Stories waiting to be told

Writer and founder of Bhaashaa, Swati Raje recently won an award for one of her books, Prawaas. She shares her thoughts on children’s literature with Vrunda Juwale

A wheat seed is dreaming of finding a star in its name in the sky because the wind told it , ‘if your life is of use to someone, a star appears in your name in the sky’. The seed journeys around till it accidentally gets pushed under the soil by a farmer. It lies in those hot surroundings for a long time. Then, one day, water drops come, bringing it great relief. When the soil around it loosens, it manages to come out and breathe free. On growing higher, it looks at the sky and is overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of stars there!

Swati Raje’s book Prawaas not only captures the seed germination process beautifully but sends out a message too — your life is fulfilled when you live for someone. The book, a part of three books published by Jyotsna Prakashan, Pune, recently won her the Parvatibai Avhad award given by Mumbai-based Sane Guruji Arogya Mandir.

Like Prawaas, the other two books — Rasta and Paus, too catch attention with their lyrical text and excellent illustrations (by Chandramohan Kulkarni). Rasta tells the story of a lamb whose curiosity to find out what lies beyond its daily path leads to the discovery of a village and the development that follows with it, while Paus talks about how a simple act of building a pond in a small village causes communal discord and how it is the children who bring back harmony to the village.

“I call them the books of 3 Ps — Philosophy (Prawaas), Progression (Rasta) and Peace (Paus),” says Raje, adding, “because at one level, these are children’s stories but at the macro level, they are talking about the complexities of the adult world — the problems of urbanisation, religious intolerance and so on,” she adds.
If the books are impressive, the illustrator should share the credit along with her, Raje says. “A good co-relation between words and visuals is important in children’s books. Since kids find visuals more appealing, you have to search for imageries familiar to them.”

Of course, with changing times, there is a need to give fresh thought to content too, she says. “We need to have children’s literature that is somewhere between the value-based Amar Chitra Katha and the catchy comic books,” she feels.

What prompted Raje, an erstwhile journalist to get into writing children’s books was her observation that there aren’t too many good ones available in the market, and the ones that are there do not sell well at book fairs. “Going to various national and international book fairs opened my eyes. Not only is our presence negligible but our books too fail to attract buyers at fairs. The reason is not a lack of good writers or illustrators but a lack of commitment, seriousness and dedication to generate content for children in India,” she says.
On her part, Raje is involved in various interesting projects to engage children. Four years ago, she founded Bhaashaa, a centre for preservation and enhancement of regional languages.

For the last two years, Bhaashaa has been organising Katha Yatra, a festival that attracts children and adults alike. The festival includes story reading, dance, drama, puppetry, workshop, quiz and so on. There are many other activities that Bhaashaa has taken up too — a children’s film festival, mobile libraries, creating book corners in paediatric clinics, a dance-poetry stage show and so on.

“Our worldwide web is expanding but we are also getting isolated from each other. It’s through language and literature that we can come closer,” she feels.

Towards that end, she has concrete plans which include setting up documentation centres, organising book fairs, preserving oral literature and hordes of other activities.

Bhaashaa is open to volunteers and funds. To know more, check out their website

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