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It is no easy task to capture and hold the interest of a bunch of 9-12 year olds for a whole hour. Constantly fidgeting and chattering, they simply don’t see why they owe you their attention. Priya Kuriyan, illustrator and animation film designer, not only managed to accomplish the feat, she did it twice in a row.

Art display

Day 7 of HT-Bookaroo in the City, supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, saw Priya interact with about 100 students of the French School, divided over two sessions, the first with students of grades 5 and 7, and the second with grade 4 students. After initial introductions, Priya took over and told the children about herself and the visual art of storytelling. Soon after, the lights were switched off and, for a brief while, there was silence. Projected onto a huge screen covering almost an entire wall, Priya’s artworks instantly met with a collective, audible gasp. She had their attention all right.

The presentation began with her picture-book illustrations of the elephant who couldn’t sleep, and another who had a snout instead of a trunk, only to have it restored by a crocodile who charitably pulled on it with his mouth. As she showed the children her pictures of a lion whose snores left the whole jungle distressed, she asked if anyone in their family snored, and they responded with eager nods and snores.

Taking the example of the monkey in the illustration jumping on the lion’s swelling belly, Priya gave them the naughty idea of trying the same with their snoring fathers, eliciting many giggles and chuckles. The children had already been shown some of her books and had read them, so they enthusiastically recognized characters like Ali and Bajrangbali when they saw them on the screen.

The right questions

Priya then went on to explain to her audience the various stages of making a picture book, from the first step of visualising each page through simple line drawings, to finally getting it published. She also showed them her illustrations at various stages of development. Sharing her own experiences, Priya talked about where ideas for illustrations can come from. She also passed around some of her sketches as well as books that she has worked on. Encouraging everyone to use their imaginations and sketch, even if it is to make doodles of their teachers (“just be careful while doing it!”), she told them that enjoying drawing is more important than being good at it.

We had been warned beforehand that we were dealing with a keen audience, and the length of both Q&A sessions confirmed this. The children were extremely eager to ask Priya about her work, the medium she uses and even her favourite colour. By the end, she had earned several fans who asked her for her autograph, and some budding artists among them came forward to share their own artwork. Before leaving, the teacher in charge asked her to draw a little something for the school as a keepsake, and she happily drew them an elephant, her favourite animal. “And our school emblem,” the teacher replied.

By Nishtha V

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On the seventh day of Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in The City, powered by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, it was Deepa Agarwal’s turn with the children of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Air Force Station, Arjangarh.

The principal, Ghanshyam Das, informed us that the school was organizing its Book Week. Deepa acknowledged that she was delighted to learn about the activity. She then asked the children if they knew why she was so happy.

“It is because I am a writer and I have a special connection with books,” she pointed out before talking about folk epics, the epics of India and a particular folk tale of Uttarakhand.

This was the first question that was put to the children: can a girl be brave? “Yes,they can,” chorused the children. Had they heard of Rajula and Malushahi, asked Deepa as she launched into the folktale about a young girl, Rajula and Malushahi, the king.

Magic moments

Deepa talks of how there is a problem in every folktale. Rajula wants to marry Malushahi but her father is against it. What a dilemma! The children are extremely focused on the narrative give Deepa their undivided attention. Then she talks about a little place near Ranikhet and someone in the back tells her friend she has seen on the train route she takes. Meanwhile, in the story, Rajula has changed herself into a bird to avoid detection. As the magical story unfolded, Deepa switched between English and Hindi to hold the children in thrall.

 

Could the children guess what little thing Rajula changed into next – an insect, an ant or a grasshopper? “No, she changed into a flea,” Deepa told them. I knew that the children there too wished to have the magic power to transform. At the end of the story, a child asked: “Do Rajula and Malushahi get married?” and Deepa can’t help but tell them the rest of it.

Finally, in a creative writing bout, the children are asked to write about what insect they’d like to become and why? We had spectacular responses – some wanted to change into princes, princesses, butterflies, tigers, lions, insects and even a dog and a lot of Aabracadabra and ‘giligili choos’ come our way. But a refreshing response was Raghav’s wish to become his sports teacher who is to be transferred soon.

Vini Nair

On the last morning of the first week of the Hindustan Times-Bookaroo In The City (supported by Sir Ratan Tata Trust) session, I was transported from the swanky colony of Greater Kailas II from where I picked up writer-illustrator Indu Harikumar to the slums of Gole Kuan, Tehkand village in Okhla Phase1.

We reached the gates of Deepalaya, Gole Kuan around 9.40 am and were warmly welcomed by Poonam, who ushered us into a room where thirty 8-10-year-old children were eagerly waiting for us.

Indu started of with her story My Handy Zoo. “My hand walked into a zoo, taking the shape of Bow-Wow the Dog. As Bow-Wow walked through the zoo, he met his friends the snail, peacock, horse, giraffe, rabbit and the elephant one by one. It was an interesting experience as my hand transformed into these various animals one after the other.” It was absolutely delightful.

Indu drew the animals on the board and the children recreated them on paper. What beautiful images they were! The children enjoyed folding their fingers, placing their hands in different ways and tracing the outlines of the different animals. The eyes, mouth and colours brought life and expressions in the drawings. A few children were engrossed completely in the colouring and, quite naturally, they turned out wonderful pieces of art.

Total concentration

All the children were encouraged to experiment with their little fingers and create various animals like fish, deer and even a butterfly. Before we realized, the 60-minutes simply vanished and it was time to say bye to these little kids. “That was a very good and satisfying session,” observed Indu as she stepped into the car.

Yes, the happy faces and cheerful smiles were proof enough.

For this session of the You Read, They Learn Hindustan Times Bookaroo in the City powered by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust we were visiting TORCH, a NGO working with street children from the Nizamuddin basti.

As Suvidha Mistry entered their single room the children all greeted her warmly with smiling hello and handshake. A couple of the older boys were very keen to help Suvidha as she stuck 4 large sheets of paper together on the floor and then prepared individual paint pots for each of the children.

The coming together of lines, circles and dots

Clutching the paint pots the children stood round the paper and listened very attentively as Suvidha explained what she wanted them to do – her teaching experience coming to the fore. First, they were to paint several small dots until she told them to move round, when they had to paint large circles. A short gap to exchange colours and they set off again. When the time came to stop, they were to paint a line. The children repeated this a few times and then continued to the accompaniment of music – their lines representing how loud or quiet, lively or soft the music was.

The favourite activity was holding the brush full of paint over the paper and just letting it drop. All too quickly there was hardly any white space left on the paper and everyone was truly amazed at the wonderful picture which had been created simply with dots, circles and lines. Suchitra and her volunteers were eagerly watching and devising how they could use some of these ideas in the future.

Suvidha agreed to the children’s request to paint for them and proceeded to paint whatever they asked – a man on a motorcycle, a car, a lion, a dog, an elephant – so much so that one of the children said with reverent awe, “You can draw whatever we ask!” The children then gave Suvidha suggestions of stories to link all the characters and animals.

When she left, the children were already copying Suvidha’s paintings and could be heard discussing different story lines – all from one small dot.

Jo Williams

It was an enthralling and heartwarming morning at Samarpan Foundation, Vasant Kunj. As Simi Srivastava and I walked into that courtyard with the principal, Ms Wadia, we were surrounded by a sea of children greeting us, waving at us and gleefully making it clear that they were happy to have us. Supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, the Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City programme had arrived in their school.

When all the preparations for the session were done, in walked the most excited and the most diverse group of children for Simi’s storytelling. As she started, she asked them if they liked books, which books they had read and so on.

But what got them going was when she asked how many of them read. A thousand hands (it seemed like that) went up. A little boy told us he liked ‘Vikram Betal’ the best – he and Simi agree that the part where Betal carries Vikram on his shoulders was the coolest.

The show begins

It was time for the story to begin and the room went dark. A beautiful shape came upon the sparkly white screen. Lots of hushed voices in the room wondered aloud. What was it – a tree? A banana tree! A flower? As it turned out, it was a star.

Thus, began the story about a Star who had to give up one family to go live with a school of colorful fish and the mean Queen of the fishes who took his shine from him. The narration was playful, incorporated with voices and sounds that had the entire room hooting with laughter.

At the end of the story with a moral, the children repeated each every word of what they had just heard, but a little one at the back, Sonu was the star of the day as he remembered the two conditions that the Queen of the fishes put forward to the star. There was a huge round of applause for him.

Smiling and waving, we left each other and a fun-filled learning experience came to end with a promise of getting together again to learn more and have more fun. Ms Wadia took us to a sewing project that was part of Samarpan and we met even cuter sweethearts at the crèche who greeted us.

Vini Nair

Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City continued on its merry way. Supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, BIC’s session at Deepalaya School, Sheikh Sarai was the movie, Sunshine Barry and the Disco Worms.

A 50-odd bunch of 11-14-year-olds trooped down to their small hall in the basement of the school. After a warm welcome and the introduction we started the movie.

Directed by Thomas Borch Nielsen, this is the story of an adventurous worm, Barry who strives to keep the insect world dancing to the funky sounds of classic disco. Barry is an optimistic worm at the bottom of the food chain. One day his father gives him an old box of office supplies with a vintage disco record buried deep inside. From the moment those first notes hit his ears, Barry’s body starts to move and he’s completely hooked.

Barry goes singalong

This is his ticket to a more exciting life, and if he can assemble a band in time they may have a shot at winning the upcoming annual song contest. Just as Barry sets out in search of some talented musicians, however, the contest organizers inform him that worms are ineligible to compete. Undaunted, Barry continues his efforts to form a band that isn’t afraid of the funk. Just as the band begins to get in the groove, tragedy strikes and they are scooped out of the ground to be sold as live bait.

What happened next is the story of the movie. Do grab hold of a copy of the DVD from the Children’s Film Society India (CFSI) if you can. The movie has a lot of background details and the fantastically designed body language of the worms whose tail-gestures make up for the lack of arms appealed to the children.

The movie reminded us that we should never give up on our dreams, follow our heart, be proud of our children in whatever they are good at, believe in ourselves and our friends.

Jayoti Guha

High interest levels

Day Five turned out to be a day of excitement at the Delhi Public Library, Sarojini Nagar, which was the next stop for Hindustan Times “You Read They Learn”-Bookaroo in the City, Bookaroo Trust’s outreach programme that is supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. This too was a back-to-back session.

You could sense the excitement as you walked in past the lift on the ground floor where a teacher was excitedly telling the waiting group of students how to be silent inside the library. That instruction was forgotten two floors later. We were all set to welcome 200 students. As they filed in to the large hall, the count went up to 335 and there was a mad scramble to get the extra art material ready for the second session. Thanks to Sudha Paliwal of the DPL, we managed it.

BSS Public School, Mukherjee Public School, Rattan Chand Arya Public School, Khalsa Middle School, Navyug School, N P Co-Ed Secondary School, DTEA Senior Secondary School SKV No1 had all sent students.

Manas gets many helping hands

Manas R Mahapatra, head of the National Centre for Children’s Literature wing of the National Book Trust, opened proceedings with a very lively storytelling calling on many children from the audience to come up and assist him by acting out the stories, whilst those still seated were encouraged to join in with various animal noises or shouts of encouragement. At one point Manas was almost mobbed – so eager were the children to volunteer. The excitement and energy levels were very high as Manas drew to his finale.

A feeling of calm and peace was restored by the Flavour of Art Foundation team who asked all the children to close their eyes and listen to the Buddhist bowl of singing. As a general feeling of well-being spread round the room a member of the Flavour of Art Foundation, ably helped by lollipops generously provided by these alumni of the Delhi College of Art, explained that Art comes from the heart. To demonstrate this, a short story was told about the colours of the rainbow.

The schools spread out round the room and proceeded to create their own pictures showing the role of colours in their lives. With so many children floor space was at a premium but every square inch was soon covered with vibrant pictures of rainbows, trees, flowers, fantastical characters and much, much more.

Flavour of art!

Meanwhile a caricature artist, Ravinder Singh Bagga, was sitting quietly observing and sketching some of the children and teachers, much to everyone’s amusement. As the countdown to end the session began there were cries of anguish as all the children wanted to finish their pictures before leaving, so there ensued much feverish colouring, notably amongst the teachers who had obviously been as inspired by the story as the children and were hurriedly adding the finishing touches to their pictures.

The children left in a very orderly fashion, but there was a glint in each of their eyes and a smile on their lips. Delhi Public Library, in Sarojini Nagar, was not a silent place on Tuesday morning.

By Jo Williams and Swati Roy

It was mythology on Day Five of Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City (supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust) programme. A session, on Krishna, was conducted by Campfire Team’s Neelam and Rajesh in the Andhra Educational Society (Andhra School) at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg in New Delhi.

Children joining Rajesh and Neelam

The students were from class 3 and had many ideas of Krishna and his various heroic deeds. They were an active audience and participated in discussions with Neelam on Krishna. Campfire specialises in graphic novels for children.

Krishna, for them, was a bold person who had done various deeds of bravery in his lifetime and they actually knew a lot about him. While Neelam actively engaged the students, Rajesh drew various illustrations on the charts on Krishna, Kamsa and even Kaalia Naag whom Krishna had defeated.

The students came forward and shared various stories about Krishna and his deeds, even going up on stage to help Rajesh with his illustrations, draw speech bubbles on his drawings and writing imaginary dialogues in them.

The boys and girls there seemed to give the impression of being keen competitors. While we were leaving, the students requested Neelam to organise a drawing competition. Neelam promised that she would do so another time. We were flooded with requests to stay back. Overall, the session could unhesitatingly be labelled as a grand success.

By Akriti Agarwal

Day Three of Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City, supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust saw the first double bill session of the season. Two back-to-back sessions with Aabid Surti at MCD Malviya Nagar and Aarohan brought the watching children to their feet more than once. By the time he was half-way through, there was a general bonhomie in the room that had to be seen to be believed. The children too got up and joined Aabid to tell stories.

Audience participation!

He started off with a storytelling session with the young girls of MCD School, Malviya Nagar. He encouraged them to tell stories and made them understand the moral behind every story. Later on, he himself told stories to the girls, one of which was the story of a mouse with seven tails. Excitement and creativity set the atmosphere for the morning. He wanted students to understand that they should think before taking action and also never listen to those people who only talk ‘rubbish’. The girls participated enthusiastically.

The second part of the session took place with the students of Aarohan in which Aabid talked about water stories. He went on to tell them how precious a resource water is and what we can do to save water. One doesn’t always need top-class facilities to do some good. All one needs is the will to fulfill one’s aim. And one always does not need to think global. Thinking local, at times, is a big help.

Making the point about water

Charity begins at home. Likewise, one should start saving water at home first before taking on the world. All that is needed is to be ensured is that no tap is leaking in the house. The basic aim behind this thinking is that one may not be able to save the Ganga, but one can easily save a drop of water from a river. According to Aabid, if you decide something and want to fulfill it then the whole universe helps out.

By Abhilasha Yadav

Arefa Tehsin’s session at Kendriya Vidyalaya, AFS, Rajokri started with a warm welcome from school. Students of classes IX and X attended this session of Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City, supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust.

Life in the wild

Arefa who is Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur has just written the book, Iora and the Quest of Five. It is the story of Iora, a highly inquisitive and spirited young girl, who lives in the hidden world, Twitterland. This book is about her adventurous journey to save her father and all of Twitterland from the dark forces.

While introducing the children to the plot of her book, Arefa took them on a voyage into the realms of mystery and excitement. After finishing the story, the snake enthusiast went on to give a presentation on significance on snakes.

In her own style, the wildlife conservationist tried to egg the children’s enthusiasm in wildlife to a more practical approach. She wanted them to understand that Man is not alone in this world. Coexistence is the order of the day. Human beings believe so much in myths, that they forget their own intelligence and wisdom and stop listening to their own minds. I never had thought that snakes would be such a fascinating topic for conversation.

“We should,” said Arefa, “learn to respect and co-exist with nature.” It was really enlightening to hear her speak her mind. She tried to alleviate all the fears and myths prevalent about snakes. The principal too added that when one enters the jungle, an unprovoked animal never attacks humans. But the reverse does not hold true.

If a snake enters a house, it is inevitable that most people would opt to hunt it down and kill it. Arefa tried to make them understand that nature is the very basis of our existence. The spellbound students wanted more. The session was, at once, humorous and thought provoking.

 

By Abhilasha Yadav