Forward by N. R. Narayana Murthy,
A Clear Blue Sky: Stories and Poems on Conflict and Hope
Puffin Books, India, 2010.
War. Violence. Death. Poverty. Hatred. Displacement. No matter where we live, as human beings we hope that these dark parts of life will not touch our lives, but even more, that they will not touch the lives of our children and young people. For many, however, darkness weighs heavy on childhood. This has been particularly true for millions living in southeastern Asia over the last decades, as religious and national conflicts have marked and scarred the lives of the children growing up in them. This collection of stories and poems from writers from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan sings stories of their national and personal grief.
The grace of the collection is how the writers manage to remind us of our own saving grace: how, paradoxically, “conflict and hope” can co-exist, as the subtitle indicates. In “A Time to Mend” by Asha Nehemiah, after an angry mob breaks into a church in Bangalore, beating the priest and leaving the church in ruins, a shaken and distraught Mubina and her brother bring home the damaged altar cloth, where their grandmother, the one person in the city with the skill to repair it, makes it whole again. In another story, “The Answer” by Rohini Chowdhury, childhood sweethearts meet again, decades after being torn apart by the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. Perhaps one of the most haunting stories is Adithi Rao’s brilliantly told “Turban for A Little Boy”, which uses the format of a boy’s essay to convey how the innocence of a child can unintentionally provide the catalyst for evil – and how that innocence is then scarred.
Masterful storytelling techniques throughout offer classroom uses far beyond social studies; and the short bios of each writer at the end of the book also provide options for further reading. The stories question the very idea of the reality of storytelling itself. Some tales are clearly fiction, but others, particularly a set of first-person stories, will leave their teenage readers wondering, “Was that real? Did that happen to the author? Or is it made up, historical fiction?” Such doubt creates unique teaching moments, about perception and reality, and about storytelling itself, as well as about the way people thrive, survive, and find hope in shards of despair.