Stories from a small valley called Sittilingi nestled between Kalrayan and Sitteri Hills in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district; stories from a gruelling journey of several hundred kilometres undertaken by six families leaving Andhra Pradesh; stories from the life of a single mother who is a farmer from Sivagangai in Tamil Nadu growing the fragrant white sampangis, and more…
These stories, with fresh looking book covers, are what you’ll read in Priti David’s Coming Home, Subuhi Jiwani’s No Ticket, Will Travel, Aparna Karthikeyan’s No Nonsense Nandhini, Nivedha Ganesh’s A Big Splash and Vishaka George’s House of Uncommons.
Launched on October 31, all five stories, part of Chennai based children’s book publisher Karadi Tales and veteran journalist P Sainath’s publishing house People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), are based on real people. Inspired by news reports published on PARI, five writers have come up with five titles intended for children between 10 and 15 years of age.
In a video conversation while promoting the book P Sainath points out, “A whole generation of Indian children are growing up as foreigners in their own country. It’s not just urban children who are isolated from larger realities, rural children itself are pretty isolated, more exposed to urban realities than to their own countryside…” Adding that the reading diet for children in India is completely bereft of such stories, Sainath talks about how the series is meant to bridge this very gap.
Started in 2018, the project began when Karadi Tales’ co-founder and publishing director Shobha Viswanath found herself awestruck by the stories featured on PARI. She immediately realised that there was great scope for them to be turned into visually rich stories for children. Daya Subramanian, senior editor at Karadi Tales, tells TNM that a shortlist of articles from PARI was instantly made, followed by a closely involved back and forth with the authors.
Except Nivedha Ganesh, who was an intern at Karadi Tales when the project was being done, the others are all women journalists who were in some way connected to the original story. Talking about the coincidence of this series’ all-women author list, Daya says, “We didn’t actively seek only women writers for this, we just wanted to ensure that whoever was adapting the stories were the best possible people for the job – by that I mean they were connected in some way to the original article (either they had written the original article, or were knowledgeable about the subject having covered that field before).”
Nivedha’s A Big Splash is based on the story ‘From Cotton Fields to the Paralympics’ written by R Revathi for PARI. The moving story talks about perseverance and the friendship between two young girls with disabilities. Swimmers Dhivya and Ambikapathi, who hail from a village in Tamil Nadu’s Perambalur district, dream of making it to the Paralympics.
In House of Uncommons, Vishaka George spins an interesting web of events around the student Parliament in Snehagram school in Krishnagiri district. What’s more interesting is that this book presents HIV to young children in the most beautiful manner, focussing on stigma, the difference between HIV and AIDS, and showing why it is wrong to treat people affected by HIV differently. The story’s protagonist, young 13-year-old Krishnan, is affected by HIV and is sent to a boarding school for children like him, much to his dismay. How does he deal with the stigma that he faces, and how does he live his dream?
While the stories are all based on real people, what makes them stand out is that they open up a whole world for the readers, becoming great inter-disciplinary subjects. The story about a woman farmer is also a story about a single mother. The story about two youngsters living with disabilities is also a story about athletes (swimmers). More importantly, the books in the series humanise textbook concepts and put a face to statistics – of migrant workers, people living below the poverty line, young persons with disabilities.
And the books also come with a generous done of imagination. Priti David, who wrote Coming Home, the story of a school in Sittilingi valley, shares with TNM, “While writing, I enjoyed bringing in the exasperating ‘Mani’ because I’m sure all children will identify with this one slightly older kid who is always maddeningly superior. I was laughing when I wrote those parts. I also enjoyed thinking up all the little extras like the picnic and the cycling trip, and the play. I brought in details from my own childhood and so in a way I too was ‘coming home’!”
The books have been receiving great response. “There has been an incredible response to the books, from great reviews and testimonials, to sales figures – it’s one of our fastest-selling series of books ever. We get multiple tweets and DMs every day with praise for the stories and even for the book covers. I think the overwhelming response is because this is a unique, first-of-its-kind series, and therefore it has caught a lot of attention,” says Daya.
Those featured in the series too have something to treasure. When the books arrived at Sittilingi’s Thulir school, which also featured in Coming Home, the children were quite excited to notice the resemblance to their own village. “When the postman brought the books, a teacher at the school immediately opened it and showed it to the 10-year-olds. They looked at the cover and said ‘This place looks like Sittilingi’!” Priti shares.
In one of the video interactions, journalist Aparna Karthikeyan talks about how Chandra Subramaniam, Nandhini in the book, felt about No Nonsense Nandhini. Adding that Chandra’s real life is far more complex compared to the story, Aparna says, “When I rang her this morning to ask if she has a message, she wanted to say that she’s very happy she’s her own boss. She also says single women can accomplish everything they want to if they have confidence and perseverance to do so. And she does not want to force her children to become farmers if they don’t want to.”
Karadi Tales plans on making sure the books reach both rural and urban children. “We’ve been trying to do our best to promote this series, as we truly want it to go beyond our usual audience. We mainly want these books to reach students in both rural and urban India. So early next year, we’re planning to conduct a series of webinars with educators across India to start conversations about the topics in this series,” Daya adds.
The PARI series is available for purchase either as a set or as separate books.