Monday, October 24, 2011

Meet Dr. Vayu Naidu

We are honoured to feature Dr. Vayu Naidu, a wonderful raconteur, based in the UK, writer of some of Tulika's most loved books, founder of the Vayu Naidu Storytelling Theatre. Here is a peek into the celebrated storyteller's life.

ST: Can you share the story called- Vayu Naidu.
As a child I preferred listening to stories, rather than being read to or reading. That was fine when grandmother, mother, aunts, and cousins were around to tell stories. I loved ghost stories. One of our neighbours in Delhi - his name was Bul bul - the elder amonst all of us children. He was from Calcutta, and used to make up the most wonderful ghost stories and we all used to love it when there was a power cut - it meant all of us in the neighbourhood would run off to Bul bul bhaiya and hear his new ones that were were truly hair raising, and fun. He had a wonderful way of dramatising the most common thing - the channa wala and how his hands got burned - and then there was was a ghost mystery behind that; the next day it could change to the lampost outside your house was seen walking, and what the mystery was around that. Very spontaneous. My father is an excellent raconteur even at 89, he'll bring back so many images vividly.

How did your journey into story telling start?
I saw a Yakshagana performance while being driven across karnataka at 2 am in 1987 Summer. The Sutradhara was narrating a story of the Pandavas, and he saw me taking a photograph and instantly made reference to it in his Storytelling. I was so struck by the immediacy and the travel across all realms - past, future, present with storytlling.

Something clicked and I gave up my job and life in India and went to do a ph.d in performance oral traditions and Peter Brooks Mahabharata at The University of Leeds. I started Storytelling in Bradford inspired by manuscript paintings of RAMAYANA.

What inspires you?
People, their stories abut war, migration, cooking, Love, the dreams of the future, the past - all this is in the epics and as humans we continue to place the gods as archetypes to our own imagination.

Do you prefer to do stories that are unknown or ones that are familiar to the audience? Why?
Both, it keeps my methodology and discipline fresh.

How is the scene different in the UK versus in India?
Very different but storytelling is a vital part of the reading and film culture - and now the bigger venues also host them. I have been the only Storytelling company that has been funded by the Arts Council England for nearly 10 years. I have a Guild of Apprentices, but also Artistic Associates and there is a signature style of telling following research and development. I am now opening out another strand of Creative Coaching with Storytelling.

Tell us more about your school- The Vayu Naidu Storytelling Theatre.
We are now setting up Vayu International Storytelling Academy. We have 5 strands - Performance in Collaboration with jazz;
Orchestral and world musicians where I make new work;
Licence To Tell, a series for emerging artists in Pubs and small venues;
Educational Programmes : for Primary and Secondary; as well as now
Creative Coaching for people interested in re looking at their careers in mid-life wanting to seek inspiration.

Who are your Top 5 favourite storytellers from across the world? Why?
Abbi Patrix, Samrat Purna Das Baul, Pomme Clayton, Wijnand Stomp, Rajagopal of Kattai Kuttu.

Integrating traditon with the contemproary and a highly disciplined style.

How different is the experience performing Indian stories to a non Indian audience?
That is a whole Ph.d in itself!

Some story tellers use props. What are your tools when it comes to story telling?
Imagination - ownership, humility and confidence. A calling of the presence in the teller, when I am telling.

What is the biggest no-no in story telling as per you and on the contrary, what can help make a story teller successful?
Be truthful and feel the story; don't ask for attention to yourself.Why not select a story you love; ask yourself what is it that you love in it, and why.

How would you describe the Story Telling scenario in India today versus the world?
It's great. Indians are the best storytellers. We have a feel for language. We must not do away with the performing traditions of Storytelling though.

Why do traditional storytelling methods remain relevant in the modern context? Through the past we understand the present. . .

How do you see books/ stories helping children in terms of cultural sensitisation/ change drivers? Any reccomendations in the multi cultural space?
Books, interactive tools are great drivers in encourage to engage with narrative. But it has to be interwoven with live storytelling to enable comprehension and emotional literacy.

Any anecdotes you would like to share from your story telling/ writing career( Magic Vessels, Hiss, don't bite & Curly tale) ?
All the performance done across the world for these stories has come up with the audience feeling that they understand India better. What better compliment than that? It doesn't solely have to be Bollywood!

When working in prisons, I told the story of Dhruva. And a young man who had never known anything about writing or telling, decided the story of why he got into prison. He said that the story released something in him about the truth in his life.


Meera Sriram said...

"Imagination - ownership, humility and confidence",( as ingredients for good storytelling) - powerful and honest, just like everything else in the interview! And I see myself optimistically nodding to the success of this medium in showcasing India to the rest of the world! Reading the answers also validates why my kids want me to "tell a book" sometimes, even if it is a book I've read aloud a hundred times! Thanks Dr.Vayu!

Art, your perfect set of questions pave the way for great stories to be shared, leaving us at this end, connected and inspired! Thanks for this.

sathish said...

Dr. Vayu Naidu - My son and I watched your performance in Bangalore some 6 months back and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for a wonderful presentation.

sandhya said...

"We must not do away with the performing traditions of Storytelling though."---"Through the past we understand the present..."

How true! In our community, we have a tradition called 'Gondhal'. This is a mix of song-dance-storytelling based on religious and traditional stories, done after any major family function like a wedding, and is considered an auspicious beginning to a new life. I have attended many of these, and it is performed by traditional groups that have been doing this for generations. Much like the Yakshagana performance Dr Vayu Naidu mentioned, these performances incorporate the immediate and the audience feels like a part of it. It is a wonderful experience.

I have of late tried to search for a recording of these performances, in audio/ video form, but could not find it anywhere. Like all indigenous arts/ crafts, these things will die out if they are not encouraged, preserved for posterity.

Thanks for bringing this interview to us, Art.

Artnavy said...

Thanks Meera and Sandhya! Glad you enjoyed it.

Satish- her answers themselves are like stories - life IS beautiful!

Uma said...

A very interesting interview Art. I've heard so much about Dr Vayu Naidu. I hope she comes to Chennai sometime ...

My daughter likes to listen to an animated storytelling session. That's the only thing that makes her sit in one place for more than 5 mins.

Artnavy said...

rememeber Craig Jenkins .... that is when I first heard about her

She was in Blore at rangshankara- yes hope she visits Chennai soon

Sandhya said...

Lovely interview and so much to learn from what Vayu has to say. Her stories come from her innermostest... Thank you Saffron Tree

Tulika Publishers said...

Thanks for an interesting interview, Art! And more power to Vayu!

ranjani.sathish said...

Dr.Vayu, it was so interesting to read about your childhood stories and your thoughts on story telling ! I missed your performance in Bangalore Rangashankara due to unavoidable reasons(I was so looking forward to it) and when my husband came out of the show, raving about the subtle and graceful performance given by you, I felt so terrible ! I hope to catch one of your story telling sessions sometime :-).

Art, thanks for this wonderful interview. It was a delight to read it !

Tulika Publishers said...

Takes me back to the days when my siblings like Bul bul bhaiya took a special kind of joy in scaring me senseless with all kinds of scary stories conjured up just for me...and yes 'through the past we understand the present' indeed!

Awesome interview Art! And amazing to read what Dr. Vayu had to share. :)

Prissy Chrissy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
utbtkids said...

Thanks for the interview Dr.Naidu.

"EMOTIONAL LITERACY", what a strong, beautiful word!

>>QUOTE: don't ask for attention to yourself.

That is a very fine line right?! To get attention from the audience to the story and not get attention as the teller!

Arundhati said...

Did not think an interview could have this effect! Heard of her from Craig and now this.. Am intrigued and in awe and want to see Dr. Vayu perform. Didn't make it to the performance at RS as P didn't meet age criteria. Next time I'll just go by myself!

The ingredients - Imagination - ownership, humility and confidence - liked this bit the most, come to think of it, this is true for any kind of performance not only storytelling

Art - Excellent questions that have brought out so much and yet left me thirsting for more! Thank you

Artnavy said...

Hey all
Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks again Dr Naidu!

Lets go together next time- u , ranjani and me

Choxbox said...


Had first heard of Vayu Naidu in London - The Vayu Naidu Company. Was intrigued - beinga desi I guess! Never got around to attending anything that featured her though - something I hope gets rectified soon.
Noticed her name on the Under the Banyan Tree book and a light bulb went on!

Awesome getting to meet her via you Art.

Story-telling is being revived in RS. Also Hippocampus in Bangalore has sessions every so often for little ones - one of the best was Hoo's Tales in Cubbon Park. Recently heard a story in Dhaatu (the puppet folks). Wish there was more though.

Tharini said...

That was spellbinding to read.

It spoke to me Dr. Naidu, when you said that you call to the Presence in the listener as you tell your story.

2 days a week, I tell stories to the little 4-6 year old in my Balvikas class, and what you said about feeling the story and its truth first, helps me to use that time with them even better.

Thanks for taking the time for ST!

Praba Ram said...

Mesmerizing. Can't wait to bring my kids to one of your sessions, Loved everything. Especially what you said here about what inspires you...

"... - all this is in the epics and as humans we continue to place the gods as "archetypes to our own imagination"...

Epics are our greatest and most powerful symbols of imagination. and speaking of that, this one is so wonderfully timely as we start the Diwali celebrations. We owe a lot to our epics, don't we?

Thank you Art for such an invaluable interview! Thanks, Dr. Naidu for taking the time!

Happy Diwali to all of you, wherever you are in the world!

Kidsstoppress said...

I loved the interview and just posted it on my blog page with credits to Saffron Tree. I so agree with her on the tips for storytelling. Imagination - ownership, humility and confidence",We are so lucky that we can tell tales in so many different languages to our children. Do visit

Artnavy said...

Dr. Naidu was so approachable- loved doing this.

Glad all are enjoying it as much.

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