Living abroad and being away from one’s country comes with it’s own set of challenges – adjusting to a new way of life requires time, patience and effort. But along with adjusting, there is often the desire to stay connected to one’s home country, culture and of course, language. Mahwash Rehman is many things: a mother, writer, travel blogger, photographer, but most notably, the host of a podcast called Bachpan Ki Kahaniyan that aims to tell urdu stories to children growing up abroad in an engaging and fun manner. Not only does this keep children in touch with their Pakistani roots, but also allows them to learn key morals that the stories end with. Mahwash’s stories are the kahanis of our nanis and dadis, and spark nostalgia, comfort and curiosity – everything a child needs. We had the opportunity of having a conversation with the woman behind this amazing intiative so scroll down to learn more about and then click here to subscribe to her podcast!
You are a very talented person – you’re an author, activist, poet, published photographer and the host of a podcast. Where do these engaging qualities come from? Please tell us more about yourself and your background.
Mahwash: As Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. An MBA from LUMS, I started in the corporate world as a business professional, and could not think at the time that I would end up with the kind of projects that I work on today. The turning point in my life was when I went to IVSAA for my PGD Photography in 2010 and got introduced to the world of art. Six year later, my book got published –Women in Green and Beyond – a powerful visual narrative that’s the first of its kind on the Pakistan’s Women Cricket team; it celebrates women heroes and highlights the strength of will and character of Pakistani women. In fact, it intially started as my thesis project at IVSAA and spanned efforts in Pakistan, U.S, UAE, and India.
Most of my work focuses on gender, empowerment, and culture with an aim to inspire people, mobilize them for action so that we can hopefully make an impact.
What prompted you to start a podcast that brings children in touch with their Pakistani heritage?
Mahwash: I believe language is an integral part of a nation’s identity. It is what helps a nation connect with its roots – the vision of its founding fathers. The beauty of a language is that it envelopes in itself culture, traditions, social etiquettes and manners of any nation.
I realized the fear of losing a language at a very young age, when our family and friends would visit from abroad and were not able to converse in Urdu. Even as a child I used to feel it was such a huge loss. I therefore made a conscious effort with my kids, who were both born in the U.S., that they ought to have a connection with their native language. But at the time I could not find any quality Urdu resource online and would read Urdu stories to them.
This project ‘Bachpan Ki Kahaniyan’ (BKK) is therefore really close to my heart and has been brewing in my mind for a very long time. It is aimed at all the expat parents who are in the same boat as I once was. It is my way of giving back to my community.
Your target group doesn’t only seem to be children, but also young adults. Is there a reason for this?
Mahwash: The target audience for the podcast are children up to 10 years of age. However, my first point of contact is parents and oftentimes I am told that their older kids listen to the stories as well and that parents themselves are enjoying the stories a lot as it reminds them of cassette kahanis, and brings them a sense of nostalgia. So as I progressed with recording the stories, I incorporated the constant feedback I was getting, and therefore added a little more complexity to it. For example, much later in the episodes, I introduce Allama Iqbal to the kids and go over the poems that Iqbal has written for children i.e. Makra Aur Makhi, Pahaar Aur Gulehri, Jugnoo Aur Bulbul, so on and so forth.
I follow a very engaging format where I perform a story using simple Urdu and English, often pausing and asking kids important questions, urging them to ponder over it, and then discussing the lesson and the key take away from the story. In the end we have a quick quiz, which the kids love!
So yes, anyone – children, young adults, and parents have something to take away from the stories and are encouraged to listen to the podcast.
How was your own bachpan?
Mahwash: My bachpan was fabulous! I grew up in a big (and I mean REALLY big) closely knit extended family. There was a huge emphasis on education; continuing to educate oneself, learn, and grow was one of the values I inherited from my family.
We had a lot of influence of Urdu poetry and music in our home. My Nani used to write Urdu poetry, and so does my Khala! So growing up, Iqbal’s poetry had a huge influence on me and in hindsight, it amazes me that even as a child, his idea of ‘khudi’ spoke to me so profoundly and I always saw myself as his ‘Shaheen’ and believed that I came to this world to do something special – something larger than myself.
We often don’t pay much attention to the influences our early childhood exposure has on us. It was one of the reasons I wanted to introduce Iqbal to the kids in my podcast as well.
Did you tell stories to children in your environment before starting the podcast?
Mahwash; Like I said, I used to read to my kids a lot when they were younger. For Urdu stories, I would read them in Urdu and translate in English, so they would understand and stay engaged. I use the same format for Bachpan Ki Kahaniyan. My kids are now 14 and 13 and both avid readers Mashallah, but I do make them listen to my podcast stories as well, especially the ones I did not read to them before, for examples the Iqbal Series.
How was your experience when shooting the very first podcast?
Mahwash: I was nervous of course as I was not a professional podcaster. There was a lot of trial and error till I found the style and pace that I was comfortable with. I remember once I spent an hour or so re-recording the first episode only to find that I had forgotten to start the ‘Record’ button!
Thoughts like, how will people react to my performance, what if I make mistakes, etc did cross my mind. But then I told myself that it takes courage to put yourself out there and it is worth it if you believe in what you are doing, and I realised who cares if I make mistakes – that’s how one learns and grows, right?
Where do you get stories from for your podcast?
Mahwash: It is the kahanis of our nani and dadi, retold for our children again!
Kuchwa Aur Khargosh, Pyasa Kawa, Sonay Ka Anda – these are the stories that we all grew up listening to. I take a plot, add my own educational element to it, for example if a story has a bear in it, I will make it a Grizzly Bear and talk to the kids about Grizzly Bears, where are they found, their characteristics etc. If a story is about a tree, I might make it an oak tree and talk about oak trees in detail with the kids, what do they stand for, how tall can they get etc. What is important is that we discuss one lesson or key takeaway from the story – this is what I hope will stay with the kids.
Which bachpan ki kahani is your favourite?
Mahwash: Episode 21 | Tairdha Darakht (The Crooked Tree) and Episode 32 | Aik Pahaar Aur Gulehri (The Mountain & The Squirrel) are my favorite as they both revolve around the idea of embracing one’s self and recognizing that everyone has her/his unique strengths and one must not compare themselves to others. I absolutely love Gulehri’s confidence who stands tall before the magnificent mountain and tells him that he cannot belittle her. In fact she goes an extra mile and challenges him to do the kind of stuff that she is able to do, and tells him that God has made everyone unique. It is such an important message that I would love for our children (and adults) to internalize.
What are the reactions of parents to this podcast? Have any parents ever reached out to you?
Mahwash: Absolutely! Parents reach out to me all the time and I love the fact that I keep receiving these notes and messages of love from around the world. People send me videos of their children enjoying the stories, voice messages from children thanking me for the podcast, they even write sweet reviews on BKK Facebook and Insta stories all the time. If ever I doubt my efforts or look at the opportunity cost of this project, these sweet messages of how I am able to make a difference in so many families’ lives, makes me realize that this is totally worth it.
Would you say shooting a podcast is challenging? What’s been the toughest thing you’ve had to figure out?
Mahwash: It is a one-woman show and is definitely challenging as it requires time, commitment, energy, resources, and of course a quiet corner/studio (which in itself is challenging in a house with two kids and a dog!).
Since podcasting is a relatively new medium for me, doing the research, understanding the medium, picking the media host, learning the editing software (editing takes the longest) etc took time. Later educating the audience about the medium was a bit challenging too.
What are your hopes for the future of your platform?
Mahwash: Bachpan Ki Kahaniyan is the first-ever educational podcast on Urdu stories for children available on all major directories – Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify etc. So far BKK has published 46 stories and there have been 23.8K podcast downloads in 67 countries. I plan to record 52 stories in total, which makes it one story per week for the whole year’s worth of resources for families.
I would love for all the Pakistani expats and South Asian community to make the most of this free resource. I would therefore appreciate for everyone to help spread the word around and would also like to see this platform become a self-sustaining one in future. You can support BKK through Patreon (the link of which is embedded in every episode’s details) and subscribe to Bachpan Ki Kahaniyan through your preferred platform here: https://bkk.buzzsprout.com.