Scholastic Posts

Scholastic Corporation Rings the Nasdaq Stock Market Opening Bell

On 14 February 2018 to coincide with the birthday of beloved children’s character Clifford, Scholastic Corporation Rang the Nasdaq Stock Market Opening Bell .

[Here is the text from the press release]

Scholastic Corporation (Nasdaq: SCHL), the global children’s publishing, education and media company, will visit the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square on Valentine’s Day in honor of Clifford The Big Red Dog’s birthday.

Dick Robinson, Chairman, President and CEO of Scholastic, will be joined by the beloved literary icon Clifford as well as Scholastic employees with their children to ring the Opening Bell. For more than 55 years, Clifford has added joy to the lives of millions of children and has grown from a bestselling book series by the late, great Norman Bridwell into an iconic global brand. Today, there are more than 130 million Clifford books in print – plus a Clifford television series (currently on Netflix and through iTunes and Google Play), toys, games, ebooks, and interactive products, so that children can interact with Clifford wherever and whenever they like.

****

Scholastic India have a large presence locally too.

15 February 2018 

“The Boy, The Bird and The Coffin Maker” by

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker    by Australian writer Matilda Woods is exquisite! It is as the title says about three unlikely companions — the boy, the bird and the coffin maker. It is a tale seeped in grief but also in so much beauty and hope. It is utterly magical. Unexpectedly the reader falls headlong into the story from the first line. It has been beautifully illustrated in two tones by Anuska Allepuz with details on every page, full page illustrations tipped in and the end covers are a dream. The art work complements the story fabulously without really constraining the imagination of the reader by attempting to illustrate every description in the story.  The book is a keeper. Matilda Woods next book will be orth looking out for.

Read it!

Matilda Woods The Boy, The Bird and the Coffin Maker Scholastic. 2017. Pb. 

11 February 2018 

 

 

The Magic School Bus on Netflix

The immensely popular Magic School Bus books have now been released as a new animation series on Netflix. Here is the trailer:

 

This edutainment series are a marvellous way to introduce children to concepts such as the water cycle, volcanoes, climate change, environment, solar system etc. The reasonably priced and heavily illustrated books published by Scholastic are available on Amazon. Some facts about the series:

More than 90 million books in print, in 9 languages! 
• The book series celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016
The Magic School Bus is the longest-running children’s television science series, with the classic series on the air for 18 consecutive years
• The series presents scientific facts in the form of stories

• Each book has a page at the end detailing in a humorous manner which parts of the book represented scientific fact and which were fanciful storytelling

The series were released on Netflix on 26 September 2017!

5 Oct 2017 

 

Scholastic India celebrates International Literacy Day ( 8 September 2017)

Scholastic India to Participate in International Literacy Day to Promote Literacy as an Instrument to Empower Individuals, Communities and Societies

New Delhi, 8th September 2017 – Fifty one years ago, September 8 was officially proclaimed as International Literacy Day by UNESCO aimed at mobilizing the international community to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.
Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company, is celebrating International Literacy Day in India and around the world. Scholastic India has engaged partners across the spectrum to reach out to readers. These include:
� Popular parenting website MyCity4Kids will encourage parents to write about why reading is important.
� The popular Facebook reading group for parents The Reading Raccoons, is inviting parents to post a picture of their children reading.
� Scholastic has associated with Books On The Delhi Metro, a group of reading enthusiasts and book fairies who drop books inside the Delhi metro for commuters to read and pass on. They will drop bestselling Scholastic books inside the metro on September 8.
� On Twitter, the Scholastic India handle will donate to a foundation The Community Library Project the total number of books equal to the number of retweets of its International Literacy Day message.

Speaking on this range of activities, Neeraj Jain, Managing Director, Scholastic India said, “Access to books, and reading books of their choice every day, helps children grow into readers. This in turn can transform a child’s prospects for success. For International Literacy Day, we have tried to capture these aspects through various activities, hoping to encourage parents to participate in the process.”
In 2016, Scholastic India released the findings of its first-ever India version of the global research report, Kids & Family Reading ReportTM. This national survey of Indian children aged 6–17 years and their parents, plus parents of children aged 0–5, explores attitudes and behaviours toward reading books. The survey reveals that 86 percent of children aged 6–17 years agree that “my favourite books are the ones that I have picked out myself.” Eighty-eight per cent of boys and eighty-six percent of girls equally agree “I would read more if I could find more books that I like.” The majority of children, 81 percent, in this critical age group enjoy reading books for fun and more than three-quarters, 77 percent of children, believe reading books for fun is extremely or very important.

Importance of reading aloud
Parents of children aged 0–5 years shared that the top benefit they want for their child when they read books for fun is development of vocabulary and language skills. Similarly, these parents primarily start reading aloud to their children to help them learn the letters and words. Half of the parents surveyed who have 0–5 year-olds, received the advice that children should be read books aloud from birth, most commonly from their grandparents. Overall, only 27 percent of parents started reading aloud to their children before age one and 60 percent began reading books aloud to their child at two years or older.

Parents play a huge role in seeding the love for reading and in keeping kids interested in books. One of the most powerful predictors of reading frequency in children age 6–17 is being read to by parents 5–7 days a week. Across all ages, 85 percent of children love being read aloud and among kids aged 6–11 years, whose parents have stopped reading aloud to them, more than half, 57 percent, wish their parents had continued.
The online link for the detailed free to download report is: http://scholastic.co.in/en/readingreport
The survey was conducted, among 1,752 parents and children, including 350 parents of children aged 0–5; 701 parents of children aged 6–17; plus one child aged 6–17 from the same household. All data presented in the Kids & Family Reading ReportTM, India Edition represent the country’s English-speaking population with access to the Internet.

About Scholastic
Scholastic Corporation (NASDAQ: SCHL) is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, a leading provider of core literacy curriculum and professional services, and a producer of educational and entertaining children’s media. The Company creates quality books and e-books, print and technology-based learning programs for pre-K to grade 12, classroom magazines and other products and services that support children’s learning both in school and at home. With operations in 14 international offices and exports to 165 countries, Scholastic makes quality, affordable books available to all children around the world through school-based book clubs and book fairs, classroom collections, school and public libraries, retail and online. True to its mission of 97 years to encourage the personal and intellectual growth of all children beginning with literacy, the Company has earned a reputation as a trusted partner to educators and families.
8 Sept 2017 

Happy birthday J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter!

31 July 2017. It is J. K. Rowling’s birthday. So also Harry Potter as decided by J. K. Rowling. The Harry Potter books have been in existence for twenty years or the equivalent of one entire generation. The first time I heard of Harry Potter was when a friend based in Chicago wrote asking if I had read this marvellous fantasy book for children. At the time I had not but very soon a copy arrived from a England. Everyone in the family devoured it. At the time I was guest-editor of the special issue on children and young adult literature of a literary magazine. It was the first time that these issues were being put together. The history of modern publishing, particularly children’s literature, can be traced through the history of the seven volumes of Harry Potter.

When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ( US edition published by Scholastic) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ( UK edition published by Bloomsbury) was published J.K. Rowling was an unknown and struggling author. She was single mother writing the book, which she had plotted minutely, in cafes around Edinburgh. Despite her agent’s wise advice “you will never make money selling children’s books” her manuscript was circulated amongst publishers. Most publishers rejected the book. Then it arrived at a fairly recent independent press called Bloomsbury, London. Bloomsbury had been established in 1986 by four people, including legendary editor Liz Calder whose authors include Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Joanna Trollope and John Irving. As Liz Calder narrated in a conversation to me while conducting a master class the British Council, Delhi, she has always been interested in authors. The arrival of the first Harry Potter manuscript was an uneventful day. Till she discovered a group of people sitting around a table absorbed in reading the manuscript, sharing it by passing each page of the manuscript to their neighbour as if they were playing passing the parcel! Bloomsbury decided to publish the debut novel by an unknown author. She was offered $4,000 as an advance against royalties by Bloomsbury. The first print run was for 500 copies. Bloomsbury was also afraid that young boys won’t want to read a book by a woman, they suggested she use her initials. Joanne added her grandmother’s name, Kathleen, to her own, producing “J.K. Rowling.” Soon after it was published she attended her first Edinburgh Literary Festival where a special tent had been set up to promote the book but if stories are to be believed there were only a few people who wanted to meet the author. In USA Scholastic Books won the auction for the U.S. rights to the series, giving Rowling an advance over $100,000, a record for a foreign children’s book. This enabled her to quit her teaching job and devote her time to writing.

The first book went on to win many prizes and catapulted J. K. Rowling to fame. It influenced children’s reading habits tremendously. It became evident to publishers fairly soon that this was a market to be taken notice of. Yet by the time Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published the print run had risen to 10,000 copies and the book was still only available in UK and slowly reached other countries. By the time Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released Pottermania had begun to take root and the publishers were more than willing to ship review copies across the world. I got my copy directly from the London office albeit a few weeks after publication date. With the subsequent volumes ( Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) the fame of Rowling was sealed. She became a global phenomenon. By the time the seventh and last volume, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was published she had sold millions of copies of her books. Her publisher, Bloomsbury, had become cash-rich and were able to offer handsome advances against royalties to other authors. In fact the seventh title was released simultaneously across the world and I received my copy of the book on publication day, 31 July 2007. (I reviewed it for Outlook magazine.) It is believed that Rowling has so far sold more than 400 million copies of her books worldwide.

This is what Sarah Odedina, now Editor-at-Large, Pushkin Children’s Books wrote in an email to me about publishing Rowling. At the time Sarah was Publisher of Bloomsbury Children’s Books 1997-2011.

I was there for publication of the first book all the way through to the last book.

It was an amazing thing to be part of and yes the in-house love for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was strong. Particularly led by the wonderful marketing and PR person Rosamund de la Hey who never ever missed an opportunity to let people know just how brilliant the book was and how talented the author was. We were ambitious for the book from the get-go and knew it had great potential to win prizes and sell well – but little could we imagine what that ended up meaning.

Publication of the first book passed fairly normally – like most other books – without anything huge happening but within a few weeks we knew it was different as we started to get letters from children saying how much they loved the book and how the had shared it with their friend and all sorts of reactions from them as readers to the characters and the plot and definitely asking for more. It was really later books in which publication day became a huge focus. At the beginning it was about getting the book out in the shops and seeing how quickly J K Rowling built a loving and loyal readership.

In 2012 Rowling launched Pottermore. It was an incredibly bold move into the world of digital publishing by offering ebook versions of the Potter series. At the time there were multiple ereaders and extensions. Rowling made Pottermore as a one-stop halt to purchase any format ( print or digital) and get extra Potter-related news too. Her first CEO was Charlie Redmayne, now the HarperCollins UK CEO, who for the first time brought the author/publisher in direct contact with the consumer/reader using digital technology innovatively. ( Eddie Redmayne who acted in the movie Fantastic Beasts  is Charlie Redmayne’s brother.) Rowling’s close watch on the film adaptations of her books to screen are legendary as well with accounts of detailed storyboard discussions happening at her home in Scotland. ( Here is a link to Jim Cornish, storyboard artist, talks about his work on the Harry Potter films. )

It is twenty years since Harry Potter and his friends came into existence. Bloomsbury is celebrating it with the release of special editions of the first book in the four house colours — Red, Blue, Green and Yellow. They are utterly splendiferous and a joy to behold! The impact of Pottermania on publishing worldwide is that the healthiest growth rate is amongst children’s and young adult literature, across genres.

31 July 2017 

 

Marvel books

Marvel comics were launched in America in 1939. According to Wikipedia:

Martin Goodman, a pulp magazine publisher who had started with a Western pulp in 1933, was expanding into the emerging—and by then already highly popular—new medium of comic books. Launching his new line from his existing company’s offices at 330 West 42nd Street, New York City, he officially held the titles of editor, managing editor, and business manager, with Abraham Goodman officially listed as publisher.

Timely’s first publication, Marvel Comics #1 (cover dated Oct. 1939), included the first appearance of Carl Burgos’ android superhero the Human Torch, and the first appearances of Bill Everett’s anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner, among other features. The issue was a great success, with it and a second printing the following month selling, combined, nearly 900,000 copies. While its contents came from an outside packager, Funnies, Inc., Timely had its own staff in place by the following year. The company’s first true editor, writer-artist Joe Simon, teamed with emerging industry’s notable artist Jack Kirby to create one of the first patriotically themed superhero, Captain America, in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). It, too, proved a hit, with sales of nearly one million. Goodman formed Timely Comics, Inc., beginning with comics cover-dated April 1941 or Spring 1941.

While no other Timely character would achieve the success of these three characters, some notable heroes—many of which continue to appear in modern-day retcon appearances and flashbacks—include the Whizzer, Miss America, the Destroyer, the original Vision, and the Angel. Timely also published one of humor cartoonist Basil Wolverton’s best-known features, “Powerhouse Pepper”, as well as a line of children’s funny-animal comics featuring popular characters like Super Rabbit and the duo Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal.

Goodman hired his wife’s cousin,  Stanley Lieber, as a general office assistant in 1939.  When editor Simon left the company in late 1941,  Goodman made Lieber—by then writing pseudonymously as “Stan Lee”—interim editor of the comics line, a position Lee kept for decades except for three years during his military service in World War II. Lee wrote extensively for Timely, contributing to a number of different titles.

Goodman’s business strategy involved having his various magazines and comic books published by a number of corporations all operating out of the same office and with the same staff.  One of these shell companies through which Timely Comics was published was named Marvel Comics by at least Marvel Mystery Comics #55 (May 1944). As well, some comics’ covers, such as All Surprise Comics #12 (Winter 1946–47), were labeled “A Marvel Magazine” many years before Goodman would formally adopt the name in 1961. 

For nearly eight decades Marvel comics have survived despite financial turbulence, been at the cutting edge of testing new publishing models, experimented in mediums and continued telling stories with superheros that have gripped the imaginations of young and old alike. With the booming popularity of films many of the superheroes came alive on the screen — Iron Man, Superman, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Wolverine, Captain America, and Hulk to name a few.  On August 31, 2009, The Walt Disney Company announced a deal to acquire Marvel Comics’ parent corporation, Marvel Entertainment, for $4 billion. As of the start of September 2015, films based on Marvel’s properties represent the highest-grossing U.S. franchise, having grossed over $7.7 billion  as part of a worldwide gross of over $18 billion.

Marvel books published by Scholastic, Summer 2017

The last decade has seen the explosion of digital and print mediums and recently of the two experiences coming together. It helps in creating an immersion which is absolute for die-hard fans of the Marvel superheroes. Scholastic, a publishing firm specialising in children’s literature predating the formation of Marvel Comics, has been over the years releasing a range of print products to meet this demand. Take for instance the recently released film Guardians of the Galaxy 2  ( April 2017) where popular actors have done voiceovers for the characters. ( Vin Diesel is the voice for Baby Groot!) Scholastic to coincide with the film published a range of books around the Guardians of Galaxy characters. These include “the movie storybook”, a novel “inspired by the film”, colouring and activity book and a sticker activity book. What is absolutely incredible is how smoothly the publicity team has created a range of successful publishing collateral targetting different age groups of readers. Children are immediately drawn to the books and are kept happily entertained for hours. Along with this a revised hardback edition of Marvel Super Hero Encyclopedia was released. Even though it is priced slightly on the higher side for the local Indian market it has proved to be a bestseller, notching up healthy sales. ( This, despite parents and schools, advising children not to buy such “useless” books!) What is a particularly charming aspect of these stories is that though the super heros are gender-defined and their physical forms are some illustrator’s fantasy of the ideal body shape, the characters appeal is gender neutral. Thankfully, irrespective of the gender of the reader, all children ( and adults) gravitate towards the books. Here is a link posted on Facebook by Seale Ballenger, Publicity Director, Disney Publishing Worldwide ( 29 June 2014) of the legendary Stan Lee speaking about the importance of writing stories for younger readers:

Stan Lee talking about the importance of writing for young readers at ALA 2014

Posted by Seale Ballenger on Saturday, June 28, 2014

Frankly the fascination of these Marvel books is obvious and worth recommending. They keep children happily engaged and away from electronic babysitting while opening up an imaginative world away from their daily routines. It is like going down a worm hole on an adventure with bizarre characters.

27 June 2017 

Kunskapsskolan Book Week ( 1-5 May 2017)

I was invited by Kunskapsskolan Gurgaon to curate their book week. They have nearly 1200 students. The book week had to be created for all grades from pre-Nursery to Form 10. Since it has been recently established in India the classes are bottom-heavy with a larger number of students in primary school. Also the teaching staff is young, energetic and eager to learn new ways of learning particularly using technology.

Kunskapsskolan has been established in India via a joint venture partnership between Sweden and India. The schools follow the KED programme whose motto is: “Personalize each student’s education according to their individual needs and abilities. All resources in the school are carefully designed and organized around the student in a complete and coherent system.” Another characteristic of Kunskapsskolan schools is to align themselves with the educational system approved by the government of the country they are establishing schools in. So in India they are recognised by the CBSE board. Having said that they implement the curriculum using theme-based learning and from grades 3-8 it is primarily using digital resources. A unique aspect of Kunskapsskolan is its inclusive policy to have students with behavioural and learning challenges. There is a department that has skilled educators and councillors who are instrumental in the integration of these special children with rest of the school community.

Given the interesting mix of students with varying capabilities and incorporating the simple mandate of the school management — “By making a qualitative difference to the school community by immersing everyone in a world of books. It is also to introduce children to the love of reading via various methodologies and a well-curated book exhibition.” It was decided to hold the book week along with Scholastic India. With ninety-five years experience of publishing for children worldwide, of those twenty in India, Scholastic India is equipped to meet the requirements of the school. For instance putting together a theme-based book fair, introduction to audiobooks, ebooks and levelled readers for students such as Book Flix ( primary) and LitPro ( middle and secondary).

Teacher’s workshop led by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, 29 April 2017

The book week began with a workshop for the school teachers on the “promotion of reading and digital resources”. I led two workshops. First for early years and primary school teachers. The second one was for middle and secondary school teachers. The emphasis was on importance of reading as a lifelong skill to acquire and not just to complete school curriculum. Given that this is the information age where its imperative to know how to read and glean

Anu Singh Chowdhary

knowledge, reading as an activity has to be enjoyable. It has to inculcate a love for reading without making it a chore. Today there are multiple formats by which children can access books for pleasure and information. According to Kids & Family Reading Report 2016 (KFRR ) children prefer reading for fun and helps develop a fondness for the activity. Parents too agreed that reading is important.

  • 86% of kids interviewed said their favourite books – the ones they were likely to finish – were the ones they pick out themselves. This is close to the USA average of 93%.
  • Across all ages, an overwhelming majority of children (87%) say they would read more if they could find more books that they like.
  • Children and parents prefer curated selections as it is easier to discover books. The top sources of books are the school book fairs, book clubs and word-of-mouth recommendations.  Libraries and bookshops are a close second.

    Anupa Lal

A primary school teacher’s feedback on the sessions and book fair, 5 May 2017

The teachers were introduced to online digital resources ( free and subscription based) that were age-appropriate and supported their curriculum. The workshops had been customised to align with KED methodology. So though the focuse was on resources available online many scrumptious examples of print books were also shared to gasps of astonished delight. A teacher who works primarily with children who have learning disabilities wrote in later to say “I simply loved the session!”

Something similar was witnessed at the Kunskapsskolan Book Week.

A student’s enthusiastic response to the book fair.

On the first day two little tiddlers hurtled down the stairs breathless with excitement, ” This book fair is awesome! The collection is so good!”

Paro Anand reading out aloud “Wingless”

Every single day there were sessions with authors, illustrators, storytellers, dramatists, cartoonists and editors. The idea being to introduce children to different aspects of books and reading. There were even sessions planned around audio books and animations based on popular stories as with Book Flix. Unfortunately due to privacy issues I am unable to upload some of the magnificent pictures taken during the events. Children, irrespective of whether they were toddlers or young adults, were mesmerised by the sessions. I have pictures of children who were trooped into the sessions and sat very quietly not knowing what to expect. Within minutes of the resource people beginning we had children absorbed listening to the stories in wide-eyed wonder, small or big the students were sprawled across the carpets, some were sitting under classroom desks and peering out, others were clapping their hands in glee and yet others body language was a delight to watch.  Inevitably within minutes the students would surround the resource person and it was absolutely marvellous to watch the adult engulfed in a sea of blue with loud chirrups of happiness from the children.

Simi Srivastava, storyteller

Simi Srivastava told a deliciously onomatopoeic tale about a bear. It was narrated accompanied to music. It went down very well with the toddlers. After the session a little boy came and gave her a tight hug while planting a slurpy wet kiss of appreciation on her cheek. Another girl came up politely and said “It was nice” but her twinkling eyes noted her deep appreciation of the storytelling performance.

Paro Anand, an exceptional storyteller, read out aloud her brilliant fable Wingless to a mesmerised audience of 9 and 10 year olds. ( According to KFRR, across all ages, the overwhelming majority of kids (85%) say they love(d) being read books aloud.) When she said she had written 27 books for children, a tiny little hand went up and a solemn little child said, “It means you are ‘experienced'” much to Paro’s delight.

Later Paro Anand had a session with the senior children around her recently launched graphic novel 2. It is the first Indo-Swedish collaborative book and it was apt that the first school event was held at an Indo-Swedish school. Paro Anand has written this book with Swedish writer, Örjan Persson. Her session was converted into a writing workshop too. The children were broken up into teams of two and given the task of writing stories together, aping the collaboration between the authors of 2. They were given two days to work on the stories. Three winning teams were awarded prizes along with notes of appreciation by Paro Anand.

There were sessions planned with renowned storytellers like Anupa Lal, Anu

(L-R) Anu Singh Chowdhury, Anupa Lal and Blossom D’Souza

Singh Chowdhury conducted a session in Hindi introducing children to Gulzar’s poetry and stories, seasoned publisher-cum-author Arthy Muthana led a workshop on editing and book production wherein the children looked astonished upon hearing of the “small pile” of manuscripts waiting to be read on her desk, dramatist Vanessa Ohri had the children spellbound, and cartoonist Ajit Narayan’s infectious enthusiasm for drawing characters was palpable as children quickly sketched in their art books while he demonstrated. He was provocative with his remarks like “I still have not found the right picture” but it only spurred the children on to improve. They drew furiously and clucked around him for appreciation.

Ajit Narayan

Arthy Muthana

While the book week was on a team of student volunteers had banded together to form a temporary editorial team. These four senior school students were entrusted with the task of creating “books” documenting the book week. They could choose any form of narrative as long as it contained highlights of the sessions and brought in different perspectives. For this they interviewed the resource people, students and teachers to get their views too. The students chose to illustrate with line drawings and soon took photographs to accompany the text. The books are to be placed in the school library. The exercise helped give an insight into the team effort, creativity and patience required to put a book together.

By the last day I too had students smiling and greeting me. The primary school students would give a broad smile or a hug. The senior school students were a little more reserved but it did not prevent them from lurking behind pillars and popping out unexpectedly to waylay me for a chat. It was a tremendous experience and I look forward to many more such occasions.

8 May 2017

*All the pictures except for the one of the school entrance have been taken by me and posted with permission of the school management.

“The Bicycle Spy” & “Brave Like My Brother”

Of late there has been an increase in the amount of historical fiction set during the second world war by contemporary writers. These are two wonderful examples. The Bicycle Spy introduces young readers to the Resistance and German occupation of France. It is a story told from the perspective of a young boy who discovers his classmate is a Jew from Paris and needs protection. With the help of his parents he sets out on his mission. Likewise Brave Like My Brother is about a young American soldier who is recruited and within three days packed off to England and later, France. The story is told via letters he exchanges with his younger brother. As the writer says he did take some creative license to tell it but it’s embedded in facts such as Eisenhower’s visit to the Allied troops in Europe and the use of inflatable armoured vehicles to be used as decoy before D-day.

Both the books, published by Scholastic, are immensely readable and a great way to introduce children to different aspects of the war. Now for similar yalit fiction about conflict situations in other geographies.

17 February 2017 

Literature and inclusiveness

nari-bhav Nari Bhav, published by Niyogi Books, is a collection of essays exploring androgyny and female impersonation in India. These are fascinating insights by practitioners, interviews with actors and some academic papers discussing the concept of nari bhav is a deeply rooted cultural belief in the fluid interplay of the female and male symbolized for example as Ardhanariswara.  A truly exceptional essay is the one by translator, performer and playwright, Pritham Chakravarthy, on performing the Nirvanam. This is the name of the performance she gave to a bunch of monologues that emerged from her work exploring the myth of Aravan that hijras or eunuchs have adopted in South India, especially Tamil Nadu, to contest the many filthy names used for them by the general public. To this she wove in the stories narrated to her by a transgender, ‘Noorie’. The first performance was staged in 2000 and was only ten minutes long. Years later she continues to perform it and the presentation is now forty minutes long and could probably be expanded to sixty minutes. Pritham Chakravarty makes a very interesting comment in her essay: “I sit among the audience and come to the central performance area to emphasize the ‘everychapal-bhaduri day-ness’ of the narrative that will presently unfold before their eyes.” And yet when Chapal Bhaduri, a Bengali actor famous for female impersonations, performed an autobiographical piece at a seminar organized at a Kolkata university in March 2016 it seems that members of the audience were discomfited by the performance.

The concept was simple enough. The performance would be a companion piece to the 1999 documentary on him called Performing the Goddess [ made by Naveen Kishore, Seagull]. In the documentary, entirely shot in the modest ground-floor apartment in north Kolkata where he lives with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter of his sister Ketaki Dutta, Chapal Bhaduri gradually transforms himself from Chapal Bhaduri to Chapal Rani, from a man to a woman, from a human to a goddess, from the ordinary to the spectacular. At the seminar he would be doing the reverse. Her would appear before the audience as the Goddess Sitala, and then gradually divest himself of the divinity, the feminity, the spectacular, and end the piece by becoming what he is off-stage: human, male, ordinary. 

While discussing the book with a dear friend I discovered some very interesting facts about his family. This friend shikhandihas often told me how there has always been a space in the Indian society for all genders including for the currently fashionable term — “gender fluid” individuals. When I showed him a picture of Chapal Bhaduri, he told me about his grand-uncle whom everyone in the family called “Dada” and had remained a bachelor all his life. He died a few years ago. Interestingly Dada used to be an usher at some “talkies” in CP or Old Delhi but was always fascinated by dancing and dressing up as a woman. Apparently he was the go-to david-walliamsman in the family for advice on shringar, saris, buying gold jewellery etc. Dada was extremely fond of wearing beautiful Benarasi saris and spent a great part of his meagre salary to amass quite a collection.  While still a young man he began dressing up as a woman. It seems he used to give performances at private gathering. Apparently Dada was very informed about mudras and used to be a delight to watch. Also the family was completely at ease with his gender identity.  Apparently he was considered one of the respected elders of the family and his advice was sought on all important matters. He was also the matchmaker of the community. It probably also explains the comfort family members had with the eunuchs who used to wander in the colony.My friend has childhood memories of having the eunuchs over at home for tea and snacks. It was a regular affair and everyone was at ease with this practice. Another anecdote he recounts is of attending a wedding where where three uncles of the bride dressed up as women in saris and danced as part of the festivities.

And he is not alone in his observations. Anita Roy, publisher and author, wrote this wonderful article in 2006 “Dancing with God” to witness the kōla ceremony; a puja that honours the village deity. ( http://bit.ly/2enwIcW)

Each family in the village undertakes to host this ritual every year.  The presiding bhuta of Adve is Jhumadi (or Dhumavati in the local language, Tulu). A protector of the village and its inhabitants, human, animal and plant, Jhumadi is gendered female and believed to be one of the manifestations of the Goddess Shakti. But like Shiva’s incarnation as Ardhanariswara, she mixes both male and female attributes. Unlike the Puranic gods, who are worshipped in temples, officiated by Brahmin priests and receive offerings as silent spectators, bhutas are more localized spirits who directly influence the lives of their devotees with whom they have a much more intimate, almost neighbourly, relationship.

GeorgeAt the Myrin International Children’s Festival, Reykjavík, well-known author and translator, Lawrence Schimel lawrence-schimel-oct-2016-icelandwhose picture book for children, Amigos Y Vecinos, includes a gay family said that it’s extremely important to include LGBT+ characters in children’s books so they reflect the world that children already live in. (LILJA KATRÍN GUNNARSDÓTTIR, 6 Oct 2016 “LGBT lives just as important as heterosexual ones” http://bit.ly/2fgwEJE ) David Walliam’s first book for children The Boy in the Dress, Alex Gino’s incredibly powerful novel for young adults —George and Richa Jha’s picture book The Unboy Boy are examples of contemporary literature being inclusive by accepting and respecting “unconventional” characters for who they are. Vivek Tejuja, book critic, wrote a poignant article last year entitled “Being gay: how books and reading saved richa-jha-the-unboy-boymy life”. ( Scroll, 21 March 2015, http://bit.ly/2e1gb05)

Reading provided the much needed solace. Reading was a balm to all my aches. Books transported me, took me away from reality. I did not know want to face reality. Why should I? I thought to myself, when I could be lost in the lands of Oz and travel with Gulliver and be miserable with Jane Eyre. Nothing was of consequence, but the authors and the books I read. . . . Reading books was sufficient then. They did not discriminate against me. 

Vivek Tejuja’s forthcoming book meant for young adults will be addressing some of these issues. Siddharth Dube’s precisely told memoir No One Else and A. Revathi’s gripping account of her life as an activist in A Life in Trans Activism are recent contributions to Indian literature discussing sexuality and the grey areas it inhabits —these exist in Nature. revathiThe biggest challenge lies in making this reality visible for now the hypocritic notion that heterosexuality is the norm and everything else is unacceptable on any moral compass reigns supreme. And yet as mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik confirms in Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you which is a collection of stories celebrating life “narrated by our ancestors that are rarely retold publicly as they seem to challenge popular notions of normality”. In Oct 2016, Parmesh Shahani, Head – Godrej India Culture Lab, said at the India Economic Summit, New Delhi that parmesh-shahani“inclusion is for everyone and not just the LGBT community”. He bolstered it with evidence that if businesses & institutions are inclusive then it will have a positive impact on productivity, growth and development. ( “India Economic Summit: Breaking Down Diversity Barriers”, 6 Oct 2016. http://bit.ly/2enrUoa )

( Note: All the images are off the internet. If you own the copyright please let me know and I will acknowledge it. )

2 November 2016 

 

 

 

 

Ritu Khoda and Vanita Pai’s “Raza’s Bindu” with an afterword by S. H. Raza

IMG_20160724_102616In late 2014 Scholastic India published a remarkable little book called Raza’s Bindu. It is the first in “I am an Artist” series created by the firm to introduce children to great Indian modern artists. This book is to be followed by a peek into the life and works of another famous painter Ambadas. Raza’s Bindu is a slim and neatly produced little hardback that introduces children to the life of renowned painter S.H. Raza. Instead of being merely a dry autobiographical account the book incorporates fabulous tasks for the child to engage with. They are not run-of-the-mill instructions of creating paintings at home but pages incorporated into the book design that permit the child to scribble happily in the book itself. Though the book could not have been easy to put through to production with its fussy IMG_20160724_102720detailing it is reasonably priced at Rs 350.

Yesterday with the sad news of the passing away of ninety-four-year old Raza I could not help but reflect on the remarkable legacy he has left for the next generation of children and more. Sure his paintings hang in galleries and private collections around the world but in his final years IMG_20160724_102701he was able to reach out generously to children breaking into tiny morsels his philosophy of painting by exploring the multiple possibilites which reside in the universal dot or bindu. Is it a window to the world? Does it represent the God who resides in one’s heart? Is it the Panchtatva ( five elements — earth, water, fire, air and space) that IMG_20160724_102634exist in all his paintings? By mixing storytelling especially beginning with him being a daydreamer in class who was more intent on doodling till he reprimanded by his teacher and asked as a punishment to stare at a dot drawn on the blackboard. It was to be the turning point in Raza’s life. In fact  some of his more familiar paintings incorporated into the book will resonate with the young reader.

This is a tremendous book conceptualised and created by Ritu Khoda and Vanita Pai.

Ritu Khoda and Vanita Pai “Raza’s Bindu” with an afterword by S. H. Raza. Scholastic India, Gurgaon, 2014. Hb. Rs 350 

24 July 2016