Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alma Mater and Mother Tongue

Have you ever fallen into the pages of a book and fallen off your chair laughing? Have you ever smelled the earth as you see the picture of rain falling on parched mud? Pratham Books brings you such magic in your world with books! Pratham Books is proud to present "Bookaroo in the City" across several schools in Delhi.

Swagata Sen Pillai writes about two more sessions she conducted during Bookaroo in the City ...

For most of us, going back to the school we passed out of is a special experience! To be able to do so in the capacity of someone with the freedom to interact with children at length, share the same electrifying atmosphere of learning and interchange of ideas, to walk the hallways with nostalgia certainly, but also with new purpose...that is a rare chance! Yet that is precisely what i was gifted with,in my session with the Kendriya Vidyalayas-for I went back to my alma mater-KV Andrewsganj, after 30 years... this time, as a story teller! (Had my teachers been around, they would probably have said-That is always true of most of our students-they are ALL great ‘story’ tellers!!)

Invited to do the session with part of the Primary school in the morning, I felt a deep sense of nostalgia as I entered the school gate-a horde of memories jostling for space, tumbling out from every nook and corner of my mind-I could have done several sessions on the stories that pushed themselves to the forefront of my consciousness right then alone! We entered the junior school, my haunt of many happy hours, and were pleasantly surprised (If a little taken aback!) to be informed that the entire primary section would be turning out for the session! The numbers were challenging-650+ children, from Std 1-5. Simultaneous engagement - a daunting task-but one that I welcomed nevertheless, as both teachers and students were so very enthusiastic. And so, sitting out in the open air, in the moderately admonishing sunlight, with a weathered tannoy microphone squeezing out in tinny tones the tales I told. We trod for an hour, a path through wonderland-oblivious to the cacophony of the passing honks on horns and swift swish of tyres, the dust and the space between us- caught up in the magical world
of flights of fancy. Pahalwanji, Suraj ka Gussa, Muft ke Teen... When we finally wrapped up, we were firm friends, sharing memories we had just made, joined through the common bond of friendship with the authors who had captured our imagination, the artists who had painted our visions as well, linked through the words that still echoed in our ears...! Our greatest reward-being asked to come back and share time with the next session of children too-the teachers enthusiastic in their invitation!

As if this session set in nostalgia wasn’t reason enough for celebration, I was asked to conduct a session in a Bengali medium school a few days later-another whopping bonus! I love my mother tongue and seek opportunities to practice it as often as I can, and thanks to the proliferation of languages that Pratham Books deals with, one such had come my way! Off we trotted to the quiet little school set in a quiet little neighbourhood, with a quiet little Principal who welcomed us with great promptness and acceptance, calling in the Headmistress who quickly ushered us into the library-the only place where a large number of children could be accommodated, in the absence of a hall. Fresh-faced young fourth graders sat awaiting our arrival, unsure of the purpose of the interaction, but enthusiastic -partly prompted by curiosity, (the staple of young minds!!) and partly by the unexpected thrill of ‘bunking’ class! I looked around at the bright young canvases spread out before me-a little unsure of how these urban, privileged children, with access to every means of entertainment, would react to the offer of stories read out in Bangla (Since most urban children do not consider it ‘in’ to speak their mother tongue! ) and was completely bowled over when a chorus of ‘yessssssssss’ accompanied by air punches filled the room the minute they heard the session was in Bengali!

We went through the adventures of Saboo and Jojo and learnt about the habitat of a large number of other jungle friends in Home Sweet Home, commented on the aptness of the illustrations, heard from those who had pets(including girls with white mice-all named Jerry!!) and younger siblings(wailing or otherwise!!), survived a broken table on which restless wriggling bottoms jostled for space (I sheepishly begged pardon from the Librarian who wore a resigned smile-as it was I who had taken permission for the boys to sit ON the table rather than AT it!!!) and then parted with promises of fresh illustrations to the stories and fresh stories to the illustrations on my next visit!

The fifth graders were even more enthusiastic-having heard of the fun discussions and eager to prove themselves more than equal to the task of active participation. Unanimously choosing In Search of the Rain Woman, the children followed each step of Jeeva and Jatin, discussing the reasons for the conditions they found en route to the Rain Woman, exploring ideas and offering suggestions, tying in what they knew with what was unfolding in the tale, their eager young faces the picture of rapt concentration, happily partaking of the dose of ‘Information, Entertainment, Knowledge, Language Skills’ that they had all agreed were the key take aways of reading outside of school books which had to be read anyway! The quick repartees, the amazing capacity children always have of getting to the point, the width of their thinking capacity, the parallels they drew at each step...and all while following the albeit simple but vernacular rendition of the storyline made the entire session one filled with energy and
fun. The interaction ended with applause for the story, the listeners and books in general, and our young participants solemnly promised to pass on the story in their own words to siblings, friends and juniors in the school as and when the opportunity presented itself. We were also pleasantly surprised to hear that the Headmistress who had a class with the first graders after our first session, had promptly shared the story of Home Sweet Home with them, drawing much comment and enjoyment!

Sorry to have reached the end of my engagement with Bookaroo in the City for 2011, I nevertheless had a deep sense of satisfaction that we do have audience and readership even among the jet-setter groups of children of urban India, and a building up of anticipation already for the next such round...other children, different books, another year...but the same joy and sharing! Thank you Pratham Books!

You can read about all the Bookaroo in the City sessions here. You can also view more pictures here.

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