Balachandran, a student of seventh standard, is poor, and has lost his father at a young age. He and his siblings live in a village. Father Chinnappan, a priest, visits them and persuades his mother to allow him to join the seminary. His mother gives permission and Balachandran’s name is changed to Brother Freetus.
Narrated in simple language, the story depicts the conflict and confusion in the boy’s mind. He wonders if he will be the same carefree and happy boy once he joined the seminary. He expresses his doubts to his mother who helps him. A good read for the 10+ level.
‘Khushboo Aur Badboo’ by Sara Joseph is the story of Annie, a very poor young girl who is very cruelly and harshly treated by her teachers at school. Annie is nicknamed ‘Kokanchira’, meaning a corpse. She is reprimanded and abused for no fault of hers. Some teachers humiliate her by raising questions on her personal hygiene and cleanliness. Annie wants to revolt but lacks the courage.
It is a sad story. The teachers do not realize how impoverished and helpless the poor are. They may have no money but they too have self-esteem. Annie shows her resentment by refusing to have the mid-day meal consisting of evil-smelling rice, as the rich have no empathy for the poor. A must read for the twelve+ age group.
The third story in this collection, ‘Shayaja Ki Jagah’ by S Sanjeev, is about a young girl who lives in a world of make-believe. While waiting at the local hand pump to fill her buckets for her home, Shayaja stares into space and imagines travelling into space and looking down to see if she can spot her home! She has heard stories of scientists planning a trip into space. She wonders if she would find streams, ocean and fish there. As she day dreams, she is jolted back to reality by her aunt in the queue as it is her turn at the pump. A simple story portraying a typical childhood and the habit of roaming the world of imagination.
The illustrations by the three artists, in colour, though attractive seem rather stylized.
SCHOOL KI ANKAHI KAHANIYAN: TEEN-CHAUTHAYI, AADHI KEEMAT, BAJJI-BAJJI By Mohammad Khadir Babu.
Illustrated by Suresh BV; PATHYA PUSTAK
By Nuaiman. Illustrated by Chitra KS; SCHOOL KE DOST
By Joopka Subhadra. Illustrated by Sowmya Anantakrishna. All three translated from the original Telugu.
Eklavya/Parag Initiative, with support of the Tata Trust, 2019, pp. 38, R145.00
The first story by Mohammad Khadir Babu centres around a boy in the seventh standard who has to buy his books for the eighth standard second hand from his friends. The boy being poor bargains with Ramesh who is selling the books. Ramesh asks for three-fourth of the price while wants to pay half price. The manner in which the boy manages to convince Ramesh to reduce the price is hilarious. In the same way, he manages to get notebooks from another friend. He takes out the blank pages of those notebooks and stitches them together,as he has no money to buy new ones.
The colourful illustrations will help the young to visualize symbols like ½. 3/4, the weighing scale and other measurements.
Pathya Pustak by Nuameen is about Sahir who is rearing to join school like his other siblings. The excitement of wearing a neat uniform, carrying a tiffin-box, a school bag and an umbrella fascinates him. He starts school and has to walk miles to first attend a madrassa in the mornings and then rush to school. He is very fond of his grand-mother who he thinks is the best story-teller and a singer as well. So the busy school schedule and activities at the madrassa make him feel distanced from her and other members of the family.
The teacher tells his students to identify the names of the people illustrated in the lessons to prepare them for the exams. While reading the names out aloud, Sahir adds a Muslim name, Rashid on his own. When asked why he did that, Sahir says there was no Muslim names among those read out. That gives a jolt to the teacher and Sahir’s class-mates.
The story is thought provoking. Sahir thinks beyond his years, the illustrations are colourful.
School ke Dost by Joopka Subhadra is a story of two friends, Shreelata and Suvarna, one from the lower caste and the other from the upper caste. To attend the flag hoisting ceremony, they need to go dressed very neatly to school. Shreelata being very poor has no new dress. Her friend who has three sets of uniform, offers her one. Shreelata is hesitant and afraid as she realizes the repercussions. But Suvarna insists and promises to keep it a secret. She packs the uniform in Shreelata’s bag without her parents’ knowledge .
Both attend the ceremony and Shreelata returns her friend’s clothes the same day. Suvarna’s mother opens her daughter’s bag by chance and when she finds the dress in it, she questions her daughter who tells her mother the whole story. The mother is furious and orders her to burn the dress. Suvarna is very upset and crying bitterly, she runs with the dress to her friend’s house.
This touching story highlights how the caste system continues to plague Indian society. This ‘different tale’ should be read by the young as a wake up call against the iniquities and othering even the young face.
Written and illustrated by Antye Daam. Originally published in the German by Carl Hanser (Verlag Munchen, 2012). Translated into Hindi by Tina Gopal.
Eklavya/Parag Initiative, funded by the Tata Trust, Mumbai, 2019, pp.64, R65.00
The translation of Kiki has been supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut. Aantye has to shift to a village from the city on account of her father’s job. Initially she misses her old home, her friends and her stuffed toy dog which she cannot find among the packed cartons. But she accepts the change once she joins school and befriends a girl named Berbel with whom she gets to appreciate the green open spaces and the bounty of nature. However, it is with a girl called Kiki that she develops a real bond. Being neighbours,they meet often, play with dolls,make magic juices and create toys. Kiki’s obsession with becoming an archaeologist when she grows up leads her to go on ‘digs’ with Aantye in the neighbouring fields and collect objects to clean and classify, enough to create a mini museum. They even stumble on a hillock on the remnants of a treasure, with big fat pearls which can be dated back to ancient times.
The tale ends on a sad note with the death of Kiki in an accident. Aantye places Kiki’s favourite doll on her coffin when she is buried.
The author, Aantye Daam born in Wiesbaden in Germany in 1965, is the writer of children’s books and has won many awards.
Veena Zutshi is a freelance critic.