Apt words to introduce a panel that includes Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Dipanwita Roy and Jash Sen. The writers are here for the second session on the last day of the Kolkata Literature Festival to discuss the art of writing for children.
The adda-debate that is conducted, refreshingly, in fluent Bangla, Your bloggers may or may not have been scared of not being able to keep up, but the Bengali tongue is a loving mother: it can welcome you and make you its own in no time at all. Very soon, I am comfortable enough to keep up.
Mr Mukhopadhyay opens the discussion by pointing out that children emulate: if parents read, so will kids. Today’s younger generation have many sources of entertainment, many occupations, and so to expect them to only read or not indulge in those other means is not right. “I know children who read, and read Bengali, voraciously,” says Mr Mukhopadhyay. “As a writer, I see books in much larger numbers in homes now. I see children reading with quite as much interest, if not as frequently.”
Mr Majumdar mentions how he avoided reading Rabindranath and Bankim Chandra: “I was allergic to those names!” As a boy, he did not read. “But I used to love adventure stories, thrillers and detective stories,” he adds. “Today’s children are too quick to be satisfied with what we had: they want to know too badly and they can find out extremely quickly.”
“Make your writing interesting, not only verbally but also visually,” says Ms Roy. “The book should look appealing enough for the child to actually want to pick it up.”
Ms Roy tells us of young children nowadays. “They do not understand or relate to ancient concepts. How can a king have seven queens? Why is the king so upset without a male heir? These concepts are not in touch with the world around them and nor should they be. I think it is important to introduce children to these concepts, and so I write fairy tales with modern ideas for modern children.”
It is a fairy tale that is cleansed of primitive faults, as I see it.
Mr Mukhopadhyay recalls the art of oral storytelling. He remembers listening to poetry and stories being read out by his mother, and how the images would present themselves to him. He learnt the alphabet initially from signposts along roads. And somewhere along the way, he discovered that he liked to read, that he read anything that came his way, especially with an indulgent family who did not censor his choices.
Mr Majumdar’s experiences are more wry. As a child, he played truant from a command by his grandfather to read ‘Pather Panchali’, only to realise that if questioned about the story, he would be at a complete loss of what to say. So along he ran to “Notun Mashi”, an elderly woman in his para who loved to read. That was the first real contact he had with a book- and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mrs Roy remembers the library period at her school- a time that I can admit completely unashamedly was my absolute favourite period in school. She had lied so as to a friend to receive the book of her choice in class seven. “Is that friendship still intact?” asks Ms Sen amidst peals of laughter, and we are reassured that it is.
Mr Mukhopadhyay thinks so. “Times move forward, and so must we,” he says. He further adds his concerns about the issue of deforestation. “The movement online will certainly help that.” Mr Majumdar agrees. “We should welcome the new, as long as its ill-effects do not outweigh the good.”
“Everyone loves listening to stories, even as times get busier,” says Mr Mukhopadhyay. “That will never change. Perhaps the old loving environment of grandparents reading stories may not return. But stories, and the need to know them, will live on in new environments.”
Ms Sen mentions a new-age grandmother who has moved to reading on iTunes to her grandchildren in Singapore!
It is Mr Mukhopadhyay’s words that can sum up this session the best: “Books teach us to imagine. They teach us to know life. They teach us to create and relate, empathise and sympathise, feel and understand. Having a strong relationship with literature is essential- it is what makes us human.”
That is why it is so essential to teach children to love books, to read. It’s quite easy- everyone wants to live in stories; you just have to show them how.