Why your child must read Indian authors too

Why your child must read Indian authors too

Scones and tarts are all fine, but are you denying your children the pleasures of reading about lime pickles and raw mango thokku, asks Shruthi Rao

Indian books for Indian children

I grew up reading books about unchaperoned British children gambolling about the countryside, solving mysteries and consuming copious amounts of unfamiliar delicacies like scones, tarts, tinned peaches and ginger beer. I didn’t understand half the things they did or ate, but I imagined that anchovy paste was raw mango thokku and enjoyed the stories anyway.

But when I read RK Narayan’s Swami and Friends, where Mani orders Swami to steal ‘lime pickles’ for him, I had to stop reading as saliva flooded my mouth. For the first time, I knew exactly what they were talking about!

Admittedly, the story of these boys in a pre-Independent Indian village was nearly as alien to me as a story set in England, but, having just savoured a dollop of lime pickle with my curd-rice that very afternoon, I felt a oneness with Mani (a character I didn’t even like) that gave me pleasant shivers.

That was my first experience of the delight of seeing myself in the pages of a book in a way that I hadn’t before.
In my adulthood, Indian writing fulfilled my craving of reading about people I could connect to on multiple levels, just because they came from the same background and had the same outlook of the world as I did. I wished I had experienced this when I was younger — but books on mythology, gods and royals didn’t quite hit that spot.

At about the time my daughter was born, the Indian children’s publishing scene started changing. Karadi, Tulika, Tara, Pratham, Duckbill, Puffin and other publishers brought out beautifully illustrated, high quality books by Indian authors who wrote about Indian children doing, well, modern Indian things. I bought some and borrowed others and we delighted in them together. Unfortunately, in spite of the range of award-winning Indian books available now for children of all ages, parents still fall back on foreign authors, or on what they themselves grew up reading. The problem lies with the lack of availability — apart from some small, independent bookstores, most bookstores and libraries stock only children’s books by foreign authors, and not everybody shops online. So, many parents don’t even know these books exist.

Books are books, you say — how does it matter who wrote them or who the characters are? I give you — the child who didn’t think a brown-skinned Indian child could be the hero of a book and do the exciting things that white-skinned children do. Or the child who didn’t like reading at all until she happened upon a book with children just like her. Or the child who realises the characters in the stories she writes need not be named John and Samantha but could be Rishabh and Mallika. How will we know what else these books can do for our kids if we don’t even give them a chance to experience them?

The author got a master’s degree in energy engineering and worked in the IT industry until her daughter dragged out the writer lurking inside her. She has written eight books for children and can be reached at www.shruthi-rao.com

GobbledyBook is a new fortnightly column that will give you a peek into the wondrous world of children’s books. Hop on! Or like Alice did, just plunge into the rabbit hole. 

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