Sarah and I discovered a fabulous book of poems for children — Rhymes for Ranga by Freda Bedi. These were written in the 1930s and 40s by an Englishwoman for her eldest son, Ranga. These are simply told, easily understood by children and stupendous to recite. They may have been written many years ago but do not sound dated. There are rhymes echoing the pride of the birth of a new nation, Mahatma Gandhi, about cattle, seasons, the national flag, pets, a lovely one on the birth of Jesus ( “Mariam’s song”), festivals of India like Basant and Diwali. Some describe India so well — “Sherbets in Summer”, “The Kite Song”, “Gulairee”, “Pir Panchal”, “Kashmir Birthday”, “The Land of Nowhere” and “The End of the World”. The charming watercolour illustrations by Anna Bhushan accompanying the poems are perfect. Each page has been well designed with the illustration matching the text.
Freda Bedi was born in Derbyshire, England and met her husband Baba Bedi at the University of Oxford in 1931. Her eldest son Ranga, for whom these poems were written, was born in Berlin, Germany and six months later, in 1934, the family came home to India. ( She had two more children – a daughter, Gulhima, and a son, Kabir Bedi, the actor.) Freda took active part in India’s freedom movement and was the first British woman to serve a six-month internment in Lahore jail in 1943. She remained in India all her life, and went on to work with Tibetan refugees in the 1960s, and converted to Buddhism. In 1965, Freda became the first European woman to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun, Sister Palmo, or Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo. She died in 1977. When the book was published in 2010, Mid Day published an article containing some black and white photographs from the family album: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/a-bedi-good-rhyme/91679 ( Fiona Fernandez, “A Bedi good rhyme”, 15 August 2010 ).
While creating a rich imaginative space for Indian children especially through poetry that is closely linked to their reality is sadly lacking. Rhymes for Ranga is one big step in filling that vacuum.
Freda Bedi Rhymes for Ranga Random House India, New Delhi, 2010. Hb. pp. 90. Rs 399.