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Friday, March 4, 2016

Crow Chronicles 2: Our Cathy Story

Post by Radhika Menon

Cathy Spagnoli and Manu with the team
Cathy Spagnoli’s visit to Tulika a few days ago brought back memories of her wonderful storytelling. I first heard her at The School, KFI, Chennai, probably in the early 80s when I was teaching there. The setting was perfect – Cathy sitting on a chair with a guitar under a banyan tree, with children and teachers on the ground all around her. She started her story in a quiet voice strumming the guitar softly. The audience listened in rapt attention – children, adults and birds alike!

But her toddler son Manu had had enough of sitting quietly while his mother paid no attention to him, so he let out a loud cry. Cathy, without missing a beat, put aside her guitar, put him on her hip and continued with the story! Manu was soon as engrossed as the rest of us.

That was the first time I had listened to a professional storyteller. These days storytelling has become so popular that they have become part of every children’s book event and book festival. Storytellers use every trick from props to movements to songs to dramatisations, much to the delight of children. While I admire the creativity and the energy of these storytellers I also wonder what the children remember at the end of it – the funny sounds, the fun movements, the catchy songs?  After listening to Cathy, it is the story that you carry with you. As she says, for storytelling “all you need is a story, a teller and a listener”. 

Priya's Day
After starting Tulika, I always talked about Cathy’s magical storytelling to Sandhya (Rao). About a year later, in 1997, I think, we heard that Cathy was performing in Dakshinachitra. I couldn't go for some reason but Sandhya did with her six-year-old son Tejas. Both came away enthralled. 

The story Cathy told that day was Priya’s Day, using a sheet of newspaper that seamlessly became a mat, a pestle, a broom, a paper cone with peanuts, grass, butterflies, a string of jasmine, a dosa and a happy face! Sandhya and I had no doubt that Priya’s Day would be our next book.

At the release of that book at the lovely store Manasthala, it was Jeeva (Raghunath) who told the story.  Adapting it in her inimitable style she told Priya’s Day using a newspaper, Cathy-style, and punctuating the story with Tamil film songs, Jeeva-style. 

And that is the story of how Jeeva became Jeeva Aunty the storyteller!

Cathy Spagnoli at the Tulika Bookstore, Chennai

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Crow Chronicles 1

1996. With Line and Circle, it was lift-off for Tulika's multilingual publishing programme for children. Save three months right at the start when we nested in one room on top of a rickety flight of stairs, home for the next thirteen years was 13 Prithvi Avenue in Abhiramapuram, Chennai.

Dreaming up the first books: Lakshmi, Sandhya and Radhika (L to R)
Twenty years on, the Tulika crow is busier than ever. People have come, and mostly stayed. Interns have summered, wintered too. More tables and chairs and newer computers have found space. And books, books, books…

Techno magic: Design intern Anisha and comp-wiz Siva
Conducting book launches, reading trails and workshops... making, checking, packing and stacking books...  it was hands-on for everyone with everything. The crow wore many hats, adding many feathers to them along the way!

(Clockwise) Talking books: Radhika and Deeya
Climbing high: Lakshmi, Sandhya and Radhika in the stockroom
The quiet anchor: Radhika

The crow's new perch
In 2010, we packed up our nest and migrated to a quiet bylane close-by: 24/1 Ganapathy Colony Third Street, Teynampet. A comfortable new home, with a tree-filled backyard, a bright signboard in front, and a cosy bookstore for browsers – age no bar.

(Clockwise) Money-bird Thilak
Storytime with Niveditha
Books in the pipeline: Megha and Siva
All done shopping!
Drop everything and read!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Ranjan De and the crow

Post by Sandhya Rao

Ranjan De with writer Bindu Bhaskar Balaji at a workshop
We lived in a nest of sorts at the top of a flight of narrow iron stairs. Back then, the perch still provided a fair view of the city through the leaves of the shady trees surrounding Tulika's first home. There wasn't even that much traffic back then, just two people and the occasional three or four, dreaming dreams of books for children flying off in different directions. Ranjan, naturally, had the table facing the window and there he sat ... to dream, perchance to create.

Of course, his birdie num-nums were already up and flying: Number Birds was one of Tulika's first three books, and for Ranjan, a project close to his heart. He was the artist guy, the guy with genius at the ends of his fingers, the wacky sense of humour and the brilliant visual ideas, never mind if we had to do some mopping up afterwards! When the question of the Tulika logo came up, nobody wanted a quill (that's what the word, toolika, means, by the way, the old feather quill), it had to be a bird, a bird that everybody could see everywhere because it flew so far and so fast and was so bold, and brave, and part of the great big family of life. What else could it be but the common crow: that unmissable part of the sights and sounds of India? And so, Ranjan stood on the outer perimeter of our perch, gazing for hours at the skies, the trees, following the beady-eyed birds, studying them and studying them. We were getting a little nervous, then we started panicking and after that it was sheer paranoia! Our first three books were nearly ready, but where was the logo? "Here," said Ranjan, coolly one morning. And there it was, our kaka! Complete in its shining glory!