A social initiative named, ‘Kahani Ki Dukaan foundation’ has been ensuring a platform of ‘performing arts’ for the village kids at Bir, financial independence for women and experiential stay for travellers.
There are n number of stories encircling the daily lives of villagers living in Bir, a rural village in Himachal Pradesh and with the due efforts of the team of ‘Kahani Ki Dukaan foundation’, all those life-tales appear much more lively and are easily accessible to the travellers or the passers-by who might want to take a peek at their stories.
The art of storytelling has regained popularity in the last few years and the shift towards demonstrating regional narratives have no doubt, taken an edge over that of the city lives. Kahani Ki Dukan, initiated by Anoop Chugh and Jasmine Kaur has been aiming at the same by recording the stories of the villagers of Bir to display them in the audio-visual format in a mud house set up at a small area in Bir.
Back in 2019, Chugh, who belongs to Delhi visited Gunehr along Jasmine Kaur, Kavita, AI Qawi, Toto, Vikas for a project, 'Kahani Ki Dukaan' aiming to curate stories of the villagers and in the course of one month, he commenced several things for the villagers including the children who were far away from the culture of performing arts. “Neither were there libraries for the children nor were the spaces for people to learn or understand arts,” Chug says.
To meet the gap, Chugh and Kaur, together introduced the village children to pop culture, music and dance classes while enabling the children to showcase the best of their abilities. Although the duo returned to Delhi after a month, the children from the village kept calling them about the possibility of returning. And keeping up with their expectations, Chugh and Kaur decided to settle in Bir to be in the service of the villagers while registering the initiative as a foundation in November 2020.
A ‘non-judgmental’ space
The return of the duo to Bir paved way for the children living in the village to indulge in various art forms again. Now, it has been almost five years and the kids, including those who are enrolled in schools, are also permanent students of classes run by the Kahani Ki Dukan foundation. “Children are involved in song-writing classes and are learning storytelling writing with us along with hula-hoop, pottery filmmaking and more,” says Kaur adding the kids unveil their talent as for them, it appears a “non-judgmental space”.
Kaur further informs that children are usually fewer during the weekdays but almost around 30 during the weekends. On the other hand, Anoop Chugh has started observing a positive change among the children. Citing an example, he says, “We came across a kid who, although attends the school during the day time and often termed a ‘loser’ by his mates but has got an extraordinary imaginative mind as we got to know through our art classes. With the help of these classes, children like him find a great floor to open up themselves.”
The team has also been working to popularise the concept of ‘mobile libraries’ as not just at Bir, they have also established such libraries for underprivileged children in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and other cities. “Most of the books are donated and the idea is to get the children into the routine of reading books,” Jasmine Kaur says.
Lane of stories for travellers
Bir, being a place that has a good tourist count, now also has the option to experience the daily lives of the villagers through the “stories”. In a mud house, Chugh and Kaur have installed the recorded audio soundscape of a few villagers and their stories that can be listened to by the travellers visiting the story museum. "In one ear, people hear character's voices (reality) while in the other ear, they also hear the voice of narrators (fiction)," says Kaur adding that the soundscape features the voices of a few of the team members. About the concept, Chug says, “It helps them see the lifestyle of the village,” says.
Not only this, Chugh and Kaur also ensure and mediate the accommodation at a villager’s house for those travellers who desire to get a taste of authentic village life. “They can stay at a villager’s place after we take a confirmation from the latter,” says Chugh adding that the experience is exchanged with money, a share of which goes to the particular villager.
On the other hand, the team KKD organises a ‘village tour’ along with the villagers where the residents walk along with the tourists to get a hang of the rural lifestyles. “Throughout the walk, the travellers get to meet and greet the villagers, and experience their lifestyles and stories,” Chugh adds.
Along with men living in the village, even women accompany Chugh and Kaur in travelling to various parts of Bir for the ‘village walks’ and setting up mobile libraries. The lives of women, as the founders claim, have changed a lot owing to various efforts and initiatives taken by them.
Jasmine Kaur, after observing that the majority of the household has women making ‘binnas’ – traditional mats and rugs - saw it as a good opportunity for them to earn money and motivated them to take up the work again. “Making binnas, a traditional art has become a bygone affair here but holds a great potential in the markets of the metropolitan cities,” she says adding that she has been assisting the women in the same.
As a result of the efforts that include using old clothes to make the mats, the women have started making the sales with Kaur being the helping hand. She, who has also been initiating various events for women says that they have started to take ownership of their money. “Be it the money or the bank accounts, these are handled by male members in the houses at Bir. Hence, when we asked what women were going to do with the money they earned through selling binnas, they told that they would keep it just for themselves!” she says.
Jasmine Kaur is looking forward to helping women sell other products hand-made soaps, bags and more in the time to come while also holding on to the ‘women's skill centre’ as she can see positive outcomes. Otherwise, not many long ago were the time when the women had laughed as Kaur had told them that they should be paid for the laborious household work they do. Fast forward to the current time when they have started earning out of their traditional culture of making binnas, which once constituted their “household work”.