“The kingdom is within us. We have to discover it, to be at peace with the world and ourselves, only then can we give something to others. And this is what I experienced when I began narrating stories and shared my experiences, as it helped me to look at life in a new way,” said Mireille Gehin, a storyteller from France who is travelling to various parts of India.
She was in Chandigarh on the invitation of the Alliance Francaise to narrate in English the Tibetan epic of the King Gesar with Chandigarh-based musician Gurvinder Singh on the harmonium and tabla. The poem tells the history of a child born with a superhuman strength, who is obliged to fight, by employing tricks against his uncle who wants to be the King of Ling. When the child becomes king, he protects the kingdom from demons.
Mystical visions, extraordinary battles, courage, beliefs. Gehin said since her childhood she had been drawn to stories from Asia, always amazed at the beauty of these stories that need to be spread far and wide. And it was while working as a teacher in a primary school that Gehin attended a workshop about stories of North American Indians and she decided to take up story-telling as a profession.
“It was an informed choice, and I loved every minute of the experience,” said Gehin, who has been narrating epic of the King Gesar for 10 years now. Interested in the Tibetan culture, Gehin came across the epic through a Rinpoche and also read translations by a German professor and the Ladhaki version of that epic, narrating it to French, German, Italian and Israeli audiences. While working on the epic, Gehin decided to visit Dharamshala to read some documents about it and then travelled to Ladakh, and was amazed by the way people were telling and singing the epic in Ladakh.
“For the last six years, I have been spending a few months a year in Leh’s remote villages, giving back something which had been forgotten, especially by the young generation,” she said, adding how many people after hearing the epic, tell her that she comes so far here to tell them their stories.
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“I have no answer to that. I am just doing what I love. It makes me open to other cultures and ways of life. Also travelling to rural areas of Rajasthan, Orissa, through stories, I try and educate women and children and now I am also doing puppet theatre to give the stories a new context and reach. The people, their warmth and simplicity draws me to them,” Gehin said while telling a story she strives to let the audience visualise the story, and she follows their energy. To let the words translate into magic, Gehin said there is a need to be quiet inside. Music plays a pivotal role in Gehin’s storytelling, for she believes no epics or legends can be narrated without the power of music.
“Can you imagine a Mahabharata without music,” after telling the epic with a French percussion instrument player and a Ladhaki Tibetan lute player, Mireille is now exploring new collaborations with Gurvinder Singh.
“I am nourishing my need for traditional music and Indian music is close to my heart. With this collaboration, Singh understood the atmosphere and emotions of the different scenes and translated them into music. In the near future, I will be taking this entire project to teachers of villages, so that they can use these different elements of puppet theatre, music, storytelling, to teach children in villages,” said Gehin, adding how life inspires her to tell stories and the joy is unlimited.