How Sarla Minni Turned Her Talent Into The Popular Podcast Kahaniwali Nani
At 61, homemaker Sarla Minni is the Kahaniwali Nani, sharing her storytelling magic with thousands of Indian children across the world.
In India, we traditionally associate storytelling with grandparents, the dadas and dadis, nanas and naanis, thathas and paatis. Some of the lucky ones among us have fond childhood memories of listening to bedtime stories from them, as we drifted into dreamland. With families becoming smaller and busier and grandparents often staying far away, the tradition is on its way out. But what if you could have a virtual grandparent who read children some bedtime stories? Whose gentle yet assuring voice told them tales that many elders have grown up with? A grandmother who loves telling stories and has smartly used technology to reach out to thousands of children who enjoy listening to them?
Meet Sarla Minni, the Kahaniwali Nani. The 61-year-old Bangalore resident has always been a storyteller, enthralling the children in her family with her tales, some from mythology, some folktales, some created on her own. Encouraged by her niece, graphic designer Parul Rampuria from Surat, who has grown up listening to Minni’s stories and is part of a large family, Minni decided to record her stories. They circulated a few among family and friends over Whatsapp and the response was encouraging enough for Minni to start her own audio storytelling service. She started in March 2017, as a free service on Whatsapp and before she knew it, her listener base had expanded to 10,000! She has since then moved to the messaging app Telegram (because the Whatsapp broadcast list wasn’t enough) and once had 800 subscribers in a single day from Mumbai!
Minni puts a lot of thought and hard work into her stories. She records the stories in one sitting without any sound effects. In fact, if you listen closely enough, there are sounds of daily life going on in the background, though that never interferes with the experience of listening. Minni’s voice is warm and intimate and her flawless diction and the gentle pauses make it a home-like experience. It’s almost like having your grandma or favourite aunt sitting next to you, narrating a story about the boy named Bittu and his antics or how Birbal outsmarted some cunning courtiers.
Always The Storyteller
Minni has always been an avid reader and her bag of stories is rather full. But she doesn’t take the responsibility towards her increasing subscriber base lightly despite being a trove of stories herself. “I research folktales from everywhere and read various versions of them. I improvise on them a little so that they can understand. Then I take feedback from my daughter in law and niece,” she tells us. She also goes by her listeners’ suggestions. “Some want mythology, some want fairy tales, some want stories with lessons and morals, like biting nails not being a good habit or the importance of saving money.”
Each story takes Minni, a homemaker, two to three days to prepare. The character Bittu is her own creation, one she has successfully narrated to her nephews and nieces when they were young. Then there are value-based stories, folk tales, tales of animals and stories around festivals and how these started. Her aim is to send her listeners a balanced set of stories, that encompass various worlds and cultures. Though Minni focuses on the two to ten-year-old age group, that’s not her only follower base. “I also have some grandmothers and even doctors on my subscriber list,” she says, a smile in her voice.
When they started the initiative, Minni and Rampuria’s aim was to keep children away from television screens. Going by the success of her podcasts, that aim has been achieved to quite an extent. Kahaniwali Nani is also on YouTube, where the focus is on audio stories, not visuals. As I write this, there’s Shikha Bittu Ki Kahani going on in the background, a story about the importance of doing things on time. Bittu’s standard answer to everything that has to be done is ‘Bas ek minute.’ Minni’s voice is gentle, with the simplest of modulations and before I know it, my six-year-old is sitting beside, engrossed in listening. ‘This is exactly like a nani telling a story to her grandchildren’ and ‘We feel somebody is sitting in front of us and telling us a story’ is what Minni hears most often from her listeners, so I’m not surprised that junior has ditched television to listen in.
Minni’s favourite feedback has been one from Kashmir, where a subscriber living in a village 30 kilometers from the border told Minni that she downloaded Kahaniwali Nani’s stories for her children whenever she could. Because in the absence of a regular internet connection and during prolonged curfews, nani’s stories were a source of comfort and learning to them. A caller from Delhi told her that his child was hooked to Doraemon (a Japanese cartoon character) on television but now wanted nani’s stories as soon as he was back from school.
It’s responses like these that keep Minni going, despite the increasing volume of work. She sends out stories twice a week. Hindi stories are sent out on a Tuesday and English on a Friday. The 61-year-old has had several offers to put her stories on other platforms and is exploring options along with her niece and software engineer son. In fact, Minni’s own story of becoming Kahaniwali Nani would be incomplete without mentioning her family, who are her main source of encouragement. If her skills were honed by reading out to her brother’s children and her own grandchildren over the years, it’s her niece Parul who realized the potential of Minni’s storytelling talent and thought of an ingenious idea to take it further with the aid of technology. “Everyone in the family has been encouraging,” says Minni, who finishes her chores and sits down to record, proving that technology and tradition can come together to create something wonderful.
“It’s difficult to keep pace sometimes with the growing user base,” Minni admits candidly, one of the main reasons she moved from Whatsapp. But Minni has no desire to stop telling her stories. After all, being Kahaniwali Nani to grandchildren across the world has brought her immense satisfaction. ”It is a stress buster for me,” she tells us, “When I read and record I forget everything.” Listen to her narrating a tale and you would know what she means. It’s just Minni, her voice, and the story. And of course, the rapt listener.
To hear Kahaniwali Nani’s stories, you can subscribe to her on Telegram or her Channel on YouTube. Here are the links: