Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hutoxi at Valley School - The Story from the Horse's Mouth

A parent of a Valley School student had written earlier about author Radhika Chadha's reading at Valley School. Here's Radhika's side of the story....

I read out some of my stories at the Valley School, Bangalore, earlier this month, and the warmth and enthusiasm of the children and the teachers made it an amazing experience. The hugs, the clamour for autographs and the cards and slips declaring fandom, all made me feel like a movie star – but what really left me totally gobsmacked, was the children’s engagement with the stories.

Before my visit, the stories from my Baby Bahadur Series had already been read out to the children – and some of them had been used as part of their creative writing class. Which is probably why it felt less like a book reading and more as if I had walked into a book-club … where the audience was fully familiar with my stories and ready with searching questions. Kids cuddled up cosily and demanded that I read the book of their choice – and as soon as I picked one up, I was greeted by a number of excited voices chirping up with a quick review of the book and their opinions as to why they liked it.

What was even more amazing was the insightful and thoughtful way in which they had analyzed the characters. One little fellow in first grade made this critique after I read out Yes, Hutoxi : “Hutoxi thinks she’s always right,” he said. We pondered over that thought for a few minutes and when I asked the others what they thought, there was a volley of responses quoting Hutoxi’s words from other books which showed she wasn’t infallible.

A rapid-fire question session followed the reading : At the end of Hutoxi, did the herd of horses turn out to be her family? Why do the animals obey Hutoxi – is it out of love, or respect, or fear? Where was Basava’s father when all this was happening? When do I plan to write about Kamalnayan? Why are the sentences in Basava longer than the ones in the Baby Bahadur series? Why do I write about animals and not about people? How is a book made? Who is the first to read my story after I have written it? How many changes do I make to a story after it is written? And so on!

After reading Snoring Shanmugam, I often point out how Amma’s technique of stopping snoring can be put to use. This time I got feedback on how successful this had been by some adventurous children who had heard the story before and had already tried this out. One complained “My father is too heavy for me to roll over” and was told by a classmate to “just poke him - my father snores all the time and he snores in the afternoon too and he gets up fast when I poke him”. This led to an exploration of impediments to implementing this strategy, such as “I go to sleep before my mother. So I have to pretend I am asleep, wait for her to sleep and then poke her” and “I sleep in another room, I have to sneak into their room to do this”. And there was a some serious discussion about the possibility of repercussions from irate parents : “My father gets angry when I do that”, said one early experimenter with this method. “You must poke them and then quickly run out of the room” was the sage advice from an expert. I suspect there may be many parents out there whose sleep has been disturbed by the Amma Anti-snoring Technique. Ah well, it’s all Shanmugam’s fault.

I was given a peek into the kids’ creative writing experience, which was a real treat. The brief to the children had been to rewrite the end of Mallipoo, Where are You? I was vastly amused by the zaniness and irreverence with which this had been done. Some excerpts :

Bahadur came and told them the piglets are missing. “We don’t care, what’s the big deal,” said Anna and Akka. “Are you out of your mind!” said Bahadur. “No, we are not,” said Anna and Akka. Oh, now I see the drunken monster. Mangal Singh made them drunk.

They start to look for the piglets. Bahadur finds a piglet in a rabbit hole, dead, because he got suffocated. Mannu saw two piglets drowned in the lake. Anna and Akka found three piglets being eaten by Shanmugam. When everyone met at the mud pit, Mallipoo was sleeping. Then Mannu, Anna, Akka and Bahadur said, “Oh God, save us!” Then Mallipoo becomes a God and makes all the piglets alive and teleports them to the mud pit.

Note to Tulika –a bunch of young writers here, just raring to go!

Thank you, teachers and children of Valley School, for giving me a dekko into how my books are used in class – I had a marvelous time.

- Radhika Chadha