Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Decoding The City Through Stories

Mumbai is certainly the most mystical and mysterious city of our country. For years people have been trying to understand this city. Various means have been adopted by them and a lot has been written about the city. But still there is no absolute clarity as to what makes this city so unique. Mumbai still lures the explorers to come and explore it. Discovering Mumbai itself is one such experiment and so we were very happy to come across another great experiment in the discovery of the city. ‘Katha Cues’, a group of people who gather to share stories, founded by Tarun Durga, is an on-going experiment to understand the city through the stories of its inhabitants.

Tarun Durga, the founder of Katha Cues, runs a creative agency in the suburb of Andheri. Being the restless person that he is, Tarun has always been inclined towards activities like Katha Cues. He was one of the early adopters of the Bombay Elektik Project, sharing and performing poems at their open mics. Katha Cues grew out of a series of projects during his MA in design studies in London. Back then he had chosen story telling as the subject of his MA project. For the project he went from one subculture to another, trying to understand if they could define themselves through stories. “I met a lot of interesting people, like people who had been living on trees for ten years to protect forests and people who considered themselves vampires”, he says. His time in London was spent undertaking various interesting projects which revolved around understanding the surroundings through stories.

Tarun returned to India, after completing his MA, with all such ideas and he decided to keep his experiments with story-telling going. “That’s when I decided to set up Katha Cues, which is loosely based on an event which happens in US called ‘The Moth’, where people share real stories”, he says. This is the basic premise of Katha Cues, real people sharing real stories. “Our lives are so rich with stories. Stories basically define our world. From the dawning of consciousness we have been using stories to explain our world, like the sun moves from east to west because the sun god rides a chariot”, says Tarun.

Every meet up has a theme. The theme at their last meet up, which happened last month, was ‘And that’s when I knew it’, i.e. stories of realization. Their next meet up, which is happening on 28th November, has the theme ‘Scary but true’! “It will be great to see what scares people and to see if there is any particular scary theme common in Mumbai”, says Tarun. All meet ups happen at The Leaping Windows café at Yari road in Andheri west. Although it’s an informal sorts of gathering, there are certain basic rules to be followed, “The stories have to be real life incidents, stuff that has either happened with the narrator or someone they know. The stories have to be less than seven minutes and they have to be in three acts”, says Tarun.

Katha Cues is however, not just a platform for people to share stories. It is a social experiment to understand the city. And in keeping with this spirit of experimentation, next month they are organizing ‘Katha Cues Meandering’. Tarun is trying to get a foreign musician and his Indian counterpart who stays around Yari road for this. The plan is to have the foreigner trace a path on the map of his city, a loosely circular path, from his favourite café and back. This path will then be superimposed on the map of Yari road, with Leaping windows café as the starting point. Travelling on the path, both will share their stories around certain places falling on the path. “There might be points where their stories clash, and points where they might even converge. It will be very interesting to see how two cultures can be studied”, says Tarun.

From the first meet-up, which happened last year at Carters road Bandra, to the last one at leaping windows café, the number of people turning up has swelled from single digits to double digits. However, getting the word around is still the biggest challenge that Tarun faces. So far it’s the social networking site Facebook that he is using. Word of mouth is their main medium; a lot of people have been spreading the message beyond Facebook too. “I believe that people invariably want to share stories. In the lonely lives we lead today, people want to catch up, interact with others, and what’s better than sharing a good story!” says Tarun.

Tarun is excited at the way Katha Cues is growing, but he is also constantly thinking about taking it one step further. He plans to take it to other cities too. Delhi is his obvious first choice as people in Delhi have been requesting him to start Katha Cues there. He is also toying with the idea of podcasts, “We can select the best stories and ask people to come and record them in a studio”, he says. He also wants to continue his social experiments in his endeavour to decode the city through the story of its inhabitants. “I am working on defining the city through stories of people from different localities. We will ask people to submit stories and then put them through sentiment analysis. Based on the stories we can understand how positive or negative is the impact of staying in a particular location”, he says.

Although most of his work is aimed at understanding the city, he feels that Mumbai is no longer the same city that he fell in love with. “I really want to believe that Mumbai is still the safest, the liveliest the nicest city in India, but slowly I sense a little bit of let-down. I really want to believe in this city and maybe that is one of the reasons I am doing this subconsciously to prove that there are happy moments in the lives of this cities inhabitants”, says Tarun. We are looking forward to his experiments and hope they will prove that Mumbai still is the city that we all think it is!

You can check out Katha Cues page on Facebook if you would like to share your stories. You can also head to Leaping Windows Café tonight at 8.30 PM for their meet up. 

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