Today it was the turn of the girls at the centre to share stories with the group. The first story, which was written and narrated by Sakina, was about a young man who wanted to learn music and dance, much against the wishes of his parents, who wanted him to become a doctor. After facing much unhappiness, his friends act as mediators and ultimately they reach a compromise. The young man studies medicine, as well as music and dance.
The second story, narrated by Payal was about two sisters. One who believed in God and the other who didn’t. The one who believed in God incurred the anger of her father and was given in marriage to a man who was labelled mad. The man was not actually mad, but was in fact a prince who had been cursed. Despite his so-called madness, he treats his new wife very well and she falls in love with him, thereby lifting the curse. Payal had read the story in a book she had borrowed from the centre library and had modified the ending.
The third story, narrated by Jesmina was about a greedy tailor who impersonates a prince and tries to take his place in the palace and family. Ultimately, his fraud was discovered and he was expelled from the palace. This story emphasised on how ambition can often take over ones principles. This narration was interactive, with some of the other girls chipping in with opinions. The girls have decided to work this story into a play script and perform it on one of the days.
After each of the storytellers had received their share of claps and cheers from their audience, we moved into the discussion.
We started with identifying key points in each of the stories. For the first story, we began the discussion by asking the girls if they had ever wanted to do something very badly, but had been prevented from doing it and how they had felt when that had happened. Most hadn’t really experienced something like that, so I gave them an example from my own experience and told them how frustrated I had felt when it had happened. We then went on to discussing gender stereotypes—men are often ridiculed for wanting to do things that are considered ‘feminine’ and women, vice versa. The girls mentioned instances that they themselves have seen. They all agreed that we should be allowed to do what made us happy as long as it was not harming anyone else.
We then went onto discussing the second story. Sonu, the volunteer at the centre mentioned that the girls often tease their friends in the hostel who have special needs, so we decided to take the discussion in that direction. We talked about how people who might have special needs are often sidelined and ignored and how this can make them very unhappy. I also mentioned some of the different kinds of disabilities that I have come across and how every one is special, because of our different abilities—like the cursed prince in the story, who behaved so well with the girl that she fell in love with him. We then went on to talking about how teasing people who have special needs might seem fun, but can actually be very hurtful.
What was interesting was that each of the stories that the girls had chosen had a definite takeaway, something to learn and discuss. The stories themselves were complex, with multiple plot points, well-defined protagonists and antagonists. We have been working at the centre for five years now, with more or less the same group of girls. It is nice to see them take on more challenging stories that encourage discussion and also narrate with such confidence and support for each other.