The wandering storyteller: This man is cycling across India to collect tales

Beginning his journey in July last year, Kumar has travelled across five states so far and plans to cycle all the way up to Leh.
The wandering storyteller: This man is cycling across India to collect tales
The wandering storyteller: This man is cycling across India to collect tales
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Wanderlust is an unquenchable thirst for many. For 30-year-old Kumar Shaw, though, it is a way of life. With his grizzly hair tied up in a bun and a shabby beard covering most of his face, Kumar comes across as the typical vagabond straight out of the pages of a folktale.

A storyteller and an actor, Kumar is on a story-collecting expedition across the country. And how is he travelling? Well, on his bicycle of course!

Kumar envisioned himself to be the story-collector on a bicycle, who travels across the country gifting a balloon for every story he collects. This was his original plan when he began his journey from Aliyar near Pollachi in Tamil Nadu on July 7 last year.

“I was just riding my bicycle back home after a storytelling session with the children one evening and this story just struck me. I didn’t think twice,” he laughs.

Having already travelled by bus and train across the country before, Kumar decided to go on his bicycle Karuppi this time. “Yes, I’ve named her Karuppi. She’s my companion,” he chuckles.

Kumar travelled across Tamil Nadu, covering the length and breadth of the state in just four and a half months. He then traversed Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra to reach his current pitstop: Ahmedabad. The storytelling vagabond is on his way to Leh, Ladakh. And yes, he plans to cycle all the way!

An internal journey too

“It has been a great journey so far. I did not start this as an awareness tour. It is more of an internal journey. And I’ve seen myself changing internally,” he explains.

Kumar goes on to add that the stories he has collected forms the wealth of his journey. “There’s just so much to observe and listen to. I’ve been meeting a lot of artists, exchanging stories, and before I crossed Kerala, the first story with which I began this journey turned into something else.”

Kumar now wants to invite all the artists and children he has met on his journey back to Aliyar, where they can be whatever they want to be and do whatever they want to do. “It will be an artists’ paradise,” he explains.

So what’s the most interesting story he has come across so far?

“My parents separated when I was a kid, so I practically don’t know anyone from my father’s side of the family. In Ahmedabad, the friend with whom I was staying took me to a roadside tea-shop and there I was introduced to his friend. We got talking about our hometown and discovered that we’re actually cousins! His mother and my father are siblings. Isn’t that a great story? Locating someone from your family so far away from home! I’d call it a very filmy reunion,” he laughs.

Packing is too mainstream

For you and me, travelling might involve lots of planning and packing. For Kumar, however, that’s just too mainstream. When he began his journey, he did not even pack a cycle pump.

“When I left Aliyar, I has Rs 200 in my wallet. I had no bicycle kit and I didn’t even know how to fix a puncture. My knowledge on bicycles was zilch.”

“But I did pack a jacket because, well, the nights are cold when you’re riding!” he adds earnestly.

Kumar reveals that every item that he now possesses has a story to it. “People have gifted me lights, gloves, jackets. In Maharashtra, a cycle shop owner gifted me an air pump. There’s a story behind every screw. That’s the beauty of my journey. Everything I possess in this world is with me right now.”

Every story is different

Kumar also talks about the increasing migrant population in our country. “People from states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh can be found in the southern states, more in Kerala and Karnataka. Their stories are so different. And there I learnt that language is not really necessary to share stories,” he says.

Kumar says that his journey has helped him get close to a lot of people. “I’ve met old people who’ve literally seen their towns change. They have an amazing visual collection of stories. They’ve seen bullock-carts being replaced by cars, they’ve seen highways come up in places where the wolves used to sleep,” he says with much affection.

The journey has also taught him a lot. “Sometimes I’ve had to fix more than five punctures in a day. I now know how to dismantle and reassemble the bike without anyone’s help. Karuppi has taught me how,” he grins.

But how is he managing food and shelter if he started with just Rs 200, you wonder. Kumar tells us that he has been hosted by people he’s never met in his life. The travelling storyteller puts up details of his upcoming escapades on Facebook and acquaintances become friends who come forward to offer shelter.

“All through my journey I’ve only encountered kindness. And lots of stories, of course!” he laughs.

In the last eight months, Kumar has slept on a beach, spent a night in the off-limits part of the jungle, ridden 70 km without drinking water, covered Pune to Mumbai (222 km) in just one day and made friends with people he’s never seen before.

The man of stories has also been performing in schools and institutes he chances upon on his journey.

“What’s the rush? I don’t plan anything beforehand. Even tomorrow I might decide to end my journey and come back home. Why make rules?” he concludes.

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