Earlier this month, on Children’s Day, the non-profit Katha opened its Storyshop on Aurobindo Marg in New Delhi. A group of seven-year-olds in school uniform listened in rapt attention about a cat becoming—against the odds—an artist’s muse. It was the second day and a storytelling session of Rosalind Wilson’s For the Love of a Cat was in progress.
The same day the Sahitya Kala Parishad presented the Bal Sahitya Puraskar, its award for children’s literature instituted this year for the first time since its inception. And starting Friday, Bookaroo, the country’s first ever children’s literary festival, goes into its third edition at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in New Delhi.
It may be part related to Harry Potter waving his magic wand over the Xbox-obsessed generation, and part related to a generation of parents prioritising reading, but if there are numbers to prove that children are reading less (the latest readership survey conducted by the National Book Trust in February found that reading is the least engaging activity among today’s youth) there’s plenty that proves otherwise.
Bookaroo, for instance, was born out of Eureka, a children’s neighbourhood book store. Set up in 2003, the store used to organize periodical book readings, author interactions and storytelling sessions. “Initially, for majority of our customers, the book store was the afterthought to the Pizza Hut next door. Books weren’t meant to be bought because ‘once you read them there’s nothing you can do with them’. From then to now, there’s been a huge change: People are willing to spend on books, seek out our recommendations, participate in book-related activities to the extent that our shop seemed too small. That is how Bookaroo came about,” says M. Venkatesh, Bookaroo trustee and co-founder, who is expecting about 10,000 young guests between the ages of 3 and 17 at the 70 events at this year’s festival.
This year Bookaroo introduces the Bard of Avon to the youngsters through theatre, and gives them a chance to interact with Ruskin Bond. Pupeeteer Dadi Pudumjee dramatizes The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; and Gulzar will give a commentary on his translation of the classic Bengali tale for children Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne by Upendra Kishore Roychowdhry (which was also a Satyajit Ray film). There is also going to be an exhibition of artworks by some of the finest children’s book illustrators, as well as a chance to create your own graphic novel at any of the five workshops organized by Campfire, a publishing house that specializes in graphic novels.
Interestingly, initiatives such as Bookaroo, and Katha, don’t want to define children’s literature in the standard Enid Blyton mould. A lot of translated works of Indian writing are visible on the shelves of the Storyshop, and Bookaroo has a huge chunk of Indian authors and illustrators in their festival.
Writers Jeeva Raghunath, Ranjit Lal and Roopa Pai, will hold the storytelling session (Under the Kahani Tree); and illustrators such as Atanu Roy, Suddhasattwa Basu and Taposhi Ghoshal will doodle with the children on the Doodle Wall.
Geeta Dharmarajan, founder and executive director, Katha says, “The reality that should have hit us 60 years ago is hitting us now—reading is essential to cultivating well-rounded personalities.” And often, it does more.
Bookaroo is on at the IGNCA grounds, New Delhi, till 28 November.