December 01, 2013

Tall Tales Storytelling at Studio-X, Mumbai

Everyone has at least one great story – Tall Tales.

And it followed that Tall Tales invited that one story from five storytellers for a night of storytelling in Mumbai.

It was only after Pernille assured me that not just anyone from the audience who raise their hand at “Who wants to tell a story next?” will be allowed on stage, and that the stories scheduled for the evening were curated and edited in the weeks leading up to the event, did the three of us decide to take a chance yesterday and find out just how worthwhile it’d be.

I’m glad we took the chance and found our way to Kitab Mahal opposite Excelsior Cinema in Fort.

The lone, open elevator hanging from a single support limited its ride to one floor short of the fourth, where Studio-X has set up home in Kitab Mahal. 340 Kgs. was all it 'said' it could accommodate. A quick calculation and we decided it'd be safe to get in. Then we walked up the last, curving mile.

Stories beckoned. And so did wine. 


Rohit Nair was nervous, very nervous as he took to the podium at Studio-X, a space atop Kitab Mahal down the road from Victoria Terminus station, to read out his story “Too Much Strawberry” to an audience of 50-odd who had paid Rs. 300/- each for an evening of Tall Tales – Mumbai stories by five storytellers with true stories to share with fellow Mumbaites.

At first Rohit managed to mumble a brief introduction to self with something to the effect of “I just have to say before I start that I have a cold. Maybe it'll make me sound sexy. Sexy and sick”, barely managing to get the words out, holding his breath to steady his voice and hands, until his chest tightened enough to burst the buttons on a black shirt. It was rehearsed. And, it worked; ice was broken (AC-walla ice).

For, no sooner did the audience warm to the awkward introduction, Rohit exhaled, to the relief of straining buttons, before gathering threads of courage together to begin weaving his encounter with a Gujju client he was sent to visit in Navi Mumbai by his IT company, to fix, of all things, 12 labels on a sheet of paper and print it out for the would-be juice entrepreneur.

Such were times when business was down, Rohit said as his story wound along, funny and at times hilarious, other times, plain tacky. It evoked laughs for the series of events that spanned the glorified import of being an IT Engineer and the reality of being turned into a Mechanic by the client’s young son on his first client visit that ended up at the Client’s home (and not some plush conference hall), in a room plastered wall to wall with strawberries while his wife asked, with concern and anxiety, if Rohit would indeed need to be fed lunch.

“The computer ran Windows while an Apple wallpaper graced the desktop,” Rohit let on between nervous smiles, not really telling the audience if it was the legendary half-bitten apple of Jobs (as opposed to Adam’s fateful bite) or a juicy one favoured by the would-be Gujju juice-entrepreneur. More laughs.

“Those were ‘recession days’ when our company took on whatever jobs it could” Rohit explained, narrating his dilemma caught as he was between his ambitions of being a Code Jockey and the compulsions of meeting his would-be ‘Juice Entrepreneur’ client in a vegetable market as commanded by his company, more interested in keeping the boat afloat than rowing along with the sense of entitlement nursed by its army of coders proud of their engineering degrees.

Rohit’s was not a story that might appeal as much as it did if it wasn’t for him narrating it in his unique style, made endearing no doubt by sentences clipped by well positioned pauses, nervous smiles, and more than a smattering of ironies occasioned by the gritty realities of a start-up with Gujju entrepreneurs as their clients, not in the least the lack of differentiation between a car mechanic and a software engineer.

Way to go, Rohit, I tell you …….

While “Too Much Strawberries” might not have read as enthusiastically off the printed page, it took its creator and narrator to bring it alive for, the audience probably imagined the narrator bumbling into the sequences he now read out aloud, empathising with him at every twist and turn. The stories became, them.

The voice bridged studio space between the podium and the seating, letting the narrator and the listener connect with shared intimacy.

And that is what made yesterday’s episode of “Tall Tales” such a hit with the audience – storytellers telling their own stories, breathing life into them, living them.

And so it was with the four other storytellers who took turns at the podium, each armed with the one episode from their Mumbai lives they cared to remember well enough to write about it, and narrate to a roomful of strangers soon-to-become familiar faces. They brought their Mumbai experiences to life, experiences you don’t get to read in newspapers, nor in 140 char limit tweets.



The other storytellers from yesterday -

Enakshi Biswas – Born This Way, Yogesh Upadhyaya – Hard Rain, Gauri Balani – Pushing the Envelope, and Chandrima Das – Blessings from Above.

Yogesh Upadhyaya narrated his story sans printed sheets. A story of pain occasioned by hard rain on the day Mumbai flooded upto its gills and above.

Chandrima's karma ensured she got more than her share of blessings from above (read bird poop), and the same karma left her moved after an unlikely encounter with a street child following another blessing from above on Turner Road, Bandra, one that she turned into a story that had the audience moved.

Yet I doubt she would welcome more blessings from above even if they promised more touching encounters on the street.

Equally memorable was Gauri Balani’s Pushing the Envelope. Gauri had the audience straining to find out what happened next after she decided that her only hope, after being dented at every level in her effort to get a water pipe installed in Ganesh Nagar where they were conducting a medical camp, now lay with Mianji, the local dada aka enforcer.

I will say no more. Find out from Tall Tales if Gauri is reading her story again, here.


Twenty minutes on the average is what each of the five storytellers got, and at the end of it, only the fact that it was getting late in the night and people had places to reach before it got too late, is what probably prevented me, and likely many others, from asking for more as we, (K, V, and I with the others) made our way out the room and down the curving wooden staircase before stepping out into the warm Mumbai night.




It turned out to be a memorable Saturday evening attending Tall Tales in Studio-X with the busy Michael Burns, Co-director at Tall Tales, the petite and charming Media Liaison, Pernille Bussone, together with the anchor, Vishal Jodhani, and the bindi princess, Kaneez Surka. More power to storytelling, Tall Tales ishtyle.


If you were to attend Tall Tales, and I highly recommend that you do, remember not to present panch-sau ka note if Kaneez Surka is manning the desk. There’s only so much politeness she can muster, and sau ka change, if each one of you presents a panch-sau ka note, unless of course Tall Tales decides to hike the entry to panch sau, in which case the problem will be solved both ways, and what’s more, with no one the loser.

Yes, even then it’ll still be worth it. However, I hope they won’t solve the issue by taking that particular route.


Do you have a story you want to tell? 

Tall Tales is accepting true story submissions at story(at)

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Riot Kitty said...

That is so neat! I would love to attend something like that.

Anil P said...

Riot Kitty: It's fun listening to stories read out.

Syed Qasim said...

Great story. Its funny but good . :)

An Iengar Chick said...

Well, too many strawberries might be pushing the envelope towards a red tongue (or lip) and too many blessings from above (read bird poop) and one might actually wish for the hard rain that never shows up when you want it too.

Aww man wish I could partake in these events :( pipe dream that i smoke every night (lungs permitting). How you been AP, I'm hanging in there somewhere

Anil P said...

Red: It was fun being at the event. They do it regularly. His Hard Rain was the floods of July 26.

You should tiptoe down sometime for the events.

An Iengar Chick said...

Okay then may be i dont want the hard rain after all.

I should do that..tiptoe that is.


Anil P said...

Red: The Bombay kind of "Hard Rain" is messy. To experience "Hard Rain", Western Ghats is a great option.

I experienced once when living in a tent in the Western Ghats for four days during a trekking camp. The size of those rain drops - an experience in itself. Cheeks slapped with those rain drops would go red.

An Iengar Chick said...

Tents in the Western Ghats during monsoon and red cheeks, now that would make a great post !