Thursday, April 23, 2020

Year of the weeds - hopefully!

Today being  “World book day”, we realise the value and importance of books and reading all the more in testing times like these…. Isn't it? Books not only afford a great escape from all the surrounding stress but also seek to provide answers to our quest of the known and sometimes the unknown too. The present lock down is a lot more tolerable because… well as they say “we are the readers”…. and alternating between my own reading and reading many a picture books to my little one and reading online a YA novel to my son who is away at my parents’ farm “Shrishti” in Dharmasthala, is what keeps me going for the whole day!  I began blogging to share my reading adventures with my then four year old son who has gone on to develop his own taste and declared his independence long back in choosing his own genres of books and authors, without any interference from me. While I find it hard not to raise an eyebrow over his obsession with the Michael Morpurgo books or the Alex Rider-like series, I realised his rather unadventurous attitude towards new series or new authors can be a blessing in disguise…. as moms of teenagers are always looking  for an opening into their world……and what a better way to gain an entry than embark on a joint adventure with your teen into the world of books!

While he plunges into his favourite books and buries himself in it day and night, he does need a little prodding when it comes to trying something new. So that’s when I check in and we both fly away to distant lands only to be pulled back my little one who is waiting for me with her picture book! 😊 Anyway, what was planned to be a ten day break before his starting the bridge course at school turned out to be an extended vacation for Abhay at his grandparents’ place and of course he isn’t complaining! With everything turned online owing to the lock down scenario, why not read a book online I thought…and over the last ten days, every night between 9.30 and 10 pm ….Abhay and I would be transported to Deogan and Balangir in western Odisha - the setting of “Year of the Weeds” by Siddarth Sarma, a Young Adult (YA) novel brought out by Duckbill Publications. “Year of the weeds” could not have come to us at a better time when we are most likely to lose hope in the situation, the system, and most of all ourselves in overcoming what has now come a human catastrophe. “Year of the weeds” in so many ways restores our faith in the system, brings about so much positive vibes and makes for a truly uplifting read this season. Set in a tribal village of Deogan inhabited by the Gond tribes, the story takes the reader through their simple, poor yet contented life built around their Gods and a belief system that holds the neighbouring Devi hill as sacred which is sought to be threatened by the discovery of bauxite beneath the hill, the mining of which will result in not only the displacement of the Gonds but erosion of all that they hold on to. Amidst all this, is the protagonist, a young tribal boy named Korok who’s passion for gardening and tending to his employer's garden touches upon every aspect of his understanding of life and the workings of the adult world and his curious take on the mainstream world.  To borrow from Abhay’s own blurb/write up about the book “Year of the weeds is a fabulous novel that opened up my mind to a great extent and gave me a lot many things to think about… the characters had simple qualities yet were layered in subtle ways” As we went from chapter to chapter, reading over a chapter and a half each night connecting over the internet or the telephone, Abhay hung on to each and every word that I read and tried to visualise the setting and imagined the characters from the seemingly simpleton Korok to the empathetic city-kid, Anchita, from the resigned village headman Mahji to the local activist Jadob master, from the feudal-minded, self-proclaimed king of Deogan, the Superintendent of Police Patnaik to the apathetic establishment man, District Collector Behera, along with guest appearances by the politicians and Maoists. Needless to say, my urban-teenage-device-driven-city slicker was continually intrigued with the part-humourous, part-philosophical narrative of the events unfolding leading up to a coup-like ending. A brilliantly written socio-political drama that makes for a thoroughly engaging read while also impressing upon the future adults about the  system, its weeds and how to have the weeds defeat one another! Here's hoping that this year be the year of weeding out all that the ills the system!  

Sunday, April 19, 2020

What shall I wear?

My little one has been a mini-fashionista ever since she learned to utter the word “Adalla” (“not that” in Kannada) and from then on, she would pretty much veto anything and everything I would pick out for her to wear and choose her own outfit for the day! It had been a formidable task to get her to wear her Montessori school uniform on the only two days of a five day week that required the students to don their uniform and just imagine what a mammoth effort it took for us to get her accustomed to wearing the school uniform “every single day” in her current school! “What shall I wear now” dominates her mind space and conversation with her nanny as she gets off her school bus in the afternoon and on most days, she greets me in the evening as I return home from work with “Amma, what shall I wear at bedtime today?” She would insist on a change of clothes even when accompanying me to the next door Kirana store for milk, or as she heads to my office (which is a portion of the ground floor of my house) or pillion rides the scooter with her dad to drop her brother to his bus pick-up point down our street! No matter what the book is about, it is always “what the girl is wearing” or “what sort of footwear has she worn” or “what kind of hairstyle is she sporting” that first draws her attention and trust me….she couldn’t be bothered about the boys at all! (At least for now!). Running short of ideas to engage her during the lock-down situation, we’ve given her a free rein to pull out whatever she likes from her wardrobe –  from traditional Indian wear to fancy party wear, from her various fancy dress-like outfits bought during our travels to her earlier school day costumes …. our little style icon isn’t complaining about being “All dressed up but nowhere to go! 😊

So I have always wanted to lay my hands on Pratham’s “What shall I wear” by Natasha Sharma but as you have would have it with many Pratham books , it was out of stock in most places I inquired. (Of course most Pratham books are available online on storyweaver, but it is not the same thing as cuddling with your little one at bedtime with her favourite book or when she pulls out the book during her alone-time and pours over her favourite character!)   So imagine my delight when I came across “Snack time Story time” hosted by Natasha Sharma based on her books on Facebook last week which also featured  “What shall I wear” a Level 2 reader by Pratham Publications authored by Natasha Sharma and illustrated by Tanvi Bhat. Its wonderful when the author introduces the book as he or she always lets in a snippet or two on the author’s story behind the story and it turns out that Natasha  Sharma was inspired by her then six year old daughter’s love for clothes that lead to the book and we also got to see how her not-so-little-fashionista took the same forward to now designing her own clothes! Anyway, the book is about a little girl who is in a predicament that most of us often find ourselves in …none of her clothes feel right!  Sometimes it’s the discomfort of the shirt buttons, or the pant being too tight, or choli not fitting or the lehenga being too long, so on and so forth driving the little girl  to the wardrobe of her mother and brother with no luck! Read on to find a do-it-yourself-creative solution arrived by the little girl in tweaking her wardrobe a little with an intelligent mix and match….and voila!… she has a new outfit! Now ….isn’t that true for all of us too!  A laugh-out read  for our fastidious little divas who have us on our wit's end  in trying to fulfill their fashion demands!   Just as we were about to log on to Youtube for another story telling session …....…Aadya stopped me to ask “Amma what shall I wear for the story-time?” !!!:-)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

It's storytelling festival out here!

As we head towards the final week of the 21-days lock down on account of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, hoping against hope that it will slow down the infection spread, we find that “Zoom”, “BOTIM”, “Microsoft Team” along with good old “Skype” are the new buzzwords that seemed to have revolutionized the way we look at group interactions. From virtual courts and e-filings to online meetings, from online classes to online assignments, from online live story-times to online live music concerts, technology has enabled us to soldier on as far as its possible in these testing times. With an explosion of live programs on Facebook,  you find out yourself online all the time - just as you catch your favourite musician in a Facebook live “unplugged performance”, it seems to overlap with the live interactive session with the much-sought after nutrition cum fitness expert, or as you manage to get your little one to watch one of the author-hosted story sessions live on Facebook, you can’t help but leave to her device(s) and switch to another for a once-in-a-lifetime story time read out by Ruskin Bond himself !   Even in times of quarantine, I can’t believe we are still being haunted by that “Fear of missing out” (FOMO) feeling!!

Needless to say, all this is only a momentary respite from the restlessness and the fear of uncertainty, the general gloom over the impending catastrophe and the accompanying sadness in seeing so much suffering and loss of lives and livelihood all around us. That said, it’s also important to stay positive and ensure your family, particularly the kids are in good spirits as they are our unsung heroes after all, literally imprisoned for no fault of theirs and not knowing why (as with the younger ones). While many schools have embarked on online learning formats for the older kids, engaging younger kids is still a challenge. So apart from the juggling with working from home full-time or part-time, household chores , cooking and cleaning, in our case, we are called upon to choose the best of my little one’s several drawings of “Rapunzel” or get summoned to taste her pretend “poha” or “pakoda” from her pretend kitchen!  

Anyway, thanks to all the live story sessions on social networking platforms, we have been revisiting some of our earlier favorites, like Princess Easy Pleasy of which a sequel has been brought out by the author, Natasha Sharma in keeping with “constant boredom” that all our princes and princesses face in these quarantined times. In fact, in so many ways, these online story-times are better than the in-person activities, as hopefully the attention stays on the story-teller and what he or she has to say and does not wander off to the colour of the hairband worn by girl in front! :-)

With a Storytelling festival going on, we read the or Tulika’s “The Jungle Storytelling Festival” by Janaki Sabesh and pictures by Debosmita Mazumdar. This is a unique ‘Stories within a story” book that lets the kids  string together well known stories through wordless illustrations. All the animals lead by the squirrel get together for the story telling festival that flags off with the lion and the mouse story narrated by the King of the jungle himself followed by the monkey who engages everyone with his story of outwitting the crocodile greedy for the monkey’s heart and the tortoise narrating his world famous race with the hare. At the end of the first day of the festival, the Ostrich is seen looking on eagerly wondering if he could share his story too. But all the other animals brush him aside given his stammering problem. Just as he retreats to a corner expressing his sorrow in a song, Mouse Mamma hears him and is surprised to find him singing without stammering….and that is enough to give Ostoo an opening and an underdog-like success in the storytelling festival the next day. Aided with soft yet striking illustrations, this book is a brilliant interactive inter-play of age-old fables outlined by a contemporary story line so as to impress upon young minds with today’s ideals of diversity and inclusivity. Whether the lock down is extended further or not, cheer yourself and your little one with the storytelling festivals online.