Earlier on this month, we caught up with Producer Dawinder Bansal to discuss her latest project – a storytelling theatre show called Tongue Tied & Twisted. Dawinder explains how the show was created and why it is important to record elders’ stories and memories.
Tongue Tied & Twisted is a wonderfully warm and entertaining storytelling show. It’s origins are rooted in South Asian folk tales yet it transcends boundaries and suitable for all audiences, regardless of background. After touring to festivals in UK and Europe, it is now tours to London at the iconic and politically important South Asian arts organisation called Tara Arts as part of 70 shows presented during the year of 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence.
South Asia has a tradition of oral tradition, folk tales being lost because elders are sadly passing away. For this reason, Peter Chand initiated this project and wanted to ensure the folk tales were kept alive for future generations. He likened an elder dying to a library burning down.
“The elders we interviewed for this project are the pioneering generation. The first settlers sacrificed so much – in fact too much – for the benefit of second or third British Asians. They left their homeland on a promise of a better life, perusing new opportunities. Although art runs rich through the veins of these elders, as immigrants in the UK, their priorities focused on meeting basic needs and the arts took a back seat. Working hard to earn money to feed the family, buy a house and through almighty determination and hardship, provide opportunities for their children, which were not available to them.
Tongue Tied & Twisted was created through a series of story collecting workshops and interviews led by storyteller, Peter Chand and Producer Dawinder Bansal. In total, they spoke to fifty South Asian elders who shared recollections of folk stories they were told by their elders, when they were children.
Initially, they were amused by the idea but also reluctant to take part. In our first session they asked “after all these years – why do you want to hear these old stories?” While others, though thrilled to be involved, couldn’t remember the stories they were told as children. Many of them are now in their seventies and one lady remarked “If I can remember the beginning… I can’t remember the end!”.
One elder in the group when asked to recall his younger years in India had this to say:
“When I was about 6 years old, I remember me and my brothers, sisters, cousins and our parents and grandparents would sit with us on the rooftop terrace, after we had eaten dinner. In the warmer months, we would talk all night until our eyes could no longer stay open! My baba ji (grandfather) would tell us stories, riddles and jokes. Life was very different in India, families had time for one another”
All of the stories collected for Tongue Tied & Twisted featured a moral. As one elder said – “this is how we learned what was good, bad, right and wrong’. With that in mind, here is a sneak peak at one of the folk stories collected during the workshops:
The King and Two Parrots by Krishna Gupta
The point of my story is what happens when you are in good company and bad company.
The story starts with a King. Once, a King was moving through a Bazaar (market) in his coach and saw a man selling two parrots. The man was shouting out the price of one parrot was five rupees and the other was five hundred rupees.
The King asks the man, “How is it that one parrot is five rupees and the other is five hundred rupees? What is the difference?” The man replies, “My lord if you take them home you will see the difference as to why the other is so expensive.” The King bought both the birds.
Once home, the King asked his Minister to put the five rupee bird in his bedroom to work out the difference. The bird was kept in the room and in the early morning the parrot woke up and started swearing loudly. After listening for a while the King got fed up with its abusive language and said “Throw this parrot out, it’s a bad influence!”
That night, the King asked the minister to put the five hundred-rupee bird in his room. The next morning the parrot started reciting God’s name and singing prayers and hymns. The King was incredibly happy and said “This parrot is wonderful, he sings hymns, talks about God and recites mantras – we will keep him and throw the other away!”
As the five rupee bird was set to be thrown out, the five hundred rupee bird pleaded with the King, “Please do not throw him out. He is my younger brother and he has been influenced in bad company! We were together but he flew off and stayed with bad people and picked up their bad behaviour and I stayed with good people and so my habits are good. Please keep him – he will be reformed once he is with me and your good company.”
So, the moral of the story is that this is what happens when you are in bad or good company. If you are with good-hearted people your influences will be good. If you are in bad company, you will resolve to bad habits.
Tongue Tied & Twisted is a thrilling collaboration between Peter Chand and Black Country Touring that takes the traditional tales and translates them from Punjabi into English and presents them on stage for audiences. While Peter performs the stories, PKCtheFirst works his magic with the live mixing on stage and together they take the audience on a journey of light and shade.
“While this show kick-started the recording of elders stories, there is so much work to yet to be done. By working on Tongue Tied & Twisted but also my new show Mother Tongues from Farther Lands, I realised that South Asian working class immigrant stories are largely invisible. Some of these people are illiterate but have a story to tell. So, If you have any elders in your family or even your neighbour, then I urge you to find out about their life and record their stories before it is too late and their history is lost forever. Last but not least, getting elders involved in telling their stories stimulates their minds and hearts and this is so important, particularly for those who are isolated and lonely. Everyone can make a small difference in the lives of elders, if only they make time to try. So now I feel it is important to give recognition to this generation for their sacrifices and the first step is getting them involved in the arts”
You can watch this show at Tara Arts on Thursday 1st June and Friday 2nd June 2017. Tickets are £12.50 and can be purchased here.