Pakistani actor, model, and author Mira Sethi’s recently released debut collection of seven short stories, Are You Enjoying?, brings out contemporary life in Pakistan, with themes ranging from adultery to politics, class divide, loneliness, patriarchy, homosexuality, #MeToo, religious identity, and national pride.
Set in Islamabad, ‘Mini Apple’ is a story about Javed, a divorced actor turned TV journalist, who enters into a relationship with his neighbor, Marianne Almond, an economic officer at the American Embassy. After having dated for a few weeks, however, Marianne leaves suddenly for the US without informing Javed, leaving him heartbroken.
‘Breezy Blessings’, set in Karachi, is a story about Mehak, a 22-year-old struggling actress who lands her first lead role. The story underlines #MeToo and exploitation in the showbiz world. Along the way, Mehak realizes that being a good actor means to “make a pact with yourself that the job came before—and would withstand—the small treacheries detected by the heart.”
‘A Man for His Time’, set within a university campus in Lahore, highlights, among other things, violence in the name of honor.
‘Tomboy’, a modern story set in Karachi, is the story about two childhood best friends who decide to marry—even though the girl in the pair is a lesbian.
‘A Life of Its Own’, a story in two parts, reflects different facets of the country, such as its politics, patriarchal attitudes, and the huge class divide between the rich and the poor.
The title story ‘Are You Enjoying?’, set in Lahore, is about 27-year-old Soni who embarks on an affair with a 47-year-old married man, Asher. While projecting the secret lives of the super-elite in present-day Pakistani society, the story also draws attention to other complex issues, such as addiction.
All in all, the book highlights aspects of Pakistan’s culture that not many people are aware of. Moreover, it sheds light on the fact that though life in urban Pakistan is changing every day, people still routinely struggle with ideas of personal freedom and identity, particularly those belonging to more traditional, conservative backgrounds.
Neha Kirpalis a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.
These Americans is Jyotsna Sreenivasan’s debut collection of stories. She is the child of immigrants from India and was born and raised in Ohio. Her previous publications include a novel And Laughter Fell From the Sky as well as short stories in various literary anthologies and journals. She was a finalist for the 2014 PEN Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. The present collection of stories is unique among such collections since it includes eight short stories and a novella Hawk, thusproviding readers a view of Sreenivasan’s versatility and ease in a variety of prose forms.
These Americans features vignettes in the lives of Indian Americans in a variety of contexts. What is particularly interesting is that many of the stories exhibit Sreenivasan’s gift for social satire and sly humor.
In the opening story, “Mirror,” a newly arrived Indian woman gives birth to a daughter in an American hospital and unexpectedly embraces the American custom of viewing the baby’s entry into the world with the help of a mirror, a practice she had initially rejected.
Two stories “At Home” and “Revolution” offer us glimpses of the immigrant experience from the perspective of children. In “At Home,” Amiya is readjusting to life in an American neighborhood after having left for India, earlier in her childhood. The gaps in her cultural assimilation are revealed when she does not win the Santa Claus-making contest because she creates a skinny Santa. In “Revolution”, Neel returns to India and interviews his grandfather hoping to learn about his contribution to the Gandhian freedom struggle only to be disappointed with the revelation that his grandfather had not participated in any revolutionary activities. Although he is most fearful of his grandfather’s persona through the visit, it is the grandfather who intuitively understands Neel’s predicament when his divorced father announces his new love interest.
The story in which Sreenivasan’s talent for comedy really shines is “Mrs. Raghavendra’s Daughter” — a widowed Indian American mother praying and plotting for an Indian husband for her second-generation daughter gradually realizes and accepts her daughter’s relationship with a Caucasian woman. The elaborate deceptions of the mother and daughter to avoid confronting the truth about the daughter’s sexuality produce much of the comedy in this story.
Mother-daughter relationships and the generational tensions they embody in South Asian immigrant families surface as a unifying theme in many stories. Often the second-generation daughter assumes that the mother is critical of her but sometimes, as in “The Sweater,” the story ends with an epiphany that love cements these overtly fractious relationships. In some stories like “Perfect Sunday”, we are offered a glimpse of inter-racial marriage and the tenuous balance between financial worries and the fleeting joys of childhood road trips that families must negotiate.
The most memorable work in this collection is “Hawk”, which is technically a novella. In this work, Sreenivasan returns to her engagement with the immigrant mother-daughter relationship. In this story too, the daughter is plagued by doubts of having disappointed her successful OBGYN mother by failures in her career and marriage. However, the story goes on to reveal secrets such as the personal crisis of the mother that she has sheltered her daughter from. The story also offers a sharp critique of the official multiculturalism practiced in schools, promoting diversity superficially, while still remaining non-receptive to any curricular content that challenges normative ideas about culture, race, and religion. I learned from Sreenivasan’s blog that she is a secondary school teacher. It is very rare that I read a work that I think I would like to teach in my own first-year college composition courses. “Hawk” is one such provocative novella, which is likely to jumpstart discussions about the teaching of race in America. Sreenivasan’s stories offer many teachable moments, without losing the ability to entertain us. The poise with which she navigates the comic and tragic aspects of immigrant life left me wanting to read more from her.
Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
A child’s creativity has no bounds and holidays are the perfect time to explore their inquisitiveness. Once their imagination attains wings, it’s a magical world that transcends limits and expectations. For Indian American Thaathwik Arsha Abhilash from Brookfield, Wisconsin, Summer 2020 was that moment. When his third-grade teacher Mrs. Heitman came to school at the end of the academic year with summer treats, she fostered the idea of writing a story during the vacation.
“I always loved writing and when my teacher suggested that I write a fiction story about what I would like to do during summer, I was really excited. As I love magic and flying creatures, my immediate choice for protagonists were dragons,” said Thaathwik Arsha Abhilash, a fourth-grader from Burleigh Elementary School.
Started off as a short story with two chapters, his parents, Arsha and Abhilash, encouraged him to explore further and continue writing. “When he approached us with the first two chapters, we really liked the beginning and were curious to know how he would take it along. With pandemic and online sessions, we were in search of options to reduce the screen time and thought of giving this as a challenge and promised to publish the transcript once the story is completed. Just a single printed copy from a nearby shop was our plan and we never thought this would pan out to this extent,” beamed the mother, Arsha Abhilash with pride.
The 30 chapter book boasts of fantasy entwined with magic and creativity. Travel through portals, dragon kingdoms, magic potions, unique names, and fancy passwords; it has everything that a kid desires. Not just wishful thinking, one can also witness the keen interest of the author towards science and nature through his writing. Annotations on different elements of nature, scientific explanations on birds and correlating them with flying dragons, it’s a story that goes beyond illusion and even educates the young readers.
“Once the book was finished we as parents were indeed surprised but wanted to confirm its reach and potential before moving forward. We approached published authors and dear friends, Richard and K V Manikandan for a review and their feedback was endearing. They entrusted the thought that this book truly addresses the fervor and curiosity of a kid, written by a kid himself, which is actually a rarity to find. Hence, we landed upon the decision to publish it, considering it would also be an inspiration for more kids to come forward with their creations,” added Arsha, who herself is a blog writer and has a few published pieces in the Malayalam language to her credit.
Teachers from his school district, Elmbrook School District backed the first-time author in the process with his favorite second-grade teacher, Mrs. Indestad, and current fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Erica Phillips writing the foreword and blurb for the book, respectively. The book is now available to order through Amazon for US readers and is published by Pithal Books in India.
Not just in the writing process, Thaathwik also played an integral role in the illustration of the book. Being an artist himself, he had a fair perception of how the book should appear. Initially, he drew corresponding pictures for the first ten chapters but later, apprehending the time it consumed, he concentrated on finishing the book at the earliest. Eventually, a family friend and animator from India, Animesh Xavier came to their rescue and conceptualized the beautiful pictures for the book.
The book has so far received rave reviews from kids across the world with many of them posting online reviews and having lively discussions on the storyline with the author himself. However, for Thaathwik, who aspires to be an ornithologist cum writer, this is just a start and has already laid out plans for his upcoming book. “I have started writing for my second book named Apocalypse – an adventure of four friends with monsters. Am aiming for a series without limiting the story to a single book,” concluded the aspiring writer, who believes that one should always let their thoughts flow and never hold them back for any reason.
Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.
It is no surprise that India has a long and rich history. However, which books are the best for learning about the country’s amazing history? Below are ten of the best books that delve into India’s politics, culture, and economy.
“Guha’s IndiaAfter Gandhi is the must-read guide on the journey of modern India, post-independence from the British in 1947 to the 1990s” says Donald Roussel, a book blogger at Essayroo and Paperfellows. This book thoroughly covers India’s political history over the latter half of the 20th century, providing a great backdrop for India’s current economic and social climate within the country.
The history of modern India but in the much more precise and succinct style of Dr. Sashi Tharoor. Although this account is not unbiased like Guha’s India After Gandhi, readers will benefit from Sashi Tharoor’s fresh and unique perspective.
This book is the most in-depth account of the most remarkable experiment in economic development under democracy. Panagiriya explores the history of the economic path followed by Nehru to Manmohan Singh.
Tharoor explores the lasting damage committed by British rule in India. Funny and witty at times, Tharoor provides ample research lending credibility to his claims. “He systematically debunks any of the arguments that have been made about the positive benefits of British rule” explains Constance Moore, a writer at State Of Writing and OXEssays.
The Great Partitionis an essential read for anyone seeking to understand contemporary South Asia. The book looks at both the execution and aftermath of the partition between India and Pakistan. Khan thoroughly examines the contexts and decisions which led to the decision of partition as well as the horrific cost of human life and the impact it still has today.
This book is a collection of essays on Indian history by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. It is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the foundations of Indian polity. Sen focuses on the traditions of public debate and intellectual pluralism and Sen argues that is this argumentative history that will help shape India’s democracy today.
In Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s book, politics has truly created opportunities for people to participate in society. Mehta reveals that the persistent social inequality, along with the mistaken view of the state’s proper function and organization have modified and hindered the workings of democracy and its effects in innumerable ways. This book offers new ideological imaginations which illuminate the average Indian citizen’s discontents.
In Emergency Retold, Kuldip Nayar breaks down the Prime Minister’s move and re-sparks a debate on this dark period of events. The book provides the reader with the facts, lies and truths in an easily digestible style. It reveals the atrocities that were committed and who were the chief perpetrators of these crimes. This is a must-read about those harrowing dark months in India’s history.
The book narrates the bleak history of Kashmiri Pandits. Tortured, killed, and driven out of their homes by Islamic militants, this book highlights these horrible acts. The book goes on to describe how the Pandits lived out the rest of their days in exile.
Josy Joseph, an investigative reporter, takes a close look at the darker side of India-how money, business, power, and politics all collide. This 2016 novel is meticulously researched and highlights modern India’s democracy and how corruption and business and the political arena shape this modern nation.
These are 10 of the best books on modern Indian history. They provide a well-balanced look at all aspects of life within India, including the issues facing this great country.
Growing up in the misty mountain valleys of South India, I relished every moment spent with my nose in books and my feet in socks. Nestled in the range of Nilgiri hills, in a place too small to merit a dot on the map, is a place I was lucky enough to call home when I was growing up. The rainy climes and lack of digital entertainment options meant that we read as many books as we could, and used our imagination to come up with innovative games and entertainment options.
As we grew older though, we moved away from Children’s comics and fantasy books. As more serious fare gradually replaced this wonderful array, I never expected to revisit that wondrous feeling of picking up a children’s book where you know not what magical world opens up to you, and when. But that is exactly what happened when I had children here, and we journeyed into these marvelous worlds together. I had never read the Thomas Train series or the Curious George series or the Berenstain Bear series or any of the books by Dr. Seuss as a child and I got to experience all of this with them for the first time. Oh! The simple pleasures of reading a book like any of these for the first time are gift enough, but to be blessed to be able to read it for the first time as an adult is surreal. It was like growing up all over again. To that, I am eternally grateful.
One morning, the old body was off to a slow start, and I was yawning sleepily in the car. The elementary school-going son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches The Egg” and we did. The son & I were soon cracking up with loud laughter in the car – sleep had flown, and the nonsensical plot had truly woken me up surer than caffeine could. It is a marvelous book and takes one through the hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg.
I don’t think the little fellow knew about Dr Seuss’s quote on nonsense waking up the brain cells, but it worked like a charm:
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
Today, some of Dr. Seuss’s books are being pulled back to have a more inclusive perspective. We know the world changes, but the underlying sentiment he sought to share with the world is one of inclusivity, as he knew first-hand what it was to be ostracized. He knew what it meant to not feel welcomed, and most of his books encouraged us to open our minds and embrace the world.
The current news about the books makes for a great conversation starter on racism with children – for some of his books such as Sneetches examine racism, and how we are more alike than different in spite of our physical differences. I remember being shocked to learn Enid Blyton’s books came under similar criticism. When I was a child reading these books, all they did was transport me to a magical place. I was a brown-skinned girl growing up in South India, but that did not stop me from imagining the 90-ft Eucalyptus tree at the end of our street poked its topmost branches into the revolving worlds in the clouds. But when I re-read them now, I see the point: I must confess that this has led to many interesting discussions with the children.
As the world evolves, and we continue to grow as individuals, it also gives us an opportunity to look for places in the writing that were reflective of the times. For instance, what we identify as unacceptable today was considered acceptable 20-30 years ago. This, in my mind, is a hugely positive aspect of human-beings. Isn’t being able to stop, evaluate ourselves and become better versions of ourselves one of the greatest accomplishments of being human?
Ted Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in a well-off family. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother had a knack for reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.
Ted was a school-going child in Springtown, Massachusetts, when the First World War started. The Geisels were first-generation German Americans and though they were citizens at the time of war, the world around them did not treat them kindly. It is disheartening to read that young Ted Geisel was persecuted for his lineage. This boy went on to write books that are loved and adored by children of all races, religions, nationalities, and backgrounds. His books only ask for an open mind whether it was imagining an elephant gingerly climbing up a tree to hatch an egg or eating green eggs and ham.
His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work.
Excerpt from the book:
One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.
“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!”
Praise from the one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.
I am truly grateful for Dr. Seuss’s books. He and so many authors gave me the gift of finding wonder and magic in an immigrant’s journey. Read Across America Week was started during Dr. Seuss’s birthday week, and continues to enthrall children. In my son’s school, this year was the multicultural reading week. He told me about some excellent books they read in school this week: Under the Hijab, The Roots of Rap, My Papi has a Motorcycle, etc, and I am looking forward to reading these myself.
Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.
The Author’s life is revealed in poetic, cinematic, emotional imagery, as she tries to make sense of her extraordinary childhood split across five thousand miles of the Indian Ocean. Conceived in the womb of the Himalayas, born in sunny, untamed heart of Kenya in Africa, she is nurtured to spiritual and intellectual growth by the ancient thoughts and cultures of India and Africa. Family and community nourish her. In Kenya she discovers a freedom with no confines. Wild animals excite her heart with fear, fascination! Sleeping or picnicking with lions, with elephants; travelling on long trips, by Lorries, or on foot – children carried in baskets on African porters’ shoulders in the company of parents in lounging ‘Palanquins’ for three weeks, through flooded rivers’ banks!
Through Medical Doctor’s missionary zeal to heal the poor in northern frontier in Kenya; their daring quest to access their daughters’ education in India becomes the catalyst for the unique journey of a five years old Usha’s life.
Soon Second World War breaks out, splitting her childhood across deep waters. The world-wide turbulence has a rippling effect on the life of a small child. In 1942, a passenger ship in the Indian Ocean was bombed by the Japanese. No more ships plied the route. The separated families could not meet their loved ones. Or receive letters! Time stood still. Her loving mother, gentle, strong father lived in her dreamland only.
In a Haven of Peace and Tranquility in the Boarding School at the foothills of the Himalayas in India, in a Gurukul Nature is a school and a playground, she begins her life of a spiritual and psychological well-being by Yoga, Meditation; is nurtured by the ancient rhythms, and a stillness when life is lived at an organic level and given a feel of overall well-being and contentment.
After a separation of ten years, she had to make fresh acquaintance with her parents. In Little India in Kenya, a new bond is forged! This amazing life of Rediscovery – is challenging, but life-affirming! The Homecoming is a poignantly emotional experience, both for parents and the child.
This year—destructive, unrelenting, heartbreaking —has affected everyone differently. From early in the crisis, I’ve repeatedly heard that many people have struggled with the inability to focus, which includes reading. To combat that during the Stay-At-Home and Phases orders, I sought books that would buoy me, make me laugh, and/or educate me. My hope is that by sharing these titles, you, too, will find something to embrace, devour, and love. Books are listed in author-alpha order, and I believe there’s something for everyone.
Hungry Town Row is a place where 13 interconnected young adult short stories are set in and around mom ‘n pop eateries featuring cuisines from around the world. Recurring characters populate the stories as they experience family, love, and magic plus delicious food made with heart. Sangu Mandanna, Sandhya Menon, and S. K. Ali team up with ten other #ownvoices YA writers to produce mouthwatering stories.
After having devouredSoniah Kamal’s brilliant novel Unmarriagable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan last year in one sitting, I craved other contemporary adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels.Dev’s Austen-centric trilogy, “The Rajes,” tells the stories of thirty-something cousins. Trisha in PP&OF (#1) is an uncompromising neurosurgeon of renown in the Bay Area, and Ashna in RFP (#2) is a chef desperately trying to keep her self-confidence and late father’s restaurant afloat. Filled with love (and food) and angsty romance (and food), both are delightful, fun reads with plenty of depth and intriguing backstories.Incense and Sensibility (#3) is due to come out July 2021.
Laskar’s stunning debut novel, based on an incident that occurred at her own home, never discusses racism. However, the incidents in the protagonist’s short life offer abundant fuel for discussions that society must undertake. This story of the unacceptable, unforgivable treatment persons of color—especially women—are forced to endure even now in the twenty-first century is powerful reading.
Told by three connected characters—a young woman determined to move her family out of the slums, an endearing hijra who dreams of becoming a Bollywood heroine, and a frustrated PT teacher—Majumdar’s remarkable debut novel begins with the firebombing of a crowded train. From there it handily confronts social media and mob mentality, manipulation of the truth, and destructive paths to supposed greatness.
Menon’s fun final entry to the award-winning “Dimpleverse” trilogy combines the entertaining “opposites attract” and “fake dating” tropes with hyperlocal environmental issues. As always, her characters earn their happy ending while experiencing the victories and failures required to shoulder responsibility as they mature into adulthood.
Getting back to food, there’s nothing more comforting than a cookbook that brings the love of sharing food onto its pages.Mohanraj’s is a volume of family history plus tips and hints about where to purchase hard-to-find ingredients, what to substitute in a pinch, and options for preparing the snacks, entrées, sides, beverages, and desserts. Kitchen-tested, family-approved recipes left me drooling and eager to start cooking something new.
In a span of three years,Premji was diagnosed with three late-stage cancers. Inspired by a bracelet given to her that reads, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible,”she embraced the concept. Choosing hope strengthened her resolve during countless chemo sessions, hospital stays, and the long wait to have stem cell transplantation. Premji’s an inspiration not only to other cancer patients and survivors but also to the rest of us – reminding us to stop, breathe, and embrace life.
Shah’s compilation offers twenty-five of her essays chronicled by the year written (1999-2019) and is an exploration of the sharp corners of the hypervisibility and invisibility she bore—identity, race, acceptance, foreignness in her own country. The result isShah’s inspiring autobiographical search for identity in her birth country, a country that prides itself on its diversity yet persists in designating “Other” to strip away one’s non-white distinctiveness.
Umrigar’s second children’s book this year updates the story of her Parsi ancestors’ journey from Persia to India, where they sought a new home. Kindness, goodness, and diversity between citizens and immigrants alike is the theme that makes it so appropriate for today. Despite being tagged for ages 4-8, the book can be enjoyed by all ages. Gorgeous illustrations grace every page.
Zakaria dives deep into social, economic, and political lessons we should have learned from previous epidemics/pandemics (but didn’t); how human impact (earth, sky, sea) furthers the chance of larger events; and how politics (worldwide) plays a role in prevention and mitigation. Zakaria’s bottom line is that there is much to do at all levels to understand and prepare, but yes, it can and should be done.
Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a long-time contributor toIndia Currents, a Books for Youth reviewer forBooklist magazine/American Library Association, and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She always wears a mask in public settings, avoids crowds, believes in social distancing, and washes her hands.
I sat in my backyard reading Becoming by Michelle Obama on a hot Saturday afternoon. It was the 4th of July, and I had pages to go before I slept. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, I resolved to read more about the life of minorities, racism, civil disobedience, and much more. The children & I had painstakingly collated a list after reading several lists online, suggestions from friends, teachers, colleagues, and the companies we worked for:
While I sat reading, there was faint niggling guilt to the apparent normalcy of it all. Was it alright to be sitting calmly and reading in one’s backyard while the world around us was still reeling?
I read as the sun overhead appeared to move towards the west and finally got up to take a long walk. If anything, I had several things to think about in the book. There was a section in the book where Michelle Obama writes about failure being a feeling that sets in long before the failure itself. She writes about this in the context to the South Side in Chicago, and how the ‘ghetto’ label slowly portended its decline long before the city did. Families fled the place in search of suburbs, the neighborhood changed in small, but perceptible ways at first, and then at an accelerated pace. Doubt is a potent potion, and when fed in small portions can quickly shadow everything.
The limitations of dreams are seeds planted in our subconscious slowly and surely so that we may fulfill what society thinks we ought to do, no more and no less. Minorities the world over know the feeling well enough.
Trevor Noah, in his book, Born a Crime, writes about the ability to dream being limited to what a person knows. If all people know is the ghetto, they can truly not think beyond that.
“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” – Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
The largest section of the population to know these limitations must be women.
In the Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes in her very first introductory chapter, “All we need to uplift women is to stop pulling them down.”
It was, therefore, in a somber mood that I set out for the walk.
I walked on taking in the setting sun at a fast pace. My mask was hoisted on my face and I felt sweaty. Every now and then on the trail when there weren’t people nearby, I slipped it down to take a deep breath of the summer air. I was walking by the waterside, and feeling the calm strength of the waters. My thoughts were slowly lifting as the sun was setting, and the full moon rose in the opposite direction. Out in the distance, the sound of Fourth of July fireworks was providing an orchestra of sorts to the accompanying bird sounds, and the sound of water sloshing gently against the shores of the lake.
“Bring the kids – sunset and moonrise marvelous and fireworks everywhere!” I texted the husband, and off we went in the approximate direction of the fireworks. We parked on a side road to take in the revels of the night. To stand there with the full moon behind us, and an array of fireworks going off in front of us in a largely residential neighborhood was marvelous.
Later, as we drove on, we listened to songs chosen with special regard to the 4th of July. The children had aced the list, and we drove on through the moonlight, lilting and dancing to the tunes.
“Behind the Clouds, the sun is shi—ii—ning. “ – What has to be one of our favorite Disney songs, rang through the car, as we pulled into the garage.
I read the final section of Michelle Obama’s Becoming later that night, I found the audacity of hope (pun intended) stirring and this too felt different; worth examining. Politics is a dirty game, but Barack & Michelle Obama have shown us what is possible.
Dare we hope?
Maybe hopes can translate to positive outcomes long before they happen…
Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.
Living in the world that all of us do today, it goes without saying that children across the spectrum need to read books that create awareness surrounding the environment and its inhabitants.
When I think of an Indian publishing house for children, the name that first comes to mind is Katha. What sets Katha’s books apart from others is that it is known for facilitating learning through the power of storytelling. Storytelling is a beautiful way to address some of the most pertinent issues related to the environment and climate change, and the 32-year-old publishing house has time and again called for attention towards our planet through this distinctive approach, in books such as Tigers Forever!, The Mysteries Of Migration, and Polar Bear.
Books that Make You Fall in Love with Nature
One of the most effective ways of getting children to care about the environment is to simply help them fall in love with it. Some of Katha’s older books instill a love for nature with their stories and themes. Each of their books has a varied message: In Run Ranga! Run!, one gets to explore the grasslands with the fearless baby rhinoceros who needs a friend; Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah and Walk the Grasslands with Takuri are tours of rainforests and grasslands with a hornbill and an elephant, respectively; On the Tip of a Pin Was… uncovers the science behind wormholes;The Gift of Gold is a mythical story from South African folklore is about a little girl who saves her village from drought.
Manish Lakhani’s Sonam’s Ladakh tells a story through exquisite photography about a girl belonging to the semi-nomadic Changpa tribe, wandering shepherds in Ladakh. Young Sonam informs readers about animals in the Ladakh region that are her closest friends and “better than boxes of money”. She mentions goats, dogs, her father’s pashmina herds of sheep, and yaks that help grow food and whose wool make their tents. She also points out other animals in the region—the rare Eurasian otters, horses, and Himalayan wolves. The story that is bound to fascinate most children with its sheer novelty and imagery. The books ends with a section that discusses Ladakh’s many glaciers that are gradually melting due to the earth’s global warming, increasing pollution levels and the cutting of trees. The questions posed are aimed at making children think of ways in which all of us in our own way can contribute to caring for the environment.
Keeping it Simple
In a world filled with an overwhelming amount of information on environmental degradation, young children are most likely to gain sensitivity about the situation most through personal experience. Katha’s books have constantly aimed at bringing out simple storylines with characters that relate to most children.
In Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway?, Geeta Dharmarajan explores a mother’s obsession with her potted plants kept in her verandah. When her plants start mysteriously wilting and drooping, her husband researches the subject of how to keep them happy, leading him to attempt re-potting them. What follows is a comical saga, however, the key message has been surreptitiously slipped in—that the roots of plants get tangled up when their pots become too small for them.
More recently, in The Mystery of the Missing Soap, Tobakachi, the wicked Asura and GermaAsura, along with their Coronavirus Army, make soap disappear in Dakshinapur, one of the happiest villages in the country. By tricking people in this way, they ensure that no one washes their hands, which makes them all very sick. That is until the helpful elephant, Tamasha and the fearless girl, Lachmi, show everyone how to make soap in order to win the battle against the Virus Army. The story, beautifully illustrated by Suddhasattwa Basu and Charbak Dipta, is followed by a simple recipe for making soap at home using reetha berries. By explaining the importance of washing one’s hands in order to prevent coronavirus, the book then dives into Katha’s famous “TADAA” (Think, Ask questions, Discuss, Act, and Take Action for the community) section which details what coronavirus actually is and what one can do to prevent oneself from getting it.
Big Ideas with a Heart
After getting kids to fall in love with nature through simple stories—and hence, getting them to care for the environment—the next step is to focus on concepts that help them think about pressing environmental issues that are affecting the world. Every narrative in Katha’s books is filled with common themes—or what the publisher likes to call ‘big ideas’. For instance, all of Katha’s environment books have recurring themes such as empathy, affection, kindness, collective action, and cues to switch to alternative eco-friendly habits.
Ma Ganga and the Razai Box weaves environmental concerns like pollution, soil erosion, and desertification with mythology. The Magical Raindrophumanizes and gives emotions to Mother Earth, formulating her character in a way that the readers feel she’s a person who feels happiness, sadness, anxiety, and joy just like all of us. Katha’s Thinkbook Series has been designed in a way to introduce young readers to big ideas such as “climate change, gender, and kindness through stories that inspire, aspire, and engage.”
Educating through Stories
Katha’s founder, Padma Shri Geeta Dharmarajan, is an award-winning writer, editor, and educator. Her published works alone include more than 30 children’s books, many of which are Katha publications. Needless to say, environmental issues are very close to her heart. She is credited for having created Katha’s unique concept of StoryPedagogy, which combines India’s oral traditions and the 2,000-year-old Sanskrit text on the performing arts, Natya Shastra; an idea that she has seamlessly integrated with an earth-friendly curriculum.
While the stories get children to empathize with the characters and their situation—and thus, understand and imbibe an environmental concept—Katha’s final goal is to make children think deeper and take initiatives to act and make a difference. The insightful exercises that appear at the end of each book are created using the SPICE model (Student-centred, Problem-based, Integrated, Community-based, Electives, Systematic) as well as observations, teachers’ feedback, and research among children in the Katha Lab School.
Katha Lab School is a model and a center of creativity for the slum cluster of Govindpuri in New Delhi. Thus, Katha takes the storytelling approach a step further beyond its books too. The Katha Lab School, for instance, uses no traditional textbooks or a one-size-fits-all syllabus. Instead, its system of education is based on StoryPedagogy, a technique that is delivered through Active Story-Based Learning, which helps children to learn language, science, and mathematics, while developing general awareness and critical thinking skills through various stories and activities.
Katha’s StoryPedagogy is the new age of education – one that we can all benefit from adopting.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.
The coronavirus pandemic is a story shared among so many different generations, nationalities, and ethnicities. Although this moment of crisis has physically separated us from our friends and family, it has also bound us all within a joint reality. And what better way to spend the extra time at home than by returning to an endearing glimpse into South Asian literature? To encourage solidarity despite self-isolation regulations, digital publishing house Juggernaut Books and the celebrated Hindustan Times have created the video project, One Story, One Nation.
India Currents’ very own writer, Raji Pillai, is featured in Part 10 of the readings, alongside South-Asian celebrities. Each has volunteered their time to read a section from Rabindranath Tagore’s classic, The Kabulliwallah.
One of Tagore’s most acclaimed literary works, the short story focuses on a young daughter’s love for an Afghan Kabulliwallah, a merchant who often made trips to Calcutta. Tagore’s heartwarming narrative, which demonstrates how love crosses all borders and circumstances, is fitting during these dividing times. Although I read Kabulliwallah amid a flight home from India a few years ago, I found that revisiting this short story made me appreciate the simplicities of self-isolation.
A screen separates me from my friends and teachers, but I still have my parents beside me — just how protagonist Mini has the love of her father and the Kabulliwallah despite everything. And it certainly did not hurt to hear this tale narrated by the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Aditi Mittal, Chetan Bhagat, and Barkha Dutt. Each and every one of these narrators have poured their heart into bringing Tagore’s characters to life, from the charming naiveté of a young Mini to the devoted affection of the merchant.
“Read more books during this lockdown. Read more books on humanity, because they will inspire you to become a better version of yourself,” said Sabyasachi Mukherjee, as he opened up his own reading of the short story. Hopefully, we can all learn to celebrate a sense of belonging and unanimity by listening to Kabulliwallah.
Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.
Who else can know a child’s needs better than a mom. And it takes a strong woman to go beyond and fulfill the gaps, irrespective of the circumstances.
Putting aside the pandemic we are facing, it is still International Women’s Month! India Currents would like to tell the story of one such strong Indian American mother, Akruti Babaria, who recognized the importance of conveying Indian traditions and culture to her child and she knew she had to be the one to start a venture to accomplish the feat.
Kulture Khazana is an online portal that unlocks Indian cultural treasures for children using different interactive mediums. From online content, workshops, newsletters, seminars to children’s books – the portal is a one stop destination for every Indian mother who seeks to impart her culture to her kids.
Established in February 2018, the journey was not a cakewalk for the mom-entrepreneur, who had to travel halfway across the globe to find the right sources for her endeavour.
“It was when I started to speak to my 3 year old son about Indian culture, did I realize the lack of resources around us in the US. I wanted him to learn about our values and traditions and could not find any authentic source here. I had to travel all the way to India to purchase nearly 400 books, back then for the purpose. The journey and the realization paved the way to curate something that can be beneficial not just for my son but for every kid in the US,” said Akruti Babaria, who left her full-time job to pursue this venture.
Right after its establishment, the portal was well received by all Indian American parents who were eagerly in search for a repository that offers them the right resources, especially books that do not highlight any violence but convey the needed context in an appropriate way based on the aptitude of a kid. Surprisingly, even the local libraries welcomed the cultural materials and were more than happy to display the collection.
Though the initial acceptance helped Akruti to establish her endeavor across the community, finding feasible partners for the business was a challenging task.
“It required lots of research, meetings and effort to find genuine partners to do business with. We needed people who share the same passion for children’s literature. Though at first I used to work with distributors, now over the years I have been able to establish direct contacts with publishers and authors, which has helped the process to be more smooth and effective.”
Not just limiting the scope to online content, Akruti understood the need to be innovative and went on to explore new avenues to spread awareness on Indian culture. A unique approach of mixing storytelling with activities and movements, she was able to find new ways to engage the kids in learning about their culture.
“I wanted to do something which is not monotonous and kids should find it interesting rather than preachy. The interactive workshops and seminars gives an all-rounded experience for kids with lots of activities and fun learning exercises. It’s been well received and many schools and organizations like children’s museums, libraries, literary communities, temples, and grocery chain stores have come forward to organize such events. Surprisingly, even the non-Indian communities have shown interest and attend these workshops in large numbers to learn more about Indian culture and global diversity,”
Currently, she has also been approached by the school district of Texas to create a cultural kit as part of the curriculum for 2020 with special focus on spreading awareness about culture and diversity for students and on how teachers should plan to include the framework within the curriculum.
Akruti also conducts professional development seminars for educators on how to interpret culture in a classroom. She feels that if the kids are knowledgeable about diversity and inclusion at such a young age, then they grow up to become open-minded individuals. Most of the organizations have workshops on inclusion as part of team building exercises and Akruti asserts that if these cultural values are taught to them right from childhood then there is no need to retrain them in future.
The dancer cum MBA graduate is all set to enter a new phase as she plans to author a book for kids about spices. Writing poems and collating learning exercises for the weekly newsletters of her portal, she is already on the move creating new experiences for children through a mother’s lens.
Akruti call outs to the wonderful women out there for International Women’s month, “Come what may, always follow your passion. Regain your confidence and find your girl gang, who is always there to give an hi-five, to support, advise and even criticize. You just have to step out and you will realize that there is a whole community of women out there who are always ready to support each other.”
Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.
As a lifelong bookworm who turns to the written word for knowledge and guidance, I had picked up “What to expect when you’re expecting,” during my pregnancy. Considerate colleagues gave me the sequel, “What to expect the first year,” at my baby shower. I referred to the book constantly. Like a child reading a mystery novel, I occasionally jumped ahead to read up on the next developmental milestone.
At my daughter’s first birthday celebration in India, seeing the book in my purse, a good friend joked – “You NRI’s bring up children by reading books.”
I found her comment condescending but she had made an astute observation. Being far from home and lacking guidance from parents, I felt bereft. She, on the other hand, was raising her children in India in close proximity to her extended family.
To me, books had come to my aid when humans had failed.
More than two decades after that conversation, I look fondly at my two daughters. In a few months, the older one will leave home in pursuit of higher education and the younger one will hurtle towards the end of her teens.
Motherhood has been the most transformative experience of my life and the opportunity to raise two daughters has been a gift and a privilege.
Adichie’s book is a long, thoughtful response response to a friend’s question about how to raise her newborn daughter feminist. I wondered if I had raised my daughters to be feminists? Would I find myself too outdated to understand this manifesto? I desperately hoped it wasn’t too late to make amends.
“The solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”
Adichie’s first feminist tool seemed familiar. Not vaguely, but intimately.
By this measure, I have always been a feminist. Perhaps I was born feminist. Although the word ‘feminist’ came into my vocabulary only after spoken and written language became my primary mode of communication, the inner knowing that “I matter’ must have been poured into my veins and set into my bones at the time of my creation.
Born between two boys, I was the only girl child, brought up with great affection by egalitarian parents. Despite having a level playing field within the home, I was not immune to the rampant sexism that existed outside. I retaliated by waving the flag of gender equality, fighting for fairness, and arguing for justice at every opportunity.
During the school years, my brothers and I were expected to wash our respective uniforms, polish our shoes, and keep our designated cupboards clean. But everytime my mother asked me for help around the house, I would protest.
“You are asking me to do this because I am a girl,” I would pout.
“I am asking you because you are better at it,” she would patiently reply.
“In life, you will find that the person who does a better job will be assigned more work, even in an office.”
A part of me agreed with her. But I would have none of her rational explanations. Despite her college education, my mother was a housewife by choice. What did she know about work and career?
I was academically oriented, bold, and outspoken. Unlike my mother who was content to stay home, I planned to study, get a job, and make my own money. I did not consider my mother a feminist, because feminism to me meant independence, financial security and power. Little did I know then that the seeds to my conviction about equality of the sexes were actually planted and nurtured by my mother’s parenting style.
So much about the world has changed since my childhood. With women becoming astronauts and scientists, doctors and bus drivers, I wondered if Adichie’s suggestions were even necessary. But reading this simply-written, heartfelt manifesto brought forth many self-limiting biases and belief-systems that are coded into our DNA through social conditioning and serve as barriers to women’s’ achievements even to this day.
In time for International Women’s Day, I thought of using Adichie’s list as an appraisal tool to evaluate myself. I was undoubtedly a feminist, but had I done enough to raise my girls to be feminists?
Of the fifteen suggestions, I scored well in 9. I am particularly proud of encouraging my girls to read. Regarding marriage – they know that marriage may be a part of their life but it is not to be counted as their greatest achievement. Through my own career choices, independence, and pursuit of interests outside prescribed gender roles, they have seen a working model of some of Adichie’s suggestions.
But I have to admit that I have failed in a few areas. Even though we talk about boys and romance, open conversations about sex have been difficult; attributed more to my own cultural conditioning than to the oft-repeated excuse that such information is easily available these days.
And there are suggestions about appearance, identity, likeability – important points that I am unable to assess at this point. Much of how my daughters find their way through the maze of conflicting messages and peer pressure depends on their ability to think for themselves, something only time will tell.
I think back to my mother’s unerring sense of fairness and transparent style of parenting. Unaware that the dictionary defines ‘feminist’ as a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, she had instilled in me the core belief that my life is valuable and my choices are valid, even if they veered away from socially accepted constructs.
Parenting is a uniquely personal journey. We undertake it with optimism and a combination of tools – some that we come equipped with, some we borrow from our own parents, and others we learn – from books, from society, from our own experiences.
The thing that makes this journey incredibly interesting, if not always rewarding, is what Adichie says in the initial pages of her book, “You might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try. And always trust your instincts above all else, because you will be guided by your love for your child.”
The best we can do is try. I know my mother did. So do I. My hope is that my daughters do the same when they have children. It doesn’t matter if they are raising girls or boys, I know without doubt that their journey will be interesting, and they will be richer for the experience.
Ranjani Rao, a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, and former resident of USA, now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Connect with her on Medium | Twitter| Facebook | Blog