music tradition with Parvathy Baul at the ashram where Uttara di was a volunteer. She is a professional musician and is teaching me how to play an Ektara ( which is a traditional musical instrument of the Baul singers). This probably is the hardest skill for me to acquire. Uttaradi has the patience of a saint and is very nurturing and generous with me. Holding an Ektara close to my body as it resonates connects me to the absolute , to the Universe. I am also going to take a couple of classes with Pauline Down in voice work. We have not started working together yet but this will happen soon.
When I was a young dental student I used to treat a lady in her 60s under supervision. One day we got talking about age and she said to me that interesting thing about age is everything around a person changes but one does not change inside – inside we always feel as if we are young. That has stayed with me. I am so pleased I am not conscious of my age and ageism because had I been aware of it , I would not have applied for this mentorship. What a loss that would have been for me.