Once Upon a Time…

These four words open up windows to entire universes—unexplored, or familiar. This is how many a story begins. Stories are a life force that have imbued human life with that something extra, since the dawn of civilization. Stories are a way to convey history, culture, language, spirituality, and identity. One way to keep stories alive is storytelling. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication.

20 March is celebrated as World Storytelling Day–a day to remember and remind ourselves of the magic and power of stories. What began in Sweden, on this date in 1991, as All Storytellers Day has now become a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. On World Storytelling Day, as many people as possible tell and listen to stories in as many languages and at as many places as possible, during the same day and night.

On this day I celebrate a storyteller who collected, recreated, and created a timeless repertoire of stories. Generations of children have grown up with these tales, told and retold by parents and grandparents over the last one hundred years. This was my grandfather Gijubhai Badeka, one of Gujarat’s foremost educationists and storytellers.

In Gujarati, as in most Indian languages, the child reader had remained somewhat neglected till the middle of the nineteenth century. There was hardly any specific literature for children; only stories retold from classical Indian literature, or heroic stories from Western literature, in not very satisfactory translations. Gijubhai pioneered the creation of special literature for children that also contributed to preserving the oral tradition of literature through exploring and compiling the rich legacy of folk literature. His search for folk tales crossed the boundaries of language and country. This journey of exploration he described thus, in his seminal work titled Vaarta nu Shastra (The Art and Craft of Stories) published in 1925. “So many stories have travelled in foreign lands, so many stories have changed their religion and form; it is an adventure to trace their journeys. If we become wandering travellers with the stories, we will discover that we find one story in Tibet and will see the same story in Africa; we will discover the same story wrapped in snow at the North Pole, and yet if we wander in the Arabian desert, there it will be, but uncovered and bare…but still we recognise the story. Some stories adapt to their land, taking on the form and language of their adopted home, while others retain their origins wherever they may settle. Some stories follow the creed of universal brotherhood, they see the world as their home and go wherever they get a chance to serve and please. Some settle firmly in different countries and come to be recognised as belonging to that place. They are then only translated to reach other countries.”

Many of Gijubhai’s stories are members of this travelling band. Gijubjai transformed and localised these stories, so that they are steeped in the sounds and colours of Gujarat, and have today become not only Gujarati, but uniquely ‘Gijubhai’s’ stories. They are simply told tales characterised by a mixture of prose and rhyme. The repetition of rhymes makes for lively storytelling which listeners join in. Gijubhai retold delightful tales of ordinary people, and familiar birds and animals. With equal panache he churned out stories of common folk with common trades—tailors, potters, barbers, shopkeepers, but also kings, queens and princesses. The characters reflect basic human traits—greed, envy, fear, desire for one-upmanship. Animal tales reflect a close and symbiotic relationship between animals and people. Many open with “once upon a time”… and end “happily ever after.” A hundred years after they were written these stories still touch a cord in the child, and also the child in each of us.

Stories are older than us, they are smarter than us, they keep going, and they are a part of us even though we do not realise this. But stories need human beings to reproduce, much as we need food… we need things to keep ourselves alive.

Hungarian-born American polymath Thomas Sebeok said “…what we can do, I think, is try and create stories that are interesting enough and important enough that our grandchildren might want to tell those stories to their grandchildren — because that’s the purpose of stories, that’s what they’re for: They make live worth living and, sometimes, they keep us alive.

In my own small way, I try to carry forward the legacy of my grandfather by translating and retelling these timeless tales.

–Mamata

Forth and Back

“Madam I’m Adam”. When I was young I was amused by this clever phrase because one could read it the same way from left to right and right to left. As my interest in words and love for word play grew along with me, I was always looking for such words or phrases. Somewhere along the way I discovered that a word, sentence, verse, or even number, that reads the same backward or forward was called a Palindrome. The English word Palindrome was created in the early 1600s based on Greek roots that literally mean “running back on itself” (palin meaning ‘again’ or ‘back’, and dromos meaning ‘running’.)

I began to collect examples of these, and was excited whenever I found one; one highlight being ‘A man, a plan, a canal-Panama’. Until I discovered that there were more avid collectors, and loads of such examples. Here is sharing some, from the daily use ones (that we do not even register as being palindromes) to the funny, clever ones.

Family–sweet and simple in any form: Mum, mom, amma, pop, dad, sis.

Moving on to mechanics–rotor, level, racecar, radar, refer, reviver, rotator, and repaper… (graduating to the next level as ‘Won’t I repaper? Repaper it now!’

Some simple (and sometimes silly) ones:

palindrome.jpg
Source: Google

Dennis sinned.

Don’t nod.

Never odd or even.

No lemons, no melon.

We panic in a pew.

Won’t lovers revolt now?

Sir, I demand, I am a maid named Iris.

Eve, mad Adam, Eve!

Never a foot too far, even.

Nurse, I spy gypsies, run!

Delia sailed as sad Elias ailed.

Ned, I am a maiden.

Some clever ones:

A hitman for hire: Murder for a jar of red rum.

A gross creature: Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo.

Call your mother: Mum

Sane advice: Do not start at rats to nod.

Weather forecast: Too hot to hoot.

Teutonic pride: I, man, am regal; a German am I.

Philosophical musing: Do geese see God?

Old cats: Senile felines.

On ET’s menu: UFO tofu

Bad eyesight: Was it a car or a cat I saw?

A moral dilemma: Borrow or rob?

And one curious one–Murdrum (the crime of killing an unknown man).

And our own and bona fide one: Malayalam!

A wonderful one that sounds like what it means: Tattarrattat—meaning a knock on the door. It was coined by James Joyce and used in Ulysses in 1922. It is also the longest palindromic word in the Oxford English Dictionary.

And last but not the least, there is even a palindromic word for an irrational fear of palindromes—aibohphobia! WOW!

–Mamata

Food Glorious Food!

In the past week or so, food and menus have been much in the news. The most recent being the menu which has been planned for the banquet that the President of India is hosting tonight for American President Donald Trump and his delegation who are visiting India. And then, there was the news about the Historical Gastronomica event that the National Museum in New Delhi is hosting. This event offered an Indus Valley dining experience through a “specially crafted menu that strictly includes ingredients identified by archaeologists and researchers from sites of the Indus-Saraswati civilization.” The latter event has been in the news because of the controversy over whether the people of that place and time ate ‘non vegetarian’ food or not. The controversy has generated many articles referring to the works of scholars in this area.

One of the food historians referred is K.T. Achaya and his auIMG-20200225-WA0000.jpgthoritative volume on the history of Indian food titled Indian Food: A Historical Companion. This led me to my bookshelf to pull out another book by this renowned authority on Indian food. This one, titled A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food followed his earlier ones. In this he attempts to bring together, in alphabetical order, material from his vast work on the subject. The book draws upon historical writing, archaeology, botany, genetics and ancient literature in Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil and Kannada to trace the gastronomic history and food ethos of India. The entries cover a wide range including recipes; narratives of visitors to India, starting with the Greeks in the fourth century; the etymological evolution of certain words, and the close links of food with ancient health systems such as Ayurveda. While this is a valuable scholarly work with meticulous and voluminous referencing, it is simply written, with a delightful menu–from A to Z–that one can dip into, and savour according to one’s own taste and appetite.

For me every entry is fascinating. For today I will share an excerpt about two elements that are the starting point of a menu and a meal—Guest and Host!

‘Guests had an honoured place in Vedic society, ranking only below the father, mother and guru. On arrival, a guest was ceremoniously received, given water to wash his hands and feet, and offered the ambrosial beverage madhuparka. In early Vedic times, if the guest was an honoured Brahmin or a member of royalty, a large bull or goat would be sacrificed in his honour, even if the guest was a vegetarian. Later this ritual became symbolic, and the guest was given a knife in token of the sacrifice, which he returned after a prayer. During the meal, the host had to be solicitous, either eating later, or finishing his own meal quickly, so as to rise early and look after his guests.

In the Manava Dharmashastra (Manusmriti) a host is exhorted in these terms: Let him, being pure and attentive, place on the ground the seasoning for the rice, such as broth and pot herbs, sweet and sour honey, as well as various kinds of hard foods that require mastication, and soft food, roots, fruits, and savoury and fragrant drinks. All these he shall present, and being pure and attentive, successively invite them to partake of each, proclaiming its qualities: cause them to partake gradually and slowly of each, and repeatedly urge them to eat by offering the food and extolling its qualities.

All the food shall be very hot and the guests shall eat in silence. Having addressed them with the question: Have you dined well? Let him give them water to sip, and bid farewell to them with the words: Now rest.’

(A Historical Dictionary of India Food K.T.Achaya (pp 96)

And so in India–Atithi Devo Bhava–The guest is God!

–Mamata

One Man, One Mission

Last week we wrote about Uncle Moosa and his single-handed mission to take books and reading to the remotest parts of North East India.

Here is the story of another man with a similar mission, one that he has been pursuing with undiminished passion and fervour for over 70 years! He is Mahendra Meghani. And this is the story of Lokmilap, the bookshop that he started, and which became a symbol of all that he has devoted his life to. And one to which I too have old links.

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Photo credit: Ajay Desai  

In the summer holidays when we used to go to Bhavnagar, our ancestral hometown, one of visits most looked forward to, was the one to Lokmilap. For us this was treasure house from which we were allowed to select a few books.  More precious, because it was perhaps the only one that stocked English language books, in addition to some of the best literature in Gujarati. We often met Mahendrabhai there, who was also a family friend, and he would show us the new arrivals including the beautifully illustrated children’s books from the Russian People’s Publishing House.

In those days this was as much as we knew about Lokmilap. Over the years as we grew, we learnt more about Mahendra Meghani and his tireless mission to take literature to “the people” in every way possible.

Mahendrabhai’s own lineage in literature goes back to his father, the famed Gujarati litterateur Zaverchand Meghani, who was given the title Lok Shayar or People’s Poet by Mahatma Gandhi. It is said that while Zaverchand took literature from people’s tongues to people’s hearts, Mahendrabhai took literature to every person, home and society.

Born in 1923, Mahendrabhai, graduated from high school in Mumbai, and joined L. D. Arts College in Ahmedabad for further education. It is said that when he was getting ready to move from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, his father advised, “It gets very hot in Ahmedabad, so make sure you cover your head with a topi”. Complying with his father’s suggestion, Mahendrabhai started wearing the khadi cap which became an integral part of his attire, and remained so through the years. After two years in Ahmedabad he returned to Mumbai to join the Elphinstone College, but left that to join Gandhi’s Quit India movement. He did not return to college, but instead helped his father with his journalistic work.  After the death of his father in 1948, Mahendrabhai went to the US to study journalism at Columbia. Living in the International Student’s House in New York, he would, every day, buy two newspapers and peruse the many pages. It is here that he also discovered Reader’s Digest.  And he found his calling! He decided to return to India and start a similar magazine in Gujarati. And so, on 26 January 1950, India’s first Republic Day, was born Milap, a monthly journal in Gujarati which set high standards of language and literature, and yet garnered a wide and faithful readership.

Tired of the hectic life in Mumbai, Mahendrabhai moved to Bhavnagar in Gujarat where the journal Milap engendered the publishing house as well as the book shop Lokmilap (meeting of people). It is through these that Mahendrabhai lived his passion to take good literature, at affordable prices, to as wide a reading public as possible. The bookshop, as he said, “included books from all publishers, but not all books from all publishers.” Lokmilap’s vision was not simply to sell books; they wanted to open windows to the best in world literature, to give people a perspective about life, and how to live life. They published hundreds of original Gujarati books, but also translated and abridged versions of classics of world literature (many of them translated by Mahendrabhai himself). More critically, the books were very nominally priced, to suit even the shallowest pocket. They introduced “pocket books”, initially to take poetry to the people, but later diversified to include a vast range of literature. Priced then, as low as 50 paise, the books sold in lakhs.

In 1969, the Gandhi Centenary year, he compiled a special collection of 400 books that celebrated Gandhi’s life and message, and a booklet titled Discovering India Book Exhibition. The books were exhibited in many countries across the world with the condition that the sponsoring organisation would buy the set, and donate it to a local library or community centre.

Mahendrabhai himself has travelled far and wide, always clad in his simple khadi attire, sharing his love for language and literature with wide and diverse audiences. In Bhavnagar he was a familiar sight, riding his bicycle no matter what the weather. His tireless quest to share the best with everyone had many facets—at one point hand grinding wheat and baking bread which he distributed, to starting a film club which screened some of the classics of world cinema, and to which he would bring people who had never before been exposed to such experiences.

The man and his mission have inspired and touched millions across generations and nations. Last month, on India’s 70th Republic Day, Lokmilap also marked its 70th anniversary by announcing its closure. Expressing the sentiment that everything that has a start will have an end; what better than the end that is brought about by the ones that made the start?  For all of us whohad taken Lokmilap as one of those comforting points of stability and continuity in lives and cities that have changed so much, it is a sense of losing moorings. But secure that the seeds of the institution have been planted deep and strong.

A man whose mission has brought the love of letters to millions, Mahendrabhai, at age 97, carries on with his writing and reading, somewhat frailer in body but indomitable in spirit.

–Mamata

From A to …?

Imagine an alphabet that ended questionably with a Y? rather than a reassuring Z! Well there was actually a time when this familiar tailender was removed from the alphabet!

The English alphabet we know today took its modern 26-letter shape in the 16th century. But the origins of most letters of the English alphabet can be traced back to Egyptian hieroglyph symbols of 4,000 years ago, with a sprinkling of Semitic, Phoenician, Greek and Roman influences thrown in.

As with many letters of the English alphabet, Z also has an interesting history. Three-thousand years ago the Phoenicians used a letter called ‘zayin’, meaning ‘ax.’ It was in the form of a vertical line, with horizontal lines at the top and bottom–like an uppercase ‘I’.

The Greeks adopted it as ‘zeta’ around 800 BC. By this time the vertical line had become slanted, and the top and bottom lines had become elongated. Zeta took on the shape that we know as Z today.

But around 300 BC, the Roman Censor Appius Claudius Caecus felt that this letter was not being used frequently and decided that it had become archaic, and this letter was removed from the alphabet. According to some biographers he simply did not like the sound of the letter, and felt that when it is pronounced by pulling the lips over the teeth, the speaker looked like a smiling corpse!

Two hundred years later, Z was reintroduced to the Latin alphabet. At the time, it was used only in words taken from Greek. Because of its absence and reintroduction, zeta is one of the only two letters to enter the Latin alphabet directly from Greek.

So Z returned to the 26th place, but it was not always the last. For years, the ‘&’ symbol (now known as the ampersand) was the final letter. The symbol was pronounced as “and” but always used together with the Latin ‘per se’ meaning ‘by itself.’ So when rattling off the letters  “X Y Z and per se“ these rolled into being recited as ”X, Y, Z, ampersand.”

Early English did not have a Z, but used S for both the sibilant sounds. Even today the letter is relatively less used in ‘British English’ spellings as compared with ‘American’ English; (it is sometimes an irritant to find all these words underlined by Spellcheck if spelled with an S!)

It is also interesting to browse through the Z letters in tz cartoon.jpghe English dictionary and discover that the majority of the words listed there have their origins in a variety of other languages and cultures. Who would have thought that “ze leetle zee” would have such had such an adventurous history!

I for one enjoy the letter Z. It’s zippy, zappy, full of zest, and helps to create the right buzz!

–Mamata

Year of the Rat

This month has been one of the start of the New Year for several different communities, especially in India, as I wrote earlier. Every culture has its own calculations, myths and legends associated with the annual cycle of time. rat.png

Last week was the Chinese New Year, and the start of the Year of the Rat. The year of the Rat signifies the first year in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac. The years of the Rat include 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, and now, 2020.

The Chinese zodiac is based on a repeating 12-year cycle, with each year signified by an animal, in the following order–Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Those born in a specific year are said to possess certain characteristics of the animal, as defined in the Chinese belief system; and their fortunes are determined accordingly. For example people born in the year of the Rat are supposed to be intelligent, charming, quick-witted, practical and ambitious. They are also likely to be timid, stubborn, greedy, devious, too eager for power, and love to gossip!

Why these animals and why this specific order?  There is an interesting legend linked to this. The story has many versions, but in essence it tells about a race. This is one version.

Once long, long ago, the Jade Emperor, one of the most important gods in traditional Chinese religion wanted to select 12 animals to be his guards. He sent his messengers to earth to invite all the animals in the world to take part in a race which would end by entering the Heavenly Gate.

Twelve species turned up at the start line: a pig, dog, rooster, monkey, sheep, horse, snake, dragon, rabbit, tiger, ox and rat.

As a reward for turning up, the Emperor named a year in the zodiac after each of these animals, but the race was to determine the order in which each animal would be placed in the zodiac, depending upon the order in which they reached the finish line.

All the animals set off on the course. On the way there was a big river that they had to cross. The Rat had got up and started early, but when it reached the river it felt helpless. But then it saw the strong Ox about to enter the water, so it used its wits and climbed onto the Ox’s head. The Ox was kind and let it ride with him. But as soon as they reached the other side, the wily rat quickly slid down and scampered to the finish line. And so the Rat came first, followed at number two by the diligent Ox.

Tiger and Rabbit were not far behind. Both were fast and competitive, but Tiger was faster and came in third. Rabbit who nimbly crossed the river by hopping on stepping stones and a floating log came fourth.

Everyone thought that the dragon with his magical powers of flight would be in front. But in fact the dragon took a detour to go ashore to help some villagers extinguish a fire. When it returned to the river, it saw that Rabbit was struggling on the log, and so the dragon used its breath to blow it to shore. The Rabbit never found out where the helpful breeze came from, but it finished before the Dragon, who came in at number five.

The Horse wasn’t far behind the Dragon and thought that sixth place was in the bag. However, it hadn’t noticed that the Snake had hitched a ride by wrapping itself around the Horse’s legs to save energy. Just as the finish line was in sight, the snake uncoiled itself and frightened the Horse. The Snake thus slyly slithered to sixth place while the horse came in seventh.

Next up were the Sheep (or Goat in some stories), Monkey and Rooster. They decided to work as a team and made a small raft to help them across the river. When they reached the other side, they dashed to the finish line. The Sheep/Goat reached first followed by the Monkey and the Rooster—ranking at number eight, nine and ten respectively.

That left the Dog and the Pig. The dog was playful and could not help splashing and enjoying itself in the river water while all the others overtook it. It landed up wet and panting to claim the eleventh rank. And where was the Pig? True to its nature, half way into the race it got hungry. So it decided to look for, and eat something to keep it going. But it ate so much that it just had to lie down and nap! When it awoke from its snooze, and made its way to the finish line, all the other animals had long crossed it. The Emperor had almost given up on it, but was happy to assign it the final space in the zodiac.

And so the 12 animals became the Emperor’s guards and were also assigned their place in the zodiac.

There is an interesting Post Script to this story which explains why the Cat is missing from the list. As the tale goes, Cat and Rat were then good friends, and both decided to join the race. But the Cat had a habit of waking up late. So, fearing he might miss the grand race, he asked the Rat to wake him up the next morning. The Rat, however, forgot his promise and left without his best friend.

Alas, when the Cat finally woke up, it was already too late, and he did not make it to the race on time. Hence, there is no year in the Chinese zodiac named after the Cat. And, this is why, until this day, the Cat will always hunt the Rat!

Here’s to the Year of the Rat!

–Mamata

 

Have We Lost the Apostrophe?

When something needs a protection society, you can be sure it is well on its way to extinction. And so is the case with the apostrophe. But ironically, the Apostrophe Protection Society (APS) in Britain has declared itself dead and buried while the apostrophe it created itself to protect is still breathing—though barely.

The Society was founded in 2001 with “the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark”. The Society’s founder Mr. John Richards, who has fought valiantly for two decades in the service of the apostrophe, is closing it down for two reasons. First is that he is cutting down on his commitments—given that he is 96, that is perfectly understandable. But surely, there may be, somewhere in the world, some younger champion of the post-office comma? (In some parts of India, the apostrophe is referred to as the post-office comma). The other is disillusionment with the state of punctuation—he feels that less and less people and organizations care about the proper use of the apostrophe.

What a tragedy! The apostrophe is an essential part of punctuation. Though misused, the mind boggles when one thinks of the confusion we would face without it. The Society laid down three key tenets in this regard: (1) use apostrophes to denote missing letters; (2) use them to indicate possession—except in the case of possessive adjectives like ‘its’. They also had a strict rule about when not to use them—never use them to indicate plurals.

At any rate, the announcement of the closing down of the APS has elicited so much interest that the website has not been able to take the traffic over the last few days, and is temporarily replaced with a message that the full site will be back soon. And the reassuring thing is that the site is not being closed down and will remain open for reference. (http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/)

RIP APS. But let us hope RIP Apostrophe is still some time away!

See also our older  post ‘Emma Watson’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ Moment’ https://wordpress.com/post/millennialmatriarchs.com/21

–Meena

Read to Order

Last week I wrote about the vibrancy that marked the refree reading.jpgcent children’s literature festival that I was a part of. At my story readings I started by spreading out an array of books related to that session. As soon as the children gathered there, each once grabbed a book and started leafing through it. Every child urged that I should read for them the book she/he had picked up. The excitement of seeing books accessibly displayed, and being able to pick up a book themselves was palpable.

A few days later I read an article about how in most cases parents are the ones that make the decisions about the leisure-time reading for their children. Yes they take children to a bookshop, but it is they who choose the books that are eventually bought. These decisions are guided by a number of factors, among them the parent’s perception of what they consider “appropriate reading” for their child; sometimes titles or names that they are familiar with, and often, the price.

That is not to decry the role of parents, nor their genuinely good intentions of providing their child with desirable extra-curricular reading. Indeed the very fact that parents take their children to a bookstore or library is commendable enough. However it is possible that the selection of books may not be the one the child would have made. Added to which may be the added pressure on the child to dutifully read the selected books.  Probably a good way to kill the joy of reading itself!

In this process, what seems to be somewhat missing is the pleasure of browsing, exploring and discovering something new, something unfamiliar, or even something completely unknown. And it is this step that leads on to a lifelong love of meandering through the world of books. It is through these wanderings that not just children, adults also discover previously unknown worlds, cultures, and ways of looking at the world. For some people however, it is, perhaps, this very possibility that seems to pose a risk.

Take the recent news story about the self-styled book censor who is deliberately hiding certain books in a library in a small town in Idaho in the USA. These books seem to be those which are critical of the US President Trump, and those that deal with “liberal” issues such as gun control, human rights, immigration, and LGBTQ rights. An anonymous note left by the mystery censor stated “I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds. Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.” Fortunately it seems that this mystery stasher has not destroyed the books but simply squirreled them away randomly among the shelves where they do not belong as per the Dewey Decimal System! For biblio-wanderers like myself, this may add to the excitement of finding literally “hidden” treasures while browsing the shelves!

Going back to children and reading, as adults who play a part in selecting books for children, we need to accept that providing the space for a child to explore and discover the world of books as an independent traveller may help in unearthing unknown treasures which can keep curiosity alive, enrich imagination, and build skills of making choices (even if sometimes it is the wrong choice!).

Read to order or order to read—there is a thin line between the two.

–Mamata

BOOKAROO!

What is more fun than a barrel of monkeys? A bunch of bubbly Bookaroons telling stories at the Baroda Bookaroo! No this isn’t a new tongue twister, nor the setting and characters from Dr Seuss. This describes the two-day Festival of Children’s Literature recently held at Vadodara in Gujarat.

Bookaroo, as the festival is called, is a celebration of the magic of books that brings together children and tellers and creators of stories (writers and illustrators). The Festival that focuses on Reading for Pleasure, began in 2008 with its first event in Delhi. In the decade since then, it had grown bigger, and also travelled to 13 cities in different parts of India.  Besides the main two-day event that brings children to a common venue, Bookaroo also reaches out to those children who cannot come to the festival for various reasons, with authors visiting schools for the underserved, and with special needs; hospitals, construction sites, orphanages and remedial homes. Another form of outreach has been storytelling and art activities in public spaces like parks, metro stations, monuments, museums and public libraries.

I was privileged to be a part of this wonderful festival held in IMG_20191114_104834.jpgthis past weekend. The venue itself was unique—the Art District in Alembic City with its sprawling lawns, old trees, and intriguing studio spaces housed in what was Alembic’s (remember those ubiquitous Yera glasses?) first factory, over a hundred years old! Imagine this coming alive with the colour, sound and movement of thousands of children—a vibrant tapestry seamlessly weaving the past, present and future.

The two days were packed with parallel events catering to children from ages 4 to 14. There was something for everyone—listening and reading, doodling and drawing, singing and crafting, meeting favourite authors in person, discovering new stories and books, and of course, making new friends. Gandhian Jyotibhai Desai, all of 93 years, with a twinkle in his eyes, answered children’s questions about Gandhi and his life, inspired each one to become a change-maker. Others carried children far and wide on the magic carpet of tales old and new.

The same excitement permeated the storyteller Bookaroons. The time that we spent together was bubbling with fun and laughter. A motley group from far and near, each of us passionate about telling tales in our own ways, all of us were immediately bound by our common love for words and passion to reach out to children. For those two dizzy days we Bookaroonas put aside our hats as mothers, daughters, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, and grandmothers, and donned our favourite kiddie-hats—giggling and teasing; chatting and chortling late into the night; sharing ice-cream rolls and shopping tips, and swapping ghost stories!

Bookaroo’s journey started in 2003 with the setting up of India’s first exclusive children’s bookstore Eureka–a place that children could call their own, choose books of their choice without parents or teachers dictating what a good book is. Bookaroo has travelled far since then, connecting children and books in so many ways. Bookaroo is a winner of the Literary Festival Award at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards, 2017. It was the first time that an Indian children’s literature festival was recognised in the international arena.

For myself, who often agonises in this blog about the dying age of the printed word, and the joy of reading, it was exhilarating to see so many happy children with paint-smudged fingers clutching their new books, and looking for the authors to autograph them. Thank you Bookaroo for a wonderful reiteration and reassurance that all is not lost!

–Mamata

14 November is celebrated as Children’s Day in India. For Bookaroo, every day is Children’s Day!

 

Gandhi, in and on Newspapers

It is Gandhi week, and newspapers are full of articles and pieces aIMG_20191001_104301.jpgbout Gandhi, his thoughts and deeds. This year it is with renewed vigour as it marks the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Being the prolific writer that he was, and the wide spectrum of subjects and areas on which he expressed his thoughts, every writer today can find some words of wisdom from Gandhi with respect to whatever they may choose to contribute for the ‘Gandhi special’ editions.

Gandhi himself was no exception to the pressure of meeting a newspaper deadline. Sometime in the second half on 1917 he wrote: I promised the Editor a contribution for the Diwali number of Hindustan. I find that I have no time to make good the promise, but thinking that I must write something, I place before the readers my views on newspapers. Under pressure of circumstances, I had to work in a newspaper office in South Africa and this gave me an opportunity to think on the subject. I have put in practice all the ideas that I venture to advance here.

Continuing, he went on to express his views on the business and ethics of newspapers of the day.

Newspapers are meant primarily to educate the people. They make the latter familiar with contemporary history. This is a work of no mean responsibility. It is a fact however, that the readers cannot always trust newspapers. Often the facts are found to be quite the opposite of what has been reported.  If newspapers realised that it was their duty to educate the people, they could not but wait to check a report before publishing it. It is true that often they have to work under difficult conditions. They have to sift the true from the false in but a short time, and can only guess at the truth. Even then I am of the opinion that it is better not to publish a report at all if it has not been found possible to verify it.

How interesting that the same debate about Fake news, and news used to provoke and promote dissension and distrust, continues to rage even today, albeit now, in the context not only of the print media, but all other media also.

Equally thought provoking and relevant are his concerns about the potentially dangerous role that newspapers can play.

It is often observed that newspapers publish any matter that they have, just to fill in space. This practice is almost universal. The reason is that most newspapers have their eye on profits. There is no doubt that newspapers have done great service. …But to my mind they have done no less harm. …many are full of prejudices, create or increase ill will among people. At times they produce bitterness and strife between different families and communities. …On the whole, it would seem that the existence of newspapers promotes good and evil in equal measure. 

He continues with his canny observations on how revenue from advertising tends to override other journalistic responsibilities. And this was over a hundred years ago!

It is now an established practice with newspapers to depend for revenues mainly on advertisements, rather than on subscriptions. The result has been deplorable. The very newspaper which writes against the drink-evil publishes advertisements in praise of drink. Medical advertisements are the largest source of revenue, though today they have done and are doing, incalculable harm to people.  I have been an eye witness to the harm done by them. Many people are lured into buying harmful medicines. …No matter at what cost or effort we must put an end to this undesirable practice or, at least, reform. It is the duty of every newspaper to exercise some restraint in the matter of advertisements.

Ironically my newspaper today has ten full-glossy pages creating aspirations of ”dream” lifestyles, and wooing consumers with advertisements of state-of-the art luxurious residences, gadgets, and holidays; and profligate indulgences in food, drink, clothes, cosmetics and more. The other ten pages has the kind of news that Gandhi had been so concerned about (violence, intolerance, discrimination and disparity), along with a sprinkling of pieces about the Gandhian tenets of simplicity, honesty and truthfulness, and introspection! Contradiction, or comfortable and convenient co-existence? Something to think about indeed!

Written by Gandhi sometime before 14 November 1917 (originally in Gujarati) Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.14. https://www.gandhiheritageportal.org

–Mamata