Now in its 21st year since inception, the beloved brand Karadi Tales has grown by leaps and bounds, putting smiles on the faces of children for over two decades. What started off as a personal need of an audiobook for their son, eventually sowed the seeds of inspiration for Shobha Viswanath and C.P.
Viswanath giving birth to Karadi Tales. And five years back, when they took on the ambitious idea of revamping the language teaching methodology through their venture Karadi Path, they found the same success — now, 2600 schools are effectively using this method!
In a chat with us, Shobha and C.P. Viswanath speak about their fantastic, home-grown story that has made Chennai proud.
Shobha Viswanath, co-founder, Karadi Tales
Q Can you explain how you zeroed in on the idea of Karadi Tales?
There was a void in the market for children’s audiobooks, and we had the competence to create them. Therefore we simply went ahead with the idea. It took a few buyers to experience the first audiobooks and then they sold themselves. We did not create any marketing campaigns or awareness campaigns. The product was itself good and that was enough!
Q What do you consider your first taste of success and your favourite memory with Karadi Tales?
The first taste of success was when the 12,500 copies of our first print run were sold out in six months! My favourite memory would be discovering on one rainy day that Karadi Tales is an anagram for ‘Read as I Talk’ — this for me was the universe telling us that we were doing the right thing — as Karadi talked, children read! And they continue to do so…
Q What is the secret behind staying relevant across various generations?
Storytelling has never lost its relevance — not since the caveman’s time. There is always an audience for a story that is well- told. In India, we love drama and we love cinema. So our audio stories were created with drama, song and music to enhance the listening experience. Not only kids, even parents fell in love with them.
Whether it is a person, a cassette, a CD or a DVD, only the devices on which they listen to the story has changed. But a Krishna or a Hanuma’s story still sells as much as a Fox and the Crow.
Q Naseeruddin Shah, Janaki Sabesh and Rahul Dravid are some of the well-known people, who have been a part of the brand... How do you choose your narrators and storytellers?
Our first choice for our first stories was Naseer. Like him, many others also had a theatrical or a film background... the only exception was Rahul Dravid. It was just by chance that we decided to ask him because the story (Crickematics) was so suitable. He had apprehensions about being able to deliver, so did we, a little bit, but he was wonderful. Our narrators are usually chosen based on their ability to emote with their voices, possess a neutral Indian accent and are able to connect at some level with the audience.
Q How has the response been for Karadi tales’ animated films?
It’s been quite good. Our animation series will now be telecast on Sun TV after having a run on Disney and Zee.
What are your future plans with Karadi Tales?
We’re expanding our catalogue and getting into international markets as well — we’re distributing in North America and the UK now. We have also sold the rights to many of our picture books to foreign countries — you will be able to find a few of our books in French, Spanish, Italian, German, etc. Internationally, the books are winning awards and the publishing house too has gained enormous respectability.
C P Viswanath. Director, Karadi Path
Q What was the inspiration behind starting Karadi Path?
An NGO thought they were succeeding in teaching English to slum kids in Dharavi using Karadi Tales! This was because they saw their kids, for the first time, engaging with stories told in English through our audiobooks. While they were enjoying the non-verbal parts of the storytelling, they were not really relating to the language itself.
However, I saw that each of these kids spoke a minimum of three languages. This set me thinking on a series of questions: has any classroom anywhere in the world taught a language when it’s absent from the environment? How is it that so many of us in India are effortlessly multilingual? Why are we adopting language pedagogy from societies that have never mastered any language other than their mother tongue?
And since our higher education and workplace largely function in English, families put their children into English medium schools. Thousands of kids in classrooms are struggling to learn other subjects in a language they do not know. How effective can their learning be? Why are we subjecting our children to this torture? Why can’t we figure out how a kid who moves from Lucknow to Madurai learns Tamil in just three months?
Q Can you give us insight on what Karadi Path is all about?
It took us 12 years of field research, trials and validation to evolve the Karadi Path methodology for language learning. It’s possibly the only language learning methodology in the world that delivers language proficiency without teaching a single word, meaning or rule of grammar. The process is 100 percent derivative, where language learning happens through prediction and discovery.
It is much faster, much more effective and plenty of fun for the kids, compared to conventional processes.
Since it does not map to the curriculum, schools have to make a huge leap of faith to adopt this and create time for it in the time table. The first couple of years were tough.
Q How has the response been from the teachers and students?
When teachers saw children relating enthusiastically to English in a Karadi Path classroom and then quickly start understanding, speaking and reading the language, they too responded with enthusiasm. But the challenge of this not being part of the official curriculum still remains.
The language assessments are designed to test not language proficiency but pattern recognition and memorisation. With more and more schools affirming their faith in Karadi Path, the outlook is becoming brighter and brighter.
In the five years since we launched Karadi Path, we have grown from 26 to 2600 schools. This is largely due to the fact that the Karadi Path outcomes are difficult to ignore.
Q Do you have plans to branch out to other non English-speaking countries?
Absolutely… but India is itself such a huge possibility. It is only a matter of prioritisation and time before Karadi Path not only moves to other countries, but also starts covering other languages.
Q What are your immediate and future plans with Karadi Path?
It is to grow to about 30,000 schools in the next two years. This will force NCERT,
CBSE, ICSE, State Boards and other curriculum framers to re-consider their
philosophies on language learning.
The Karadi Path program for older learners in college and skill development are also gaining recognition and we hope to grow this too....