Friday, April 29, 2016

History is a Mystery!

For today’s kids, it’s all about packaging!  Be it food, school, homework or daily routine activities…….they have to be jazzed up and made fun for them to want to do them! Well…we parents have to learn early that a direct approach can get us nowhere and the presentation is the key!

Staying on the subject of history, while "Children's History of India" (reviewed previously) makes for a great non-fiction read,  not many kids take to non-fiction as well as fiction. So the ideal way to get the latter to improve upon their knowledge quotient is to have them read books that present facts in a fun and an engaging manner and what better way to do it through the medium of stories?  

Of course, there are plenty of options in the field of science fiction for children, but what if there was a historical fiction series that enlightened the children on history while entertaining them as well? Here comes the latest offering from Duckbill publications, a pioneering publishing house that has changed the face of children’s literature in India - the History Mystery series by Natasha Sharma and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan.  

History, in a way, is a mystery, isn’t it? Here is a delectable series that unravels the enigma of the forgotten times with period drama/mysteries, set in the kingdoms of four of the most famous monarchs who ruled India at various points of time. The author spins off hilarious and intriguing tales around the actions, achievements or the administrative policies, the rulers are best remembered for. Though the publisher's age recommendation indicates that this is meant for younger readers, who’ve begun to read independently, the narrative and vocabulary employed certainly competes with middle level fiction catering towards early teen readers. As always, the stories make good family read-alouds, with added explanations and elaborations.
Like any mystery series, the pattern of each of the stories remain more or less similar – with something troubling the emperor prompting him or her to set the kingdom’s top secret super spies on the job. Imagine if  Emperor Ashoka finds his famous Rock Edicts inscribed with messages that are polar opposite to what he wants to preach to his subjects and you have “Ashoka and the muddled messages” or what if the well established trade and commerce links between the Chola kingdom and China is at the brink of a break-down owing to someone messing up with the shipments leading on to “Raja Raja and the swapped sacks” or what happens when Akbar discovers a mole amongst his close coterie who seems to pass on sensitive  information to King Adhbhut of the neighbouring kingdom,  resulting in “Akbar and the Tricky Traitor” and how does Razia Sultana, hell bent on gender neutralizing her role as the ruler of Delhi, deal with the so called gifts that are deliberately sexist in nature in “Razia Sultana and the pesky presents”! Starting with four such books, here’s hoping that there’s more coming in this delightful series.
Besides giving a glimpse of life and times of the era that was, the stories are set in the famous architectural monuments of the prevailing times that stand tall even today. What do you know…. the stories may even serve as a guide book if you plan on a heritage tour!   Laced with contemporary humour and aided by suitable illustrations, the backdrop of the stories are an authentic depiction of those times, especially the names, hierarchy of royal staff and the royal protocol, so on and so forth. While the specific plot is a work of fiction, the author draws heavily from historical sources to present a genuine picture of the bygone era and ends each story with a note that separates facts from fiction. Besides, the stories humanise the kings and heads of state, revealing a rather sensitive or vulnerable side, with some of it being fiction like Razia Nawaz’s fear of lizards and some reportedly true, like that of Akbar having invented a travelling bath.
You can't help feeling bemused as you watch today’s generation find names such as Agramahisi or Kalapathy Arrghety or Baaz Ayebeg more alien than the alien characters of Hollywood Sci-fi flicks!
Though set at an era when time stood still, the History Mystery series can sure give modern who-dun-it’s a run for their money, with your little wannabe detective begging for more!!

A Children's History of India!

"Amma.. was Babur originally from Mongolia or the present day Uzubekisthan ?" was one of Abhay's recent questions that had me stumped! Though I prided myself as a humanities student, I realised that I had no clue to some of his questions even though they seemed fundamental enough for any history student to have known an answer. Blame it on bad memory, or a lack of touch with the subject, or the fall-out of learning by rote that characterised most of our studies in school; But history from textbooks was more about remembering the dates/years of battles and reigns of kings than an interesting account of how things were! As much as Abhay seems fascinated by history, it's rather disappointing that history isn't a part of his school curriculum yet. So we are left to our own devices (read google) to unravel some of history's mysteries! 

When it comes to history, what are the choices for children/young readers? Well, it’s either the exam oriented textbooks or the rhetorical over-simplified versions of history that hardly sound credible or the big-fat reference books that the children/young readers tend to steer clear from!! What if there were to be a book that presents historical facts, sources and analysis in a non-text-bookish manner without running into the danger of information overload?   A Children’s history of India” by Subhandra Sen Gupta and illustrated by Priyankar Gupta  does exactly that!! Brought out by Red Turtle, the children’s wing of Rupa  publications, this book is a composite work on Indian history starting from the Harappan civilization in 2600 BCE to contemporary India. 

A children’s history of India is a thorough work of non-fiction and is divided into four sections that trace the rich history of our country from ancient times to what we now know as modern India. The author then goes to detail the rise and fall of various dynasties chronologically during each period, elaborating on the political milestones, prevalent lifestyles, social and cultural trends of the times that were. Presented in an easy-to-follow narrative, each chapter is also laced with interesting trivia, summary boxes, relevant online and offline sources for more information and a brief note on parallel developments in other parts of the world around the same time.  For instance, who knew that not all poems in the Vedas were solemn prayers but also included even funny rhymes and limericks or about a traveler named Thomas Coryat during Mughal times who supposedly walked all the way from England to India!! Accompanied by minimal illustrations of the highlights of different eras, the author also helps the reader understand the empirical analysis of historical data that separates facts from legends. Not very often do you come across a work of non-fiction that appeals to both children and adults alike…..”A children’s history of India” is definitely one of them and a must have for anyone interested in history! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Abhay's cricket attacks!

Partly published in Parent Edge  blog . 

Why do I have to study science if I want to become a cricketer?” was one of the questions I had to encounter when coaching Abhay for his exams this year! I am not sure whether it’s a natural progression of interest for boys his age or inspiration from his cousins (who are district/club level under-14 players), but I have no idea when my nine year old turned from a regular cricket fan (or so I thought!) into a wannabe cricketer! Over the last year…Abhay’s interest in cricket has transformed into almost an obsession … with him swinging his bat, practicing his bowling and watching long forgotten matches on sports channels back-to-back and so on and so forth! So this summer, we had no choice but to enroll him into a cricket coaching camp, where he goes every morning, lugging his cricket kit that seems larger than him! J As if that were not enough, we have to tolerate his continuous chatter and live demonstration of various cricketing techniques he’s learned at the camp…..all day!!!! So it’s all about cricket, cricket and more cricket this summer! 

In fact, buying his cricket kit almost felt like a coming-of-age event of sorts, with our nine year old, dizzy with excitement over choosing the best cricket gear for his game, in the company of his equally excited but more-seasoned and experienced cricketer cousins!! We are not certain if his new-found sporting activity is just for summer or a year- long affair or beyond, but all I can say is that it’s his job to dream and our job to provide the right pitch for him to realize his dream!  That said…. as he dons his cricketing gear, we can’t help but notice that our little boy in white looks all grown up!!

Ever since Abhay’s interest in cricket grew, I have been on the look-out for  good books on cricket for young readers and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found this book written by our favourite author! What are the chances of finding a book written by Ruskin Bond on cricket …right?? I grabbed it as soon as I chanced upon it! So we begin this IPL cricket season with the best - Ruskin Bond’s recent offering “Ranji’s wonderful bat and other stories” that is not only makes for an engaging read but also brings out the pleasures and pains it takes to watching and playing the gentlemen’s game respectively.  This wonderful compilation includes some of Bond's early stories featuring twelve year old Ranji and his love for cricket. I’m sure  Ranji’s emphatic  “I want to be a test cricketer when I grow up, of what use will Maths be to me?” does echo some the sentiments of our wannabe cricketers at home …doesn’t it??  While this book, brought out by Puffin, the children's publication wing of Penguin publications, has cricket as it's centrepiece, it's not all about cricket either, and other stories revolve around sporting activities in general, sportsmanship spirit and many a nature adventures. This curated collection also contains excerpts from his novel (that we had featured a while ago) "The Hidden pool"  that showcase unconventional sporting feats like the big bug race or the adventurous treks to the Pindari glacier.  Read on as he reflects on why cricket is every living being's game in India, including a crocodile in "Cricket for the crocodile", or that cricket unexpectedly acts as a gender-bender in “Koki plays the game”, or Uncle Ken’s muddled experiences with tennis and cricket alike, or a young boy’s cycling turns into an unforgettable run-in with nature’s fury in ‘Riding through the Flames”, how two boys fight over an exclusive swim in a pristine forest pool in “The Fight” and many such page-turners. Of course….being an Ruskin Bond aficionado, both of us devoured the book in no time and Abhay couldn’t help comparing himself to Ranji, the protagonist in the cricket stories. The charm of any sport does not only lie in the day’s game or the match, but in the passion, dedication and the joy of losing oneself in it and trust India’s favourite story-teller to vividly bring out the same in his sports stories.  Replete with subtle wit and humour, coming of age tales of friendship and team spirit on and off the field, lively limerick-style poems on cricket, bring on your sporting or cricketing outfit with the Bond from Mussoorie!