Beyond Numbers: Human Stories from the Pandemic

Karuna Stories, a storytelling competition, asked creators to explore their feelings during the lockdown

Muthhmaila (Muddy) by Shubhshree Mathur won first place
Muthhmaila (Muddy) by Shubhshree Mathur won first place

The Olive Ridley Collective, named after the famous turtles, includes four design firms: Kahani, Studio Carbon, MAD Salon + Lab and shubhra raje_built environments. Members have never physically met each other, but came together during the lockdown to pursue a common objective: create a channel for self-expression that helps people cope with the chaos caused by the pandemic.

Thus was born Karuna Stories, a competition for Indians to share their experiences during the lockdown and explore hopes for a post-Covid world. The open call received hundreds of entries from around the globe and was judged by a jury of respected creators and educators, including artist Sam Kulavoor and educator Aditi Ranjan. The chairman of the jury was well-known filmmaker, Suresh Eriyat.

Three winners and four ‘honourable mentions’ were announced recently. The winning stories are varied in their language, their mediums and the emotions they express. First place winner, Shubhshree Mathur, has written a nostalgic tale of her childhood in Hindi, full of poignant experiences of mud and play, of deep connections to the earth and her companions. Mathur hails from Kota and has struggled to find a publisher for her kind of storytelling. Priyankar Gupta’s comic, ‘Father, Son and the Holy Ghost’ explores an elderly couple’s experience as they wait for news from an absent son. ‘Dora ki Dori‘ is a collaboration between Sheetal Paul and Ishtha Kapoor that looks at the lockdown through a child’s lens. ‘Maya’s Story’ by Indumathi Manohar, which received an honourable mention, is the unusual account of a trans person using the privacy of lockdown to explore their gender presentation and identity. 

Left to right: ‘Father, Son and the Holy Ghost’ by Priyankar Gupta, ‘Dora ki Dor’ by Sheetal Paul and Ishta Kapoor

The winners will now be mentored by Suresh Eriyat, Tarun Deep Girdher, graphic design educator, Prakash Moorthy, animation filmmaker and production designer and Kavita Arvind, design practitioner, educator and illustrator. Through the next month, mentees will refine the work that they have already done and create one new story. The collective plans to publish an anthology of selected stories by the end of the year.

In a time when bad news seems never-ending, Karuna Stories are a reminder of our resilience, of the ability to feel, empathise and carry on regardless of circumstances. Loss, reward, anger, hope – these are all part of our lives as humans and it is important that we continue to share these stories. Like the turtles they are named after, the Olive Ridley Collective says they plan to gather once a year, hopefully on a beach, and continue with initiatives that will help the creator community to do this. Meanwhile you can follow the stories on their Instagram account @karuna_stories.

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