Are we all in our own little universe, safeguarded from the evils of society or are we a participant in this development, the ongoing drama of evil, are we the victim of bigotry or a spectator (like I am), always having an opinion about the wrongs of society. Perhaps I am not a spectator anymore, and that is why it hurts – all the wrongs, perhaps I am the silent victim, a participant in this chaos, in this pain, in this never ending trauma called governance.

Are we all scavenging for hope, looking for safe spaces to securely store our present, all the quiet narratives we have grown up with – those of freedom and equality, or are we diminishing stars, the lights fading day after day, while we faintly shine over a few. As people, as individuals we are all stories, tiny, larger, poignant, ordinary, distinct, confusing plots moving among other stories, going past other narratives, telling our anecdotes, befriending other tales.

Our safeguarded universe collides with other participants and the plot erupts, surges and flows into carefully guarded capitals of liberty, harmony and humanity. Today, when the world is battling illnesses of the body, mind and a fragmented society; slowly, vigilantly things are opening again, the irony is that only places are opening while many spaces are still a closed cocoon of hate.

As we breathe the air of this new world, the air opens up to voices, of how epidemics of hate or of any evil would not affect the ability of art to survive, of how art would flow, free without barriers through creators to audiences willing to share, listen and be inspired.

Exchanging ideas and thoughts as participants, creators and raconteurs, Baatein is a community which becomes that air, through which flows inspired notions. The community gathers to converse, create, exchange ideas, thoughts and stories, engaging varied voices in collecting anecdotes from all parts of society, documenting lives and voices of people in creative forums.

A year back when The Citizen first reported about the community, it was also building itself through physical interactions in public spaces, storytelling, workshops and poetry events; the pandemic only became a catalyst for transformation, new work and fresh ways of communication and documentation of poetry, life and art.

“We have a team happily working with us and collecting stories narrated by various people, each audio story coming to life through a new audio platform called – Zubaani,” says Chhaya Dabas, founder-creator and storyteller of Baatein. These oral accounts bring together voices about, family, adversities, achievements, passions, travels, relationships and other profound, sometimes everyday tales of struggle and life. “Baatein’s Zubaani is built around the idea that India is a land of oral traditions and stories like dadi’s kahaaniyan (stories), to home remedies and anecdotes passed from one generation to another, and how orally narrated stories are easily accessible and understood by the masses,” states Chhaya.

“A year back we started doing podcasts or a series called Baatein by Chhaya Dabas. These were candid chats with people with their own experiences, talents and expertise. Through these podcasts we collected stories and conversations, like that by Savita who is a masseuse at Urban Clap – the conversation was around Savita’s struggle with loss and depression, and the significance of self-reliance and women empowerment. We also spoke with Bawari Basanti/Mahima Dayal, a musician of how music has helped her heal, and with Akshay Kapoor about climate change, among many other storytellers and conversationalists,” reveals Chhaya.

“The pandemic has shown us a different path, to collect stories through digital platforms like virtual interactions, podcasts, written musings, exchanged through emails, virtual conversations and various social media settings. Our podcasts are now a collection of stories of people from different walks of life and a way to inspire people and create pockets of hope and creativity in these times.”

Along with a blog that is collection of thought pieces and stories, Ibaarat, an arts and culture magazine by Baatein, is a space which welcomes creators from various fields expressing and voicing their ingenuity on themes, like Nostalgia and more recently a topic influenced by the current times – Art in Quarantine: A New Perspective. The magazine is an amalgamation of thought pieces, poetry, prose, visual art, photography, cinematography and more.

“Our recent podcasts in association with Hindustan Times-Health Shots, titled She Slays centres around health challenges and stories by women,” states Chhaya. “Many of these stories are about the health problems faced by women and how they overcame the various mental, emotional, physical, personal challenges.” One such story was of Divya, who spoke about her road to recovery, the need to become self-aware, build strength and resilience. The podcasts and stories are an ode to women who have emerged stronger and powerful in their personal journeys.

From profound community led initiatives, like Zubaani, to virtual-creative engagements like Alfaaz, music and poetry open mics, and workshops, to blogs and orally narrated tales, Baatein is a community which has adapted to this ever-changing normal with the introduction of new channels of communication, more interaction through digital platforms and the documentation of stories through aural and written voices.

We are all chapters and open books, sometimes our stories never end, they are despicable alliances of in-betweens, with questions and doubts, with barriers and boundaries. And sometimes we are vulnerable tales, we create pasts, we imagine futures, we unlive the present. Yet we are not individual tales, we are over-lappers, we are integrators, collaborators, even working together in the story of our lives. It is only when we listen, we understand how similar our stories are, how as a community we can affect other stories, how our stories can lead to fall of empires, to collapses and calamities, and how stories can affect a surge of positive change, and create ripples of kindness and sustenance.