Meet Mohar!

Posted by Menaka Raman on June 14, 2017

Anurima Chanda is a PhD research scholar working on Indian English Children's Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Recently, one of her papers on Nonsense Superheroes was  chosen as course curriculum at the Berklee College of Music. She loves translating to and from Bengali, her native language. She loves writing and illustrating for children.   

I am doing my PhD from the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. I am at the last stage as I submit in July this year. My topic (and this you would be glad to know) is on Twenty First Century Indian English Children's Literature and how it has been challenging previously held taboos within this area. So I look at texts that are not afraid to talk about caste, class, crime, violence, death, disease, disability, broken families, alternate sexualities, so on and so forth. The Pratham Books title ‘Chuskit Goes to School’ is one of the many stories that I am looking at - and I should inform you that I absolutely loved the story. I remember that I was looking for the English version of the story at the Delhi Book Fair this year, but they had already been sold out. That is when I started searching for it online and was glad to see that it was made freely available online on StoryWeaver.

I discovered StoryWeaver when the Pratham Books page on Facebook advertised about the Retell, Remix and Rejoice Contest 2017. When I went through the site, I realised how easy it was to upload one’s stories through the platform. That is what got me so excited! But I saved all my excitement for later, as at that moment my prime target was to send a story for the contest. I got to know really late as it was already 27th or 28th of April and the last date for submission was 30th. I knew I had a story but I did not have enough time to weave it properly. When I saw the subheadings under which I could write, I knew I wanted to write about "Body Parts" but with a slight twist. I wanted to tie it up with disability, so that we bring a break in the way body parts are taught at schools. Children are made aware that there are people for whom eyes and ears function differently. The motive behind it was not just spreading awareness but also to find a way against bullying that disabled children face at school.

StoryWeaver has given me that confidence to tell my story, even if it is not polished. Plus, it is an added advantage, that you guys are so open to new ideas. Unlike most other publishing houses, who still have concerns about the suitability of sharing stories around certain topics with young children, Pratham Books has always been a forerunner in breaking that pattern and showing the way ahead. So thank you, thank you for changing the scene of children's writing in India and for giving us - people who are so passionate about this field, an opportunity to experiment.   

By that time the story bug had hit me hard. I started with simple translations. Then I thought of writing my own story, and the easiest was telling my own story - yes, Mohar is my nickname and that story had really happened. I wrote in Bengali, because although I am an English student, I still 'think' my stories in Bengali - even today. About the illustrations, one of the biggest grouse against Indian children's literature has been that it uses western pattern of illustrations. Even though there have been experiments with indigenous art-forms, it has shot up the prices of the books, making it out of reach for majority of the children in India. So, I knew that whenever I tell my own story, I will experiment with indigenous art-form. That was the reason that I used the Warli art-form for the book. And, in the future too, I intend on using similar art-forms - be it Poto-chitro, Madhubani, Gond or the others.

 

You can read Mohar in English, here.

There were so many people who complimented me on Mohar, that now I know that I am doing something right. I always knew that in the future I wanted to write for children. But this one, just made me more confident. Now I know for certain that I can do it. And thanks to you guys for making it so simple! So, my major aim is to get through complex ideas to children in the most easy way possible. To tell stories about children who do not fit into the mainstream idea of childhood in India. Then, to have my friends translate these stories into as many languages as possible to spread them far and wide. And yes, to experiment with folk art. I also want to help open libraries for children in the country - starting with my hometown Siliguri. At present I do not have the money, but once I submit my PhD and have a job, I would love to initiate that project. It is all a dream!

 

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