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Etching history in sound: Neelima Penumarthy’s inclusive audiobooks

Etching history in sound: Neelima Penumarthy’s inclusive audiobooks

In the realm of storytelling, there are those who not only narrate tales but also forge unique paths to ensure that these stories resonate with all, transcending barriers. London-based Neelima Penumarthy, the Founder and CEO of StoryHour, is one such trailblazer. After her celebrated work on the Ramayana, she ventured into a new project—a Hindi audiobook recounting the saga of India’s Independence.

“I began this work with the production of an audiobook on the Ramayana back in 2016 and collaborated with my two sons. In England, most school students learn about characters from the Ramayana as part of their Diwali education. The focus is often on Ayodhya and the Hindu reasons for celebrating Diwali, even though, as we know, different communities in India celebrate for various reasons. So, I thought, why not create an audiobook that distils the story into an hour in an accessible language?” reflects Neelima.

Neelima’s passion for storytelling knows no bounds. She believes that stories have the power to unite generations, transcending both time and language. With this vision, she set out to produce an audiobook on Indian Independence, a pivotal chapter in India’s history. What sets her work apart is her unique choice of collaborators: teenagers and the elderly.
“I have always been fascinated by the raw energy of teenagers and the wisdom of the elderly. They bring unique perspectives to storytelling,” she explains. The book was written and narrated by two remarkable teenagers, Ayur Pulle and Aarush Kumbhakern, who were just 16 years old at the time, lending their youthful vigour and fresh perspectives to the historical accounts. Feeling the success of the English version, Neelima was inspired to make this piece of history accessible to a broader audience.

That’s when the idea for a Hindi version materialised. Dr. Sharda Manocha, a retired Headteacher from DPS Noida, served as the translator. Her expertise ensured that the essence and significance of the original English work were faithfully translated into Hindi. For Neelima, it was not merely about translation but more fundamentally about inclusion. She collaborated with two students from The Blind Relief Association, Ankit Kumar Singh and Rishika Rana, to narrate the Hindi version.

Despite their visual impairments, these young narrators brought their unique perspectives to the project. “Ankit and Rishika displayed incredible dedication and enthusiasm throughout the recording process. Their ability to connect emotionally with the material was truly remarkable,” Neelima shares with joy. The Blind Relief Association played a pivotal role in this endeavour. Kailash Chandra Pande, the Executive Secretary of the organisation, offered crucial support and resources, making the recording process seamless. “Working with the Blind Relief Association has been an enriching experience. Their commitment to empowering the visually impaired through education and skill development aligns perfectly with our mission to make stories accessible to everyone,” Neelima explains.

Neelima’s audiobook project preserves history while also fostering inclusivity. It stands as a powerful testament to the idea that storytelling can bridge gaps between generations and diverse backgrounds. “The Hindi version of the audiobook on Indian Independence deserves to reach a wider audience. It showcases the dedication of Ankit and Rishika and should pave the way for future work,” says Neelima. She hopes to continue producing audiobooks that blend the wisdom of the elderly with the vigour of the young, fostering unity through storytelling.

Her work serves as a reminder that stories have the power to transcend time, language, and physical limitations, echoing through the ages for generations to come. Through her vision and collaborative efforts with young narrators, the elderly, and organisations like The Blind Relief Association, she is etching history in sound for everyone to hear and be inspired by.

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