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Posted at: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM (IST)

British storyteller’s Indian tale

Why is Godfrey Duncan hooked to Vikram and Betal?
British storyteller’s Indian tale

Neha Kirpal

He’s an African living in England, but can beat many an Indian hollow with his knowledge of Indian mythology and folktales. Storyteller Godfrey Duncan was recently in the Capital where he performed at the eighth edition of the Kathakar International Storytellers Festival.

Known as The Unprecedented Unorthodox Preacher or TUUP in story circles, he does not just tell native tales from Africa, but also the well-known Indian tale of Vikram and Betal.

Born in London to Guyanese parents, TUUP started writing poems as a form of self expression when he was about 15 years old. Later, he joined the famous West London Storytelling Unit, an innovative arts group into performance storytelling for adults. In the mid 1980s, TUUP formed his own storytelling group along with Flora Devi called Tellers of Time. The group performs Indian dance and folktales coupled with African-Caribbean tales and rhythms.

Along the way, he started the storytelling of the Indian tale Vikram-Betal as The King and the Corpse. A two-hour show, he has been performing it for the past four years with Sheema Mukherjee, a musician, singer, bass player and sitarist. It is the story of an ascetic who asks the king that he needs a hero to assist him in a magical enterprise of great importance. He needs the king to fetch a corpse hanging in the funeral grounds. The brave king goes and cuts the corpse down. But a voice from the corpse’s throat says, “Let me shorten your journey with a tale and if you cannot solve the riddle of my tale, your head will explode into a thousand pieces.”

“The story is so deep and meaningful,” says TUUP who enacts it while improvising with mimicry, poetry, music and magic. He has performed The King and the Corpse in countries as far and wide as Sweden, Poland, Germany, Ukraine and England. And the response has been great. “The story speaks for itself. When the audience listens to the performance, it finds a different way of seeing — that the meaning of our lives is connected with our past, present and future,” he says.

Among the other stories that he tells, there is Crow Dog, a series of stories researched from African and Native American Indian history and 1001 Nights. 

Ask him if storytelling is dying and he denies. In fact, he is one of the persons responsible for reviving the art of storytelling in Britain along with other liked-minded people such as Hugh Lupton, Sally Pomme Clayton, Jan Black, Daniel Morden and others who understand that history exists in traditional tales. 

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