PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

As our 10th Anniversary celebrations have come to a conclusion we are now back to our regularly scheduled blog programming so to speak. First up we are pleased to welcome Richa Jha  as our new  Global Voices Guest Blogger. Richa will be joining us here on the blog  for three consecutive Wednesdays (today, Nov 28th and Dec. 5th) and has written a wonderful piece for us:

Reader-less Books ~ by Richa Jha

Part 1 of 3.

Roll of Honour, a recent novel by Amandeep Sandhu is a gripping, haunting, disturbing page-turner. In many ways, it is also India’s first boldly written brutally honest crossover fiction. Set against the prominent backdrop of the Sikh militancy in the 1980s, it is a gritty account of a troubled adolescence and split loyalties at a military boarding school. A couple of years ago, I read Siddharth Sarma’s The Grasshopper’s Run in five straight hours, transfixed, glued to the pages. It’s an outstanding read (little surprise that it was picked up by Bloomsbury for international publication), with all the elements of good YA read: it’s fast paced, there’s friendship, deceit, loyalties, war, trauma, revenge, retribution. The depth and detailing – geographical, political and emotional (like in Roll of Honour) – is of an exceptionally high order. Books like these get noticed and talked about in India, for sure; they get rave reviews. And they win awards.

But the copies don’t sell; not the way they should, not to the readers they ought to. The young adults don’t go looking for these titles. So, what’s up with the reading habits of teenagers in India?

The good news: Indian urban children are reading for pleasure, and reading more than ever before. There are dedicated book festivals for children’s books, schools hold their own book weeks with the primary intent of getting kids to develop a lifelong affair with reading, the libraries at schools look well stocked where reading is encouraged as part of the school curriculum even outside those designated book weeks, and parents don’t mind spending on books. Head to any large bookstore in a metro, and you’ll find children’s books and teen fiction occupying a substantial (and impressive) shelf space. Families walk in, browse at leisure over coffee and brownies in the store café and walk out with big shopping bags. So far so good.

And now, we look inside those shopping bags for the bad news. If you’re lucky, you may find a book by an Indian author among a bunch of Gerenimo Stiltons, Wimpy Kids, Percy Jacksons or the Twilights. If this is your day like it’s never been before, you’ll hear that the Indian book is meant for personal consumption, and not as a birthday gift for a friend. Third time lucky? The child grabbed the copy himself and not upon his parents’ insistence.

That, in a nutshell, is what happens with most of our own books. So, our kids are devouring books, but the bulk of it is pretty much the reigning fads from the West. Much as I would love to be proved wrong, I’ll be surprised if we find our teenagers buying and reading a brilliant book like Roll of Honour. Out of choice. {to be continued on Nov. 28th}

 

 Richa Jha is a writer and editor and, like many of us, nurtures an intense love for picture books. In her words:

I love picture books, and want the world to fall in love with them as well. My blog  Snuggle With Picture Books is a natural extension of this madness. The Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of Indian picture books beginning to fill up the shelves in bookshops. It’s about time we had a dedicated platform to it. The idea behind the website is to try and feature every picture book (in English) out there in the Indian market. Usually, only a few titles end up getting talked about everywhere, be it because of their true merit, or some very good promotion, or some well-known names associated with them. There are many other deserving titles that get left out in the visibility-race. This website views every single book out there as being deserving of being ‘seen’ and celebrated.

 

Week-end Book Review: The Land of Cards by Rabindranath Tagor

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Radha Chakravarty,
The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children
Puffin Classics, Penguin Books India, 2010.

Ages: 10+

Puffin Classics’ anthology of Rabindranath Tagore‘s work for children takes its title from his famous play. The Land of Cards is a country populated by the stiff, unbending cards of a traditional four-suit deck. They believe in and are rigidly ruled by rules. During the course of the play, the cards begin to realize their limitations, break through their bondage to superstitious beliefs, and claim their freedom. “The Land of Cards” exemplifies the humor and satire that make Tagore such a beloved literary figure, but the rest of this collection is also strong.

Radha Chakravarty’s translation begins with a selection of eleven poems. They capture for English readers some of the puns, rhythms and rhyming patterns that Tagore’s poetry is famous for in the original Bengali. The poems also present the themes of his work, including the outsmarting of the pretentious, the abuse of power, the silly wastefulness of bureaucracy, and the restorative power of the natural world.

Following the poems are three plays, “The Post Office” and “A Poetic Mood and Lack of Food” as well as the title play. It’s easy to imagine a talented teacher coaching a middle school class into a rousing performance of any of these. Even the shortest, “A Poetic Mood,” packs a punch, as a wealthy, pious hypocrite advises a penniless man to pay more attention to the beautiful day than to his hunger.

The final third of the book comprises eight stories, all both entertaining and morally instructive in Tagore’s witty way. “The Parrot’s Tale,” for example, describes the extravagant efforts of the king’s servants to “educate” a parrot by putting it in a golden cage and stuffing its mouth with textbook paper. The ridiculous situation ends with much money in the pockets of the king’s yes men–and a dead parrot. But since the bird no longer annoys people, no one cares.

The back matter includes a translator’s note and a “classic plus” section with a thoughtful Q&A on Tagore’s work, study questions and a brief glossary of Bengali words. Non-Indian children will need some orientation to the cultural context of Tagore’s writing; this anthology could be an excellent classroom resource or reference book as well as a pleasurable, instructive read for older children.

Charlotte Richardson
April 2012

Guest Post: Ramendra Kumar on the Here and Now in Children’s Literature

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Indian writer Ramendra Kumar‘s latest children’s books focus on stories of Indian children in a contemporary setting – an area of writing for middle-grade readers and young adults that has been greatly ignored in India: indeed, he would suggest, actively avoided. Though that may be changing: his most recent book, Now or Never (Ponytale Books 2010) has just been selected as a supplementary reader for Classes 7 and 8 by the Central Board of Secondary Education in India. Other novels include Terror in Fun City (Navneet Publications, 2008) and Not a Mere Game (Navneet Publications, 2006), and his book J J Act is endorsed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Butterflies, a non-profit “programme with street and working children”. Ramendra is also the editor of BoloKids.com, a “complete portal for the young and the young at heart”. We are delighted to welcome Ramendra to the PaperTigers blog.

During the Asian Conference of Story Telling in New Delhi a few years ago, a key-note speaker with very impressive credentials in the field of Library Science (and an equally impressive personality) was giving tips to children’s writers on how to write for children.

“All writers attempting to write for children should keep in mind that they have to go down to the level of children,” she concluded with a flourish, waiting for the applause which naturally followed.

During the interaction session I raised my hand to ask a question. She transferred her imperious gaze to me and lifted her eyebrows.

“Ma’am, I think you got the direction wrong. We children’s writers don’t have to go down to the level of children, rather we have to rise up to the level of the young and vibrant minds. For, ma’am, children are the closest that you can get to God, and God lives up there, not down below.” There was a stunned silence for some time and suddenly the entire Hall No. 5 of the India Habitat Centre exploded with claps and cheers.

As an MBA in marketing the primary lesson I was taught was to respect the customer. For us writers the customer is the child. However, instead of respecting the child, we patronize her and take her for granted. The books being churned out by writers and publishers in India are a testimony to this fact. Most of the books written for children are rehashes of earlier classics. As far as the publishers are concerned, they consider the fairytale/folk tale/fantasy segment safe.

I would like to put forth a strong case for a different genre of writing; and I would like to take the liberty of naming this segment of writing the Here and Now genre.

What do I mean by Here and Now writing? (more…)

Conference on Indian Children’s Books ~ January 15th, Mumbai, India

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Children’s author Shyamala Shanmugasundaram is co-organizing a one day conference on Indian children’s books to be held January 15th in Mumbai, India. Under the Kahani Tree: a place to promote reading and children books will start at 9:15 am and speakers will include Sampurna Murti (Pratham Books), Shamim Padamsee (Young India Books), author Chandrika, and Priya Srinivasan  (The Pomegranate Workshop) Click here to read the flyer and get all the details.

Anyone connected to Indian children’s literature is welcome to attend but please confirm your attendance before January 12th by emailing shyamshaan(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in with the words ‘reg 4 kahani tree’ in the subject line to confirm your seat.

October Literary Events in India: Voices from the North East and the Pushkar Literature Festival

Monday, October 5th, 2009

On October 13th and 14th, Siyahi, India’s leading literary agency, and India Habitat Centre are presenting Voices from the North East, a focused literary meet on the stories, tales and folk narratives of North East India. The event will take place at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.

The verdant Seven Sister States from the North East of India have a unique indigenous culture where myths, oral traditions, legends and folklore are commonplace and yet unique. Voices from the North East will take into account the quantum of diversity in art and culture in this region which is evident from the multitude of languages and ethnic groups. It will deal with the art of storytelling in context to the development of North Eastern culture and civilization. Authors, poets, storytellers and performers will engage audiences in a cultural dialogue and help them to understand the North Eastern literature in all its myriad forms and dimensions.

Siyahi is also hosting the Pushkar Literature Festival on October 31st during the International Pushkar Fair. For one day, writers, poets, book lovers, publishers, performers and storytellers will be brought together to add to the mesmerizing riot of colours, textures, hues and flavours that come alive during the International Pushkar Fair. This literary event will help explore and discover the meeting points between contemporary literature and folklore, oral traditions, legends, myths and languages, which precisely define the spirit of Pushkar.

For up-to-date information about these events including detailed programmes and photos, visit Siyahi’s Facebook page.

Museum of Children's Art Hosts Anjana Utarid, Author of Roti Rolled Away

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Museum of Childrens Art Oakland California

For over 20 years the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) located in Oakland, California has been providing hands-on learning experiences for children and adults in 5 program areas: Museum Programs, Artists in the Schools, Early Childhood Programs, Professional Development Programs, and Community Programs. As well as advocating for arts as an essential part of a strong, vital and diverse community, MOCHA emphasizes outreach to children in low-income communities that do not typically have wide access to the arts; and works towards their mission of ensuring that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children. Last year over 35,000 children took part in MOCHA programs!

The first Saturday of each month, MOCHA links literacy with art-making in a free event known as Saturday Stories. First, a children’s book is read aloud and then participants engage in an art activity that highlights the themes of the book. On Saturday 12 September, from 1 – 2pm, MOCHA visitors are invited to join author Anjana Utarid. She will be reading her picture book Roti Rolled Away (Virtualbookworm.com Publishing, 2007): the story of Asha, a young girl in India who encounters unique and exotic animals as she chases down a runaway bread roti.

Anjana, who has an MA in Counseling Education, has traveled around the world several times and is an active advocate for at-risk children. Roti Rolled Away was her first children’s book and was derived from watching her mother teach her daughter to make rotis. Teri Sloat reviewed the book and says:

Roti Rolled Away allows us to follow the Roti, instead of the Gingerbread Man, as it rolls away from Asha. Anjana Utarid uses a familiar pattern and wonderfully rhythmic writing as Asha pays her respects to the animals of India while following the Roti through the jungle, only to watch the Roti disappear into the river. A wonderful grandmother story and bridge between cultures.