Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bookaroo in the City: Mayil Will Not Be Quiet

As part of Bookaroo in the City, we took Mayil Will Not Be Quiet to Satyug Darshan Vidyalaya, Faridabad. The auditorium was packed with 80 children (eight to twelve-year-olds) and we were excited and slightly nervous as the back rows filled up. 

How many of you write diaries, we asked.

Just two hands shot up – a girl and a boy. 

Why do you write?

The girl said she wrote about things she couldn’t talk about with other people. She wrote about her feelings, she wrote about things that happened every day, she wrote down secrets. The boy said writing was creative; it helped him write better and read better too. 

We introduced Mayil and read the first entry from her diary. There was a soft giggle or two as we read out the warning bit (“No sneaking, peeking, touching or EATING.”). But what got them thinking was Mayil’s question about Dasharata wanting a son to “carry” his name. Why didn’t Dasharata want a daughter, she wonders. Couldn’t she rule a kingdom too?

“Girls leave home and become part of another family,” said many. But when we asked if girls could rule a kingdom, neither the boys nor the girls responded, at least not at once.Then we spoke about a sporting star that came from their hometown. They all knew who she was, but some didn’t know that she was from Haryana. Did they know that Saina Nehwal’s grandmother hadn’t visited her at first when she was born? Could they guess why? “Because she was a girl,” came the replies. Saina Nehwal’s mother was a badminton player too and Saina is a champion today. 

So could girls and boys do the same things if they wanted to? They nodded their heads. 

The liveliest discussion – the one that really got them talking – was the one about heroes and heroines. Who was the perfect hero? Which heroine did they like the most? “Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan!” said one. “Dara Singh!” said another, as the others burst out laughing. “Edward Cullen and Bella Swan!” said another (those teenage vampires just get everywhere, don’t they). Why are they perfect, we asked. But they just smiled shyly. So we took another approach:

Tall or short? – TALL
Fair or dark? – FAIR
Thin or fat? – THIN
Big eyes or small eyes? – There were shouts of big, small and even medium!

Were all beautiful people tall? – NO!
Did they know dark people who were beautiful? –YES!

So what was beauty? Who decided who was beautiful and who was ugly? What did beauty have to do with who they were? These were some of the questions we raised. One boy said Johnny Lever was dark and not great to look at, but he was funny and entertaining so it didn’t matter. There were many who didn’t speak, but they were thinking and talking to each other. When we concluded the session, at least half the room wanted to start a diary!

Our second session was with The British School – and they had a lot of opinions! Their responses to the questions we raised were instinctive, often downright blunt and very decided! 

We read the same entry about Dasharata wanting a son. Some boys and girls said that they had their mother’s name as well as father’s. That led to another discussion – who was the head of the family? They had different answers:

“The person who brings home the money.”
“The person who earns the most.”
“The person who wins the argument.”
“The person who is older.”

One girl said, “I think my little sister is the head of the family. We all do what she wants!”
Another interesting discussion revolved around dolls – could boys play with them too? Lots of boys put their hands up – but many, after first clarifying if action figures counted. Does Ken (Barbie’s boyfriend) count as a toy, we asked. Someone said, “Ken is a doll. He doesn’t have weapons.” 

This naturally led to a conversation about sissies and tomboys:

“Tomboys hang out with the boys.”
“Tomboys have short hair.”
“Tomboys are hairy. I had this friend. She was a tomboy and she was really hairy.”
“Sissies are like… shy.”
“Sissies are scared.”
“Sissies are girly sort of boys.”

What were their definitions of sissies and tomboys based on? Appearance? Personality? Both? The teachers were also involved in the discussion.
For instance, when one of the boys said women can't handle swiss knives, a teacher quipped that she won't be taking him along for camping trips then!

We read another entry from Mayil’s diary – where she meets a trans woman on a train. When we were writing this entry, we had wanted children to think about and understand the difference between sex and gender. But we were really happy that it also provoked thoughts and insights on identity, self-definition, recognizing and learning to accept differences and acknowledging and being able to talk about discomfort. 

When we finished reading this entry, one boy said he didn’t understand or think it was “natural” for a girl to want to be a boy or vice versa, but he would respect it, because it was that person’s choice. Others were less certain and said so. We heard quite a few say, “I don’t get it” and “It’s weird” and “Why would anybody do something like that?” 

And it was fitting that the session ended with some questions remaining unanswered.Because Mayil is about issues that remain unresolved, even if solutions have been found, for the moment. Mayil writes as she thinks. She has plenty to say and plenty to ask. She doesn’t always say or do the right things: she is embarrassed when she thinks that her friend, VS, is going to read out a poem in class, she thinks her brother doesn’t stand up for himself even when it’s not his fault. But she is not afraid to be wrong or say sorry. And she isn’t quiet!

Sowmya and Niveditha

A big thanks to Jo, Swati and Venkatesh for having us at Bookaroo and to the students and teachers of both schools – we loved being there!


  1. Oh I wish I could have attended the ladies planning to come ever to Bombay? I would love to attend such a session in any school you decide :)

    Mayil continues to be my favorite book

  2. @R: We will definitely let you know if we are coming to Bombay!

  3. Excellent information with unique content and it is very useful to know about the information based on blogs.

    British International School Chennai


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