India: Land of Perennial Stories
India is the quintessential land of fables, with a long and rich tradition of storytelling for children. Stories learnt on the lap of grandmas have regaled generations of children and adults alike. Many of these stories are woven with strong moral maxims and play a role in shaping the ethical fibre of a people. They come to us largely from an unscripted past going back to millennia. These vintage stories have a refreshing crisp, modern-day feel to them since they have imbibed and adapted to the changing times and sensibilities.
These stories need to be told, for more reasons than one. Not only for entertainment but also as a valuable medium of education. India’s multicultural and multilingual diversity brought forth a myriad ways of innovative storytelling traditions. These celebrate a distinctive pluralism. Across the length and breadth of the country, listeners and narrators enjoyed and passed them on. They often crossed borders, adapting cultural mores of host countries seamlessly into their fabric.
An ubiquitous presence in most Indian stories has been nature, birds and animals of every description. They have at times donned the role of the narrator and at others that of a wise teacher. The Panchatantra, the Hitopadesa, Jataka Tales, Kathasaritsagara embody the classic blend of human and animal forms. Over the centuries, master storytellers have popularised several iconic characters from India’s legends and history. For instance, a highly popular series has a quirky character, Vetal, a ghost as the narrator. Other icons who have captured the popular imagination include Birbal, Tenali Raman, GopalBhandand more recently Feluda. This genre now has been further enriched by a corpus of contemporary writings in a variety of forms for children of various age groups and in many languages of India.
India’s rich and artistic traditions have been the inspiration for illustrators, old and new. Artists have brought in colourful and vibrant pictorial narratives using folk and cultural motifs to great effect. Pioneering illustrators such as Mario Miranda, Pulak Biswas, and Mickey Patel consciously inserted an Indian sensibility by moving away from the more conventional European styles and genres. The modern day Indian illustrators are successfully straddling both these worlds effortlessly, creating a new genre in the making, as a creative response to contemporary themes.
A key factor fuelling the growth of publishing for children is the rapidly increasing rates of literacy and access to basic education. This has been made possible by large-scale educational programmes launched since early 1990s. Many of these programmes also innovated greatly in terms of materials and contents for children.
The vibrant NGO sector also contributed greatly with child-friendly learning materials evolved through field testing with children in varied and difficult circumstances, library kits, low-cost science laboratories and magazines for children and neo-literates. As media expanded in the country, so too did audio-visual content for children. A large number of children’s channels on TV regularly produce children’s programming in several languages, including many that are developed entirely in-country. Indian visualizers and graphic artists now provide services globally. All this has also helped the growth of software for children, with ICT for children now being a major presence in content for children, including learning oriented programmes and apps. This explosion of children’s content in India offers an exciting opportunity, with so much variety now available, yet with an appetite to absorb a great deal more.
Contemporary publishing for children in India is not only exciting but vibrant and varied, meeting the needs of a modern sensibility. Born of India’s rich diversity in languages and culture, the new crop of publishers, writers, and illustrators are giving a new texture to both content and style. India’s rich indigenous artistic traditions are increasingly being used to great effect to enhance the visual appeal of books. From picture books to literature for young adults, their strong imprint is clearly visible. Today’s publishers, writers, and illustrators are not averse to experiments. But in their experiment and innovation, they remain distinctly Indian.
Stories are the living reflection of a country’s identity and its way of life. Forums like AFCC offer a unique platform to see and hear content that will help us to critically discuss and shape the future of children’s publishing. India has a lot to offer by way of its rich content. We dip into this treasure house to bring you a select offering of our very best.
As a focus country in AFCC 2014, the presentation will include some of these aspects of Indian children’s literature. Apart from an exhibit of recently published children’s books in English, Hindi, and other Indian languages, the presentation will include a few representative works of Indian illustrators, illustrative elements of Indian storytelling tradition and a set of specially curated panels showcasing a visual journey of the rich and varied heritage of children’s literature in India.
The presentation will be enlivened by some of modern India’s preeminent writers, Ruskin Bond, Manjula Padmanabhan and Arup Kumar Dutta in The Child in Me: My Writings, as well as in A Brush with Creativity: My Colourful Story, popular illustrators Atanu Roy and Naina Sabnani, will discuss their works and interact with the visitors. Other panel discussions will include: Children’s Publishing in India Today; Jungle Chat: Animal and Birds in Indian stories; Past, Present, Future: Reinventing Children’s Literature; and What Girls are Doing in Our Stories.
National Book Trust, India, is an apex body of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India for promotion of books and reading. NBT has always been on the forefront of children’s literature in India. Some of India’s well-known writers and illustrators have been associated with NBT. As a pioneer of children’s book publishing in India, NBT’s translation programme has ensured that millions of children across languages have had access to some of the finest books ever produced in the country.
As focus country in AFCC 2014, we would like to welcome the new reader and the new storyteller and recreate the bond anew.