Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Our Journey with Arvind Gupta

Last month, we heard the excellent news about Arvind Gupta receiving the Padma Shri award in Literature and Education (affordable education). At Pratham Books, we have followed his work for years and recently had the fortune of working with him. Editor Sandhya Taksale writes about working with Arvind Gupta and our journey with him.

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It is a treat when you are listening to Arvind Gupta. With a spark in his eyes, he will tell you about new stories for kids from all across the world. Treasure of stories and anecdotes around them never ends. He always talks with great passion, enthusiasm and childlike spontaneity.

After retiring from IUCAA in December 2014, most of his time is spent in digitizing and translating books. The speed with which he translates stories in Hindi and uploads them is just unbelievable. In the year 2017, along with many friends and educators, Arvind ji got 200 children's books translated in Hindi.  Many of these books are biographies of famous scientists.



Image Source : Nandagopalrl , CC BY-SA 3.0

Every time we met or had a call, I would request him to write a story for Pratham Books. And one day, he sent an interesting story saying, “I am sending you the story from the life of the Buddha which Pratham Books could consider printing.” The content team loved this story and we started developing this book. We wanted the visual depiction of Buddha to be different from the ones we generally see. Debasmita Dasgupta captured the spiritwe were looking for and with those beautiful illustrations the story turned into a book - ‘What happened to the shawl’. Arvind ji was very happy with the illustrations and the way the book got developed.


This ancient story from the life of Buddha carries a deep lesson about the conservation. Actually, ‘Reuse, Reecycle and Reduce’ is the mantra which is very near to Arvind ji’s heart. Gandhian in outlook, Arvind ji draws inspiration from a number of people, including Gautam Buddha.

Always clad in a Khadi kurta and pajama, he believes in simplicity and leads a simple life. For a person of his stature, he is also very unassuming. Once he wrote a mail to me about Russian children’s books and said -“I have put all the English, Hindi Russian books for children I had on my website. However, I have access to very few Russian Children's Books in Marathi. If you will allow, I will borrow 40-50 Russian Children's Books from you for just one week. I will come and collect them and return them exactly a week later. I ASSURE YOU THAT I WILL RETURN THE BOOKS TOTALLY UNHARMED.” (Capital letters from his original mail)

Look at the polite language of this message and the real ‘Karyakarta’ spirit. Many people with his stature, social status, age and experience (a Kanpur IITian, a BIG name for popularizing science among children, author of 28 books and whose TED Talk is among the 10 best TED talks compiled by Sir Ken Robinson and Sugata Mitra's 5 favorite education talks. ) may not have written like this. Needless to say that I wrote back to him saying,- ‘I myself will carry those books to you.’ Such is his passion to share the books he loves.

After the Buddha story got published, he sent us another lovely script - The Big, Big Matchbox.It is a story about a child, his friends and their BIG task with a tiny matchbox. Children love this story.


As an author, Arvind ji totally believes in editors’ prerogative and fully trusts their judgment. He accepts the changes in the text without being extra possessive about it. When we were working on this second story, we requested if he could modify the end of the story to make it more interesting. He not only sent the revised version immediately but also sent a note saying - “Don’t send it back to me, please make the appropriate changes you feel.¨

A firm believer in Creative Commons and the power of open source material, he wholeheartedly
appreciates our digital platform Storyweaver. He shares so many books from StoryWeaver on his website. 

He is constantly thinking of stories, science experiments, learning- teaching for children and spreading the joy by sharing. Whatever he likes, he can’t stop sharing. He wants to make that treasure available to everyone. He deeply believes, upholds and advocates copyright free content and Creative Commons licenses. If you want to know bout the tremendous work he is doing, just visit his website : arvindguptatoys.com. You will find scientific toys, experiments, videos, articles and thousands of books. Everyday 15,000 books are freely downloaded from his website. 

Arvind ji has won several awards (24 to be precise!!) for his lifelong lifelong efforts to popularize science. And now the Padma Shri is conferred on him. Very well deserved honor! Really!!

Congratulations again Arvind ji. We are looking forward to many more interesting stories from you. And they will keep enriching the minds of young readers.

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Additional reading : 
What Happened to the Shawl - Arvind Gupta and Debasmita Dasgupta
The Big, Big Matchbox - Arvind Gupta and Meenal Singh

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