NEW YORK – Indian Americans often struggle to teach their children the basics of Indian culture. Now, two high school students from New Jersey have made that task a bit easier.
Nikhita (Nikki) Mahendru, a senior, and her brother Vikram Mahendru, a sophomore, at Millburn High School, in Millburn, have created an online platform known as Storychatter (www.storychatter.com), where they have posted several videos that teach children the basics of Indian mythology through storytelling.
“It’s a website that hosts several vibrant videos on Indian culture and mythology,” Nikki told News India Times, in a phone interview.
Nikki explained how Storychatter is an entertaining medium that runs on a subscription base for $2.99 a month or $0.99 a video, and 50 percent of the proceeds go to a charity in India while the other 50 percent go towards making new videos.
However, it took the siblings three years to put the concept together with one year going into research and the other two to actually make the videos.
“We contacted a video artist from India to draw out the animation, recorded our voice overs and wrote an original script in a storytelling format where Vikram and I take the children through the stories,” Nikki said, adding that they wanted to make sure that the animation looked realistic, and thus, decided to work with someone from India “who really knew the culture.”
After starting the project in 2013, Nikki and Vikram finally launched it in 2016 with the intention of re-telling the stories their grandparents had once told them.
“When our grandparents would visit from India, everyday after school they would always tell us the epic stories of Ram, Hanuman and many more, and I remember I would always ask them to tell me more even though story time was over for the day,” Nikki said.
“But when our grandparents went back to India, we were lost in terms of our identities,” she added, saying that they wanted to make sure that when they re-created these stories, they connected to the children of today. “I love books but they didn’t feed our imagination so we decided to launch an online platform. Vikram even developed an app so they (children) can have what they want, when they want,” she added.
Nikki said that she wants to expand Storychatter in the future, tell stories that are not just for Indian Americans but for everyone.
“I want it to encompass all cultures and religions,” she said, mentioning that she would like to focus on Greek and Roman mythology next.
Nikki will be going to Duke University next year to pursue her studies in economics.
The siblings are also actively involved in many after school activities including running cross country track, Model UN, robotics and debate club.
Nikki hopes that many children will learn about the Indian American culture through Storychatter as “it is a website developed by kids, for kids.”
Here is a link to one of the stories: https://www.storychatter.com/media/lord-hanuman/24769/feature