Sunday, August 22, 2010

Forgotten Gama Räla and Mahadana Muththa’s clan


If I ever wish to go back to my childhood, one of the things which tempts me to press the rewind button must be the two huge piles of storybooks, Amma and Thaththa heaped up for me when I was barely learning my alphabets.
They became an inseparable part of my life that I knew all the stories by heart even though I couldn’t read more than two words in each of them. Amma still recalls how I used to narrate the stories by just looking at the pictures. I loved my books more than any other toy I was gifted with. So, whether I liked it or not, my books became a part of the legacy which was handed down to Nangi with the handful of my toys. So much for my hopes on sharing those stories with her, I only can remember her tearing them into bits and pieces and cooking them in her famous ‘mallum.’
Like most of the younger siblings do, Nangi started imitating me when she was growing up. She would sneak into my study-room, pick up the book I had finished reading and run her eyes through over the pages. Even though she was not an avid reader, Nangi never skips reading a book I recommend. So, we always had something worthwhile to chat about besides school-work and teachers.
When Malli came along things were different. There was no one to relate him stories out of our favourite storybooks. Instead, he learnt to seek refuge in the TV or cartoon DVDs Thaththa heaped up for him. What we found in books he found inside the square-frame. The difference is, we drew the characters and the settings in our minds when Amma or Achchi narrated us the stories, but for him everything came readymade.
So, I know how it is like to be the ‘Loku Akka’ to a Nangi who loves to read but does not have the time and to a Malli whose world is utterly devoid of books.
Champi’s editorial last Tuesday made me think and think again as to why the kids today are drifting away from the world of books. Is the ailment with the books or with the kids?
Writing for kids is not a work of a day even though, a children’s story may carry only a few sentences with a number of pictures. A lot of filtering has to be done in the writer’s mind as to what message the book will carry and how. But, sadly it is a risk most of the writers do not like taking. Lack of encouragement and competition in the field has made them so lethargic that writers prefer satisfying themselves by writing for adults. Even those few writers, who would dare stepping forward and writer for children, hesitate going for printing with the current dormant market for children’s literature.
After all, how can you expect the kids to read the same old stories, read and re-read by so many generations before them? It is true that ancient stories have their charms and mysteries. But how can you expect a kid to create a mind-pictures of a village he hasn’t even seen his real life. And how can you tell a kid that animals talk, when he knows that human beings are the only species who use a language for communication.
This is why children’s literature in Sri Lanka needs a good wakeup call. As for us, Literature, be it Sinhala, Tamil or English, has become just another reason to hold a festival and call a politician to a podium.
For me, helping Lish with her Little Enquirer work gives immense satisfaction. Seven or eight letters that arrive on my desk every week is like a silent demand for every children’s author to write for the kids; and that they are willing to read. I only hope Malli will be at least at the end of this queue.

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