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By Petr Horacek

I’m back from Delhi, but I can’t stop thinking about India. I had such a good time, I’ve seen so much, so many colours, I ate so much nice food and met so many lovely people. I thought I know Delhi from pictures, but I was so wrong. Delhi is continuous movement, sound, colours, smell, dust and light. You can’t take a picture of that.

I think it will take me some time before I can write about my trip to Delhi with some sense.  At the moment I don’t know where to start.

Of course, I went to Delhi to take part in the Bookaroo Festival of Children’s Literature.   My trip was sponsored by British School in Delhi. I went to the British School the day after my arrival. It is a lovely school, full of lovely children and friendly teachers. In the photograph you can see (from left) Bandita Phukan, Rosemarie Somaiah, Jitendra Thakur, Penny Dolan, Grant S. Clark, Wendy Cooling, Marcia Williams, Shamim Padamsee, Usha Venkatraman and me.

At the wonderful Sanskriti Kendra, AnandGram, Delhi

At the wonderful Sanskriti Kendra, AnandGram, Delhi

Children usually do like pictures, they like a good story and they enjoy the workshop, but teachers who are excited about picture books as much as the children make all the difference.  We had lots of fun and I’m very grateful to the British School for inviting me over.

The Bookaroo Festival itself was truthfully amazing. It took place at Sanskriti Kendra (a museum and artist’s retreat) in Delhi. It is beautiful place, looking almost as if it was designed for a children’s book festival. Here is the picture from the garden just before everything started.

Soon it all started. The garden was filling up with schools and parents with children. Everywhere you looked something exciting was going on – writers, illustrators, storytellers, workshops, even a puppet show.

Behind Bookaroo Festival of Children’s Literature are three lovely people. Jo, Swati and Venkatesh. I don’t know how they do it, but they do an incredibly good job. Not that they only manage to run the festival smoothly and make it a great success, but they are also incredibly good hosts, who looked after us so well all the time in Delhi, during the event and also after the festival. Of course the festival couldn’t be such a success without all the help from volunteers and without the sponsors and publishers.

All of us on this picture were staying in the same hotel and we had good fun together. Just looking at the photo makes me smile and I want to go back.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time


This was one of the last sessions of the Hindustan Times Bookaroo in the City programme supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT). The clock struck 10 and the children assembled in the hall at Bluebells Model School, Gurgaon, fell silent as Shamim Padamsee walked in. Shamim talked about the importance of books and also about parents and grandparents reading stories to children.

Then she introduced her book, Rebels in Rajasthan – a story about two kids Vaayu and Diya and their adventures with the magical flying jharoka. They have an uncle whose name is Uncle Jadoo, a special guest at the session. He performed some wonderful magic tricks for the children.

Magical Treat

Magical Treat

The two kids have to find seven clues which Uncle Jadoo knows about and also an evil Djinn is after the secret. The kids call their magical friend and the jharoka appears and they travel to Rajasthan passing through forts, sand dunes and reach a palace where they meet the Rajkumari Sundari and help her in a war. Their they escape on a camel named Hrumph. They find the first key which leads to the second clue.

The second story Shamim read out was a sequel to Rebels in Rajasthan called Poachers in Paradise. The magical jharoka takes Vaayu and Diya to Kashmir based on the second clue. Once in Kashmir, they face a dangerous hunter, whom they follow in a Shikara.

There they meet a dog who becomes their friend. The dog bites the hunter on his butt leading to his capture. The children find the third clue which will lead them to their third adventure.

The children were fascinated as Shamim read it out in animatedly with a bit of mimicry thrown in. The teachers also loved the session and were glad that this session was held at their school.

Kanika Govil

There was much horsing around on the last day of Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, when French artist, sculptor and bookmaker Louise-Marie Cumont met 21 children of the Matri Kiran School in Gurgaon.

All about horses

All about horses

After the initial introductions, Louise-Marie told the children about how she started stitching cloth books for her son when he was young, and showed them many of her unusual creations. With simple shapes and vibrant colours, the unconventional books at first inspired silent curiosity. And then a child pointed at an image and screamed “Octopus!” To which Louise-Marie’s response was “Yes, could be!” And that was cue enough for the children who then began voicing their own interpretations of the images.

One of her books used only army print fabric for its pages; and with minimal intervention by the author – merely adding eyes here and a set of teeth there – the khaki curves in the cloth became faces. The book was an amazingly innovative and poignant way to portray violence and it had the children, teachers as well as support staff present in the room fascinated.

Having stoked the children’s interest and enthusiasm, the author decided that it was their turn to display their creativity. We distributed sheets of paper to all of them, each with a black horse made on it, and they were given colourful strips of cloth to create their own selves on paper, in any pose they liked. With scissors and glue in hand, and a brief to “make anything!” in mind, the children let their imaginations gallop. Their enthusiasm was clearly infectious as we soon had teachers, other staff members and even the principal asking for their own sheets.

By the end of the session, all the dark horses had transformed into brilliant and vibrant vehicles of colourful imaginations. And we couldn’t have left more pleased.

Nishtha Vadehra

On the final day of Hindustan Times Bookaroo in the City powered by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust I was privileged to accompany Penny Dolan to the Gairatpur Baas Panchayat School, where we were joined by children from Baas State School and S D Adarsh Vidyalaya School.

Penny is a writer of picture books and novels, a storyteller and a playwright. She is based in Yorkshire, England and has performed in libraries, museums, art galleries and historic sites as well as schools.

Happy faces

Happy faces

The day started early and we only got a little bit lost going to Tikli Bottom. Even so, the first group of children was eagerly waiting and although not quite the age group Penny was expecting, she engaged them immediately with a fun, tongue-twisting, repeat after me game. Nonsense words break down all language barriers. Hand clapping, thigh slapping, actions and facial expressions, high voice, low voice, loud and quiet.

Penny used all these devices to captivate all ages through four sessions. The younger children were encouraged to share songs they knew and learn a new song with actions. They all joined in eagerly. I spotted one of the teachers transcribing the words. The older children were given an insight into how stories become books with illustrations and how things may change through the editing stages. The best part of all was the story telling.

Penny adapted stories for the cultural differences and made sure the language was at the appropriate level. I loved chappati man who was eaten eventually by the tiger. There were also readings and adaptations from Penny’s published books. Big Bad Blob seemed very popular. One boy said he loved stories about witches and Penny made one up on the spot, a variation of a Russian folk tale.

A discussion with the teachers who felt they had learnt so much was followed by the most delicious lunch, which we shared under the tree in the beautiful surroundings of Tikli Bottom.


Wendy Knight

I was to meet Simi Srivastava, the founder of Kathashala for the Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City session powered by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust at Delhi Public School, Sushant Lok in Gurgaon. Simi, a life skills teacher with professional training in theatre, creative music and movement, mime and puppetry is more than a storyteller. She uses every ounce of herself to entertain but also to teach through the power of stories.

Story within a story

Story within a story

Simi explained to me how wanting to spend more time with her own child led to a career change that would set her on the path to setting up Kathashala. There was a slight hiccup when the school thought that they weren’t expecting us when we were almost there. But Simi mesmerized me with stories about stories

The phone rang. We were expected at the school after all and a warm welcome awaited us. Thirty-five grade seven children were excited to be chosen. Apparently a naughty class but Simi soon settled them down and began to weave her magic.

‘Who likes sweets?’ Well, who doesn’t? The story of a boy who would not stop eating sweets began. The children were there right with that boy being taken to the great Gandhiji to learn from his wisdom. The mother in the tale was upset when Gandhi told them to go away for one month. It turned out that Gandhi liked sweets too and had to be sure he could give them up before telling someone else to. The children learnt to ‘Walk the Talk’. We shouldn’t preach what we are not prepared to do ourselves.

‘Close your eyes’. Next, the children were imagining a remote village with no power or water. With just a few simple props we were in that village as a poor woman prepared her daily chapatis – with an extra roti for her son who was to return from the city sometime soon. Simi transformed herself into an old man with a limp who took the spare chapati for himself and just uttering the words: ‘The good you do remains with you, the evil you do comes back to you.’  The children were soon joining in his refrain.

Good and evil

Good and evil

After days of this the woman was cross. He never says, ‘Thank you’, she thought to herself and plotted to poison him but good sense prevailed. She made a fresh chapati and it so happened that the son returned that day and it was he who ate it. Only then did the woman understood the old man’s words. The children understood the implications too.

Simi had lovely bookmarks for everyone and the session ended with enthusiastic thanks, gifts of plants and huge smiles all round.

Wendy Knight

I reached the MCD Primary Girls School in Govindpuri an hour before the Bookaroo in the City session there to ensure that the preparations were in order, especially the mike. The lapel mike is of special significance for Valentina as her sessions are very energetic with puppets springing out of bags and having a life of their own.

The children of the school mistook me for the visiting speaker and a mini-mobbing session happened. Fortunately, the teachers were at hand and explained that the speaker was yet to come.

They are all ears

They are all ears

As I made my second entry with Valentina I realised that the children had been briefed. They were a bit mellower. After a brief introduction, once Valentina took over, the atmosphere was electrifying. While we were supposed to face a 200-strong audience from classes 1 through 3, we realised that the entire school had stopped classes. They were everywhere – peeping out of the windows, on the stairs and in the courtyard where Valentina was performing.

Valentina’s beautiful voice, alternating between a bass elephant’s voice and a squeaky rabbit’s voice made the children roll on the floor. Some could not contain their excitement and simply stood up in their places, almost ready to walk up to her. Every rhythm, every melody was being keenly followed and sung along. The teachers too joined in.

Valentina’s energy and vitality communicated itself to the children instantly and by the end of the session, she was surrounded by all of them – some to shake hands, others to touch the puppets or hold her finger and I even noticed a few pulling her kurta with a little bit of trepidation. An experience that completely moved both of us.

We got into a conversation with some of the older children about how to create stories from lessons in social studies, math and so on. The teachers wanted us to come more often. The principal, in fact, requested that we should address the issue of special needs children with this kind of storytelling. She wondered if we could do this on a regular basis. I wish we could!

At the end, when it was time to leave, the scenes around the school were very touching. There were collective byes from huddles of children. Every window of the school had children with extended arms saying bye to us till our car moved out of their vision (line of sight). Did I have a tear in my eye?

One line that the principal said stayed in my heart – “No one has ever done something lively like this with so much love with these children” (“Itney utsah aur pyar se koi in bacchon se pehle nahi mile).

The Hindustan Times-Bookaroo in the City programme is supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT).

Swati Roy

Maybe because it was Diwali time, we got three for the price of one at Bookaroo’s outreach programme, Bookaroo in the City (BIC), at the majestic Lodhi Garden this morning. All the little ones and also the overgrown ones had a fabulous time with three sessions – Flavour Of Art’s Garden of Stories, Indu Harikumar’s illustrations and Nakul Sharma’s (of Itihaas) story-telling. The Hindustan Times-BIC is supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT).

The children from different NGO schools gave us all that we have grown to expect over the past few days. As Akriti, Abhilasha and I assisted at the different sessions, we all got to sample the children’s innocence, bubbling energy, their creativity and expression.

Children from Ektara trying their hand at illustrating

Children from Ektara trying their hand at illustrating

While Flavour of Art had the kids go around the sprawling lawns to draw inspiration, we had some transforming their handprints into animals with Indu. Others sat in a tight circle listening to the stories of Tenali Raman. Art was created all over, through drawings, sketches, stories and much more. On one side of the mound that was our campsite for the day, we had boys and girls draw all the objects that they had picked from all over the place along with their volunteers turning long sheets of white into a beautiful rhapsody of colour.

They then wrote their stories on the back. The particularly memorable ones were a little boy’s sketch of one the Lodhi tombs and a little girl’s incredibly colourful bird. Meanwhile, at Indu’s session, Indu and Jo (Williams) learnt a new word, ‘Gonga’ – the Hindi word for snail and when asked what colour the teeth were, the kids gleefully tell us, “Yellow!” Two things that I learned right there.

As snacks (pineapple sandesh included) were hurriedly devoured, a totally random observation was a rather worried looking kid from Torch who refused to tell Akriti what the matter was. She finally confessed to her teacher that she had lost her I.D. Card. So, I suppose its safe to say that we all had our ups and our very own “downs”. We sincerely hope the child finds her card somewhere soon.

The grounds were abuzz with activity as stationery was handed out then gathered and all present revisited their childhoods with lollipops. Proud little children posed with their artwork and one couldn’t help but wonder how many great artists of the future we had crossed paths with today. A day of laughter, running around and excitement came to a rather apt end with the kids jumping in joy for having successfully finished all the sessions.

On a personal note, as new volunteers walked in to replace us for the remainder of the festival, there was a silent moment of sadness within each one of us. We had just remembered that it was our last day and while we’ll definitely come back next year, we will miss everybody at Bookaroo. Thanks for the brilliant experience and here’s hoping to see you all soon.


Vini Nair

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