I still remember about 16-17 years ago, when I was about 10-11, I used to read Hindi and English (with the typical Hindi medium kid’s difficulty). It was still very good because I could read and understand the children literature and the literature meant for Children that I used to read was short stories of Panchtantra, Vir Balak Balikaen aur Unke Karname, those golden-decade Champaks, Nandans and other children magazines and also some of the fancy fairy tales like Arabian Nights and others. Do you also feel nostalgic now, you 90s kid? Yea we all do; there are no surprises here. Even in the syllabus, I had to read Sankshipt Ramayana and many stories of Bravehearts of India (not only Mel Gibson is one!).
Children Literature back then and now has changed a lot; the journey has been very long and very chaotically changing as well. One thing is certain; either the children of today have changed a lot or the children literature has just gone through a paradigm shift. One can certainly see it apparently. Except for the exceptions, the general trend in children literature can clearly be seen suffering with:
Too much fun
Lack of morality
Extreme Heroism which seems impossible
Disconnect with realism
Disappearing traditional values
Where are the ideals like Ram, Hanuman, Krishna, Arjun and others?
I still remember very well that the book that I mentioned, Vir Balak Balikaen aur Unke Karname, had real stories of the children who had done very heroic works in real life – some saved lives of thousands and some just saved a complete village from being flood-swept away during the rains. Those stories inspired, motivated and also taught me that one needs to be selfless (as far as possible), committed towards humanity and aspiring to do well. What is the lesson that I learnt from Harry Potter? Well, I am still trying to figure that out.
If I pit Panchtantra against any of the possibly best Children literature of the day, I am sure I will be picking Panchatantra for my children (once they are born) because it has everything parents would want for their kids – moral lesson, a calculated fun quotient, almost no violence, and simple way of letting someone know what needs to be known.
I am not trying to sound regressive, bigoted, religiously charged or even a fringe (because you are termed any or all of these if you say that Ramayana should be taught in schools) but I will certainly say that we should introspect and see what we are offering our children to read. We become what we think; we get our thoughts from what we see or hear or read. Thus, reading is an important part of our lives and it starts right from there – the childhood. I am not trying to lampoon today’s attempt at children literature; I am just saying there MUST be the elements which make children literature worthy and suitable for children.
by Alok for LN