The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms. American poet Muriel Rukeyser’s words perhaps best sum up how central stories are to our very being. From pictograms to ballads passed down from one generation to another, storytelling—one of the oldest forms of entertainment—has helped us share history and knowledge, even helped shape our future.

It’s with this belief that a group of actors started Jashn-E-Qalam, a platform that marries the tradition of storytelling with literature, in Mumbai two years ago. “Storytelling is the simplest form of theatre, yet the highest form of communication. There are no props, no sets, no costumes, no fancy lighting required, just plain words," says K.C. Shankar, who is part of Jashn-E-Qalam. “But with the invasion of technology, the razzmatazz of cinema and busyness (of life), we have forgotten what it feels like to be lost in another world by just listening to someone narrate a story," he adds.

This weekend, Jashn-E-Qalam will open its bag of Hindustani stories—all of which hold up a mirror to society—at south Delhi’s GreenR Café. The stories, each of which will be enacted by an actor, are Saadat Hasan Manto’s Padhiye Kalma, Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Chechak Ke Daag, Kamleshwar’s Apne Desh Ke Log and Mohan Rakesh’s Parmatma Ka Kutta. “These stories were written in the 20th century, but they couldn’t be more relevant today," says Mohit Yadav, the owner of GreenR Café and co-organizer of the two-day event, Ek Baar Ki Baat Hai.

Take Padhiye Kalma, for instance. It is about a Muslim man who is caught red-handed stabbing a Hindu to death. “The world starts seeing the incident from the religious point of view, even when the offender keeps saying that he didn’t commit the crime because the person was from another community. People, newspapers completely overlook the fact that there could be some other reason for it. They refuse to listen to him because he’s a poor man," says Manjeet Manipal, who will enact the story. Lesson: “Sampradaikta ek khabar hoti hai, khabar ko sampradaik nahi hona chahiye (Communalism is news, news shouldn’t be communal)," says Manipal.

Chechak Ke Daag, which will be enacted by Shashwita Sharma, deals with the question of whether beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder, while Parmatma Ka Kutta discusses a question many may have dealt with at some point in their lives: “In this world, where bureaucracy and red-tapism have sacrificed duty and justice on the altar of greed and corruption, to what extreme must a man go to uphold his dignity and self-respect?" This story will be enacted by Vicky Ahuja.

Apne Desh Ke Log rounds off the list. “It’s set in an office where people have no point of view, they share no thoughts, they say nothing and do whatever their leader, whom they have never seen, asks them to do. It (the story) is very dystopian, very today," says Shankar, who will present this story. The idea behind it, he adds, is all the “tall talk of smart cities, smart lives and smart workers/people. Today, we are obsessed with the concept of India Shining. But do we ever wait to look at what development has cost us?"

Ek Baar Ki Baat Hai will be held on 23 July (7pm) and 24 July (noon), at GreenR Café, 416, Shahpur Jat. Entry, 500.

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