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Archive for December, 2010

I was born during the uneasy interval between the cessation of World War II and independence, when much of the world around me was bent double on empty stomach. All those who found gainful employment in the various opportunities that the war had opened up – short service commission in the military, civil supplies, order supply contracts, civil and structural contracts – were frantically looking for cushy jobs after being de-mobbed or dismissed. The job market had shrunk overnight, with the war called off, on all fronts. Blissfully unaware of the unfriendly environs, I, nine months – one full gestation period – older than the Indian republic, made my presence known to all who cared.
In economic terms it was the worst of times but, much to my surprise that surfaced decades later – after I had become an adult – the world of children’s books was surprisingly rich and, I dare say, that it was the best of times during my entire life span till date. For us it was not a tale of two cities. The befitting description of the period, with hindsight, would be tales in two tongues.
In our formative years we grew up on Nālak, Śakuntalā and Budo Ānglā (Abanindranath Thakur), Chānder Pāhād (Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay), Banér Khabar (Pramodaranjan Ray), Diné Dupuré (Leela Majumdar), Hulusthul (Sunirmal Basu) and a lot of others equally tantalising. On the other hand, in my father’s and aunt’s collection, I found old issues of Lewis Carroll (both books of “Alice”, “The Hunting of the Snark”, “Sylvie and Bruno”), HG Wells (“War of the Worlds”, “The Time Machine”), E Nesbit (“Five Children and It”, “Phoenix and the Carpet”), JRR Tolkien (“The Hobbit”); many others published during my childhood could be added to the list to make it much longer. Alice and Snark adorn my bedside rack till this day.
And that was not all: there were children’s magazines (Rangmaśāl, Śiśusāthī, Moucāk, and the ubiquitous pujā annuals; my father sometimes humoured me by buying “Boys’ Own” – usually from the Howrah station stall, and I also had access to two bound issues of my grandpa’s “Strand Magazine” – definitely not contemporaneous) galore to give you a glimpse of the contemporary scene.
Growing up in a sleepy, one-horse and substantially sylvan town – some 40 miles off Kolkata – helped me nurture the eternal child in me through the treasure of my books. I fancied myself to be much akin to an earth-bound Peter Pan, long into my adult years. From JRR Tolkien, I did eventually graduate to CS Lewis and, of late, to JP Rowling, without growing up an inch ever.
I don’t think that today’s children are starved of good literature. All the stuff written and printed a generation or three ago, together with JP Rowling, Rick Riordan and the other contemporary story tellers, are still available. The picture in Bengal is a bit glazed and dull, though. But, then, Bengali is no longer a language of preference of the urban, middle-class children. It is easier now to lay one’s hands on English books and periodicals, and, in comparative terms, they are much more affordable to present day parents. Many of us blame the lure of the visual media on the lack of young readership today. I have my personal doubts. True, there are other distractions to keep one busy, but the youthful thirst for good yarns cannot have died a sudden death. The only things that have changed are our perceptions of today’s youth, pre-conceived and much distorted by the generation gap, and the other competitive activities that we want our progeny to take part in for Mammon worship when they grow up.
Can we restore their childhood – stolen by us greedy parents and grandparents – to them?

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We had no television or FM radio. The powers-that-were frowned at too much play. Books, perforce, were our only option as everyday indoor (and alfresco) entertainment. In the era of so many alternative distractions and parental pressure for school and an array of useless extra-curricular activities to let them (the parents) keep up with the Joneses, are children missing the fun of growing up with their imagination tickled pink and honed razor-sharp? Movies, after all, do not allow one to imagine too much.

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