At the age of 22 years, there aren’t many who spend their time writing a book. Even fewer are the ones who are writing a book inspired by a volunteering experience in a prison…
In 2014, Kopal Khanna published her first book “Almost Whole”. While it’s a fictional story, it is based on her experiences while voluntarily working in a women’s prison in Lucknow. The story is about a girl from London who is visiting her grandmother’s birthplace, in India but somehow lands in a jail. There she meets a little girl named Kali who completes her and makes her feel whole. The story is about her emotional journey on the path of discovering her wholeness. Kopal then founded Tape A Tale in 2017, an online storytelling platform that lets users share their personal stories with the world. Somewhere in between her book and her start-up venture, she completed a double master’s degree in global communications, one from London School of Economics followed by another from the University of Southern California.
Here’s an excerpt from our exclusive conversation with Kopal Khanna:
Storytelling as an art, in India, has really come into its own in the last few years…..
Kopal – It’s true, not just storytelling – the content industry has seen a crazy boom in the last few years. People are wanting to consume more and more good content. The thing about personal stories is that they are relatable and that’s why it’s growing at such a fast pace in India.
From volunteering in prison to writing and publishing a book at 22 to a founder of two companies at 25. It’s been quite a journey. Tell us about it
Kopal – Wow, I’d be a hundred percent honest, it doesn’t feel like I’ve done a lot – it’s mostly been following my heart and going where curiosity takes me. Wall for Wall is more of a passion project for me so I consider that more of a movement than a company. Volunteering in prison was I think one of those eye-opening moments for me which really did make me take a lot of roads I wouldn’t have taken otherwise, the book also stemmed from that experience – however, the process of writing heals and cleanses me so I never look at it as work. Tape A Tale, however, has taken blood, sweat, time, passion, energy – this last year has taught me more than the proceeding 25 years combined have taught me. It’s literally like having a baby – I am fully responsible for its well-being, which means I have to choose it over a lot of things, give it time, patience and love.
At the outset, was it a challenge to get people to open up and get them to narrate their own stories?
Kopal – Um, people want to be heard. It’s really just that – some stories are very personal so we do give the option of sending in anonymous stories but more than making people talk, it was the making sure that people are willing to hear that was tough.
And once the storytellers open-up, it would be quiet liberating for them…?
Kopal – Yes, I still remember this one lady who had sent me a story in April last year. Her story was about domestic abuse. I was working with her on her story and after she was done recording it, she called me and thanked me. When I asked why, she said it’s because she had been struggling to move on from that experience and now that she knew that the story was out there for people to hear, she could move on. She mentioned it was the best kind of closure she could have asked for. It’s moments like these that really does keep us going.
When did the idea/thought of this turning Storytelling into a start-up venture first occur to you? Walk us through the process of materializing it, the process of converting your vision into a reality.
Kopal – The idea had been running in my head for quite some time because I had worked for a storytelling organization before moving to Mumbai and I knew it was something I thoroughly enjoyed! I just didn’t know what exactly did I want to do with storytelling, how would I go about it or when would be a good time to start. I had a full-time job in Bombay which wasn’t giving me any kind of fulfillment whatsoever. Sometime towards the end of November 2016, I was having a really bad day at work and that got me thinking if I should start something on the side as a passion project which would give me the fulfillment I was looking for. So I went to a cafe and just sat there for 4 hours sketching out the different ways in which I could make this work. By the end of 4 hours, I had a very rough concept note ready! That very day, I called up my cousin (who is an engineer) and we met over pizza! I just wanted to discuss if the idea was feasible and if it can actually be carried out – we sat in that restaurant for hours and by the end of it, my cousin said he’s willing to work on it with me! So, that was the start. After office, we’d sit and work on what we called ‘storyweb’ at that point! When we finally launched in April, I got fired from my job.
That was the start of making this dream materialize! It was a shocker back then but when I look back now, I can only be grateful that I got so much more time to work on something that truly mattered to me. And as for a good time to start, the answer is always now!
Tell us about your biggest inspirations that have got you where you are today
Kopal – The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that there is so much do it in this world.
Where do you see yourself in 2-3 years? And where do you see Tape A Tale in 2-3 years?
Kopal – Not so sure about myself but I definitely have long-term goals for Tape A Tale. I see it becoming synonymous with storytelling eventually.
Do you have a message young women who aspire to be an entrepreneur
Kopal – Why just women? For anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur, it’s really not as fancy as it sounds. It takes a lot from you – if it means freedom, it means even greater responsibility but if you have an idea you truly believe in, don’t wait for the right time, the time always is now and that process of seeing your idea take shape is beyond anything words can describe or the effort and time that goes into making it a reality.
“I hope your dreams have come true, but more than that I hope you are still dreaming.”
– Quote from Almost Whole | Kopal Khanna