Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dreaming Books in Kashmir

Entering Delhi Public School, Srinagar
Early May I found myself, along with some 20 authors, illustrators, storytellers and book facilitators, at Delhi Public School, Athwajan, Srinagar to participate in Bookaroo’s first ‘away’ childlit festival (May 7 and 8). For many of us it was the first time in Kashmir, for most of us it was a dream come true! Who’d have thought it possible given all the problems this northernmost state of India has had to deal with over the years. 

“What’s special about Kashmir?” I asked a group of over 200 restless kids after lunch at an outdoor reading of Kashmir ki kahaaniyaan from Tulika’s latest offering, The Enchanted Saarang a collection by Asha Hanley and illustrated profusely and brilliantly by Proiti Roy. “Beauty,” said one little boy. “Beauty,” said a little girl. A small boy way in the back put up his hand. “Beauty,” he whispered. Beautiful it certainly is. And beautiful was the location of DPS Srinagar, managed by the DP Dhar Memorial Trust, as beautiful were the smiles with which we were hosted by the Dhar family and the staff and children of the school. “Loyans”… “Taigars”… the children said when I asked about Kashmir’s animals. Good reason for them to read about marmots and ponies in The Enchanted Saarang and hanguls in Gulla and the Hangul.

Lucky kids, all 4000 and more of them, and their teachers. Thanks to the efforts of the Bookaroo team, they got to meet and hear and interact with writers and illustrators such as Bulbul Sharma, Atanu Roy, Prayag Shukla and many others. They heard stories from our own Jeeva Raghunath and the brilliant daastangois, Ranapratap Sengar and Usman Sheikh. I learnt, to my surprise, that Urdu was not as widely understood among this student population as was Kashmiri! Naturally. I learnt, also, that the long vacation, a month and a half, is in the winter, not now. Of course. And although the notice at the book signing table near Eureka’s bookshop at the school said ‘Only books will be signed’, there were many of us who signed in notebooks and pieces of paper, on soft soft arms and tender palms. “Koi baath nahin, main iska foto le loonga,” a little boy assured me as he badgered the autograph out. Never mind, I’ll take a photo of this, he said.
Grand Inaugural with Jeeva's storytelling

Outside, at the Doodle Wall, children and adults fell as usual for the antics of Thumb Thumb Thangi and Thumb Thumb Thambi. “I lived in Chennai for nine years,” said one young man. “Thangachchi, thangachchi…” he added, making the connection with Thambi and Thangi. Then, after he had imprinted his thumb on a poster of Thumb Thumb Tree courtesy editor Niveditha Subramaniam, he was thrilled with his ‘thumbthing’, a little picture of Thumb Thumb Amma stuck onto his thumb. Like a little thumb puppet. Some picked up the Thumb Thumb Books to read and delight in them. My special souvenir is a hanky painted with thumbprints of all the young visitors to the Doodle Wall – it’s a collector’s item!

Another day, another group of kids, this time to travel from marzwangan korma to dosas. Yes, Mazzoo Mazzoo it was, topped with Dosa and ending with an as yet unfulfilled promise of noonchai, salted tea. Perhaps that’s so I make another visit Kashmir-wards?! Jal jal yii-iv, I shall…. come quickly, come quickly… to Kashmir.

It was insightful to share Picture Gandhi and My Gandhi Scrapbook through a Powerpoint presentation that combines the spirit of both these, called ‘A Cat in Kashmir’, and along the way, connecting with Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan or Frontier Gandhi as he was known, and Anna Hazare too. But I’m not going to tell you why ‘a cat’… that’s for you to say. Read and look carefully at both these books – ears, eyes, nose wide open – and it will fall in place. Cool! This school is cool and Bookaroo rocked. The mountain at the back of the school too, literally, because it is being systematically quarried. How much of it will remain when Bookaroo returns?

Rhymes with Prayag Shukla
If you’re wondering who were the 20 odd who volleyed and thundered over the buzz and bizzyness of hundreds of kids, they included: Deepa Agarwal, Arjun Kaul, Subhadra Sengupta, Andrew Dodd and Lalit Sharma, Valentina Trivedi, Anushka Ravishankar, Jo Williams, Tapas Guha, Ranapratap Sengar, Jerry Pinto, Bulbul Sharma, Jeeva Raghunath, Prayag Shukla, Sachin Sebastian George, Atanu Roy, Ramendra Kumar, Usman Sheikh, Parnab Mukherjee, Pratap Pandey, Swati Roy, H Venkatesh, Manisha Chaudhry, Suraya Rasool and myself. A special feature was a play, an adaptation of Premchand’s Eid Gah directed by Hakeem Javeed and performed by Shehjaar children’s theatre group comprising children from an orphanage run by the HELP Foundation in Jammu and Kashmir.

And if you’re wondering how it all happened: it’s thanks also to scores of young volunteers who to-ed and fro-ed their guests with great enthusiasm and much urging! Here’s to lots of books for children in Kashmir to read and enjoy. There’s really nothing like a good book. Except maybe pakodas and chai on Chaar Chinaar, a small island with four chinaar trees in the middle of Dal Lake.

Sandhya Rao


  1. Fabulous - thank you for sharing Bookaroo's festival. What a wonderful line-up. And I love the idea of the thumb wall - and your handkerchief!

  2. Okay now tell us when you are coming to Bangalore with Bookaroo.
    *burns with jealousy*

    And my little nephew, all of 3, was recently introduced to the pleasures of Tulika books. He cannot have enough of them. Goes around everywhere with a fat pile of ‘his Tulikas’.


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