Saturday, June 13, 2009

A True Picture of India, anyone??

Which children’s book best describes contemporary India? Which children’s book best describes contemporary USA? Do share your choice please!

Do children in the United States of America eat only cereal? Do kids there plot pranks while huddled in tree-houses? Do people hang out in pubs all the time? Do heavily-jewelled gangsters chase young people through the wet back alleys of American cities throughout the day? If we were to imagine a country based on what we see of it in movies, then yes, that’s the picture we get.

So, I was not too surprised when a young student from Central Manor, Pennsylvania asked me during our India-USA Skype talk, “Have you sat on an elephant?” Of course, I told him, several times, as a kid on a zoo visit. And the children listened awe-struck as they heard about how elephants move, and how it is to be seeing the world from atop an elephant!

Many innocent questions followed. Do you have animals on the road? (We’d just blogged about the Mobile Camel Cart Astronomy Exhibition in Gujarat!) What animals? What do kids do in India? How hot is it in India?

We have thousands of species of animals in India, I said. And at the time of our Skype session, western India was burning, while eastern India had rains, and Bangalore in southern India, from where I was talking to them, was mildly hot, and it was snowing in northern India. A country with so many weather features! Wow, they said. And kids play computer games, cricket, foot ball, basket ball, and hockey, go swimming, go to school, do homework, and eat pizza and cereal…..very much like you all, I said. And they also have a choice of hundreds of other, Indian foods…...

Since the Central Manor children had just studied about government formation, they wanted to know about the Indian set up. We are a democratic country just like USA, and we've just had our elections, I told them. And we have a lady president, I added.

I had a wonderful time talking to Niki, Jeremy, Will, Andrew, Lenette, Rachel, Danielle, Chris and Jason. (“They were so thrilled to hear you repeat their names with your accent. Some comments I heard were: "my name sounds pretty when she says it" and "that sounds so cool!" wrote Mrs. Teresa Reisinger, who co-ordinated the Skype session. Thanks, Teresa!)

Reading is fundamental to learning. And while we learn a lot through movies, they do tend to perpetuate stereotypes. And that is the reason why we should be reading more. Wishing the students of Central Manor a very happy vacation!

Dear readers, if you know of a good children’s book that gives a realistic picture of India, or America, do drop a line here. My choice: find glimpses of India in Ruskin Bond’s “The India I Love”.


  1. Vandana Singh's Younguncle comes to town. I mean, it has the magical and willing suspension of disbelief quality of Children Lit, but still true to our lives. Also some of Tulika's paperback fiction like a Train Ride Away and so on.

  2. Yes, and we are happy to say Vandana's books are on the anvil at Pratham Books! Tulika does have some lovely, honest-to-India books.

  3. Hi mala.. what u said is true.. we need to get out of stereotyped ideas of india... however, wht we need to understand that india is an extremely diverse country and in such a country, there is nothing called a singular notion of truth.. there are many different groups and communities, each with its own version of truth..

    so far as books depicting 'true' india is concerned, i feel we need to address the truth of those lesser known communities and more essentially different stratums of caste groups...for very often, it is the lower castes who also have a story to tell, but are over-shadowed by the versions provided by the upper castes... won't it be fascinating to work towards bringing out a book of what the lower caste child sees india as?? and then let the world understand throught this the diversity of india in the real sense of the term.

  4. Ah, thanks Ruchi....we'll look out for manuscripts that look at India from different eyes!

  5. It would take many, many, many children's books to give one a realistic picture of America.
    We are a very diverse country. We differ from state to state, city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood.

    Movies are usually blown out of propotion. They do encourage sterotyping. It is imperative that our children READ books. Not only about their own countries but also about other countries.

    This is why it is not only important to read but also to do projects like the India/America Skype sessions. Because of you and your colleagues our children are talking about India in their classrooms and to each other. We are finding out that we are alike with a teaspoon of difference. What a beautiful recipe for the world.

  6. Hey Teresa, hope we get to come up with many such recipes for harmonious learning!