On 27 June, Patara was invited by Suresh Jairam’s/Visual Art Collective’s studio, 1 Shantiroad, to participate in a multimedia exhibition on Tibet. The three-day event included the ceremonial drawing of a sand mandala, film screenings, discussions, talks, poetry readings, music concerts, all on the theme of Tibet. There was also the launch and release of two books for children on the second day of the exhibition. Patara was invited to hold a reading and activity session for children in connection with these books.
Aravinda Anantharaman’s interactions with Tibetan sweater sellers in Bangalore city, and her subsequent visits to their colonies, have resulted in two charming books about the lives of Tibetan children who live in India in exile from their own country. Patara’s presentation was based on these two books, Dorje’s Holiday at the Gyenso Khang, and Dolma visits the City.
The theme of Tibet was slightly different from what Patara has been used to presenting to children it was factual, political and also emotive. We would have to plan this and carry it out carefully. Luckily for us three young people readily agreed to pitch in, and they helped us from planning to presentation. In preparation, Usha gathered photographs and pictures to show to the children. Flags resembling the Tibetan prayer flags were made from coloured kite paper and decorated, some with familiar images of Tibet, such as the dome of a Gompha, a monk in tall head gear, a yak, a prayer wheel. Another set of flags was decorated with rubbings from a tablet bearing the inscription Om mani padme hum. These flags were made by Tanu and Eric. Eric Lord also made bookmarks to give away after the session. These were decorated with Buddhist religious symbols, and each one carried a quote from the Buddha or the Dalai Lama.
Tanushree, Hemangini and Shruti contributed solidly to the session. Tanu manned the puppet sutradhar, helped in the making of the prayer flags, taught the children a Tibetan song and led them in a group dance. Hemangini ferried us to and fro, and along with Shruti guided the children through the various activities that we had planned for them. The session took off with Usha sticking out her tongue in a very friendly manner at the little crowd of children and adults gathered on the terrace. The puppet, wearing a typical Tibetan striped apron (we’ve learned since that it is worn by married women only!) demanded to know why she was making faces at the guests. It was explained that it was the traditional (primitive?) manner of greeting in Tibet, similar to the folding of hands in a namaste, or touching noses, as the Maoris do, or the shaking of hands in the West. From this interesting start, Patara plunged into the theme of Tibet. Usha told
the children about the country sometimes spoken of as ‘the roof of the world’ or as ‘Shangri La’, and about its people, their lives and their habits; she also spoke about the Dalai Lama, and his escape to India in 1959, following the invasion of Tibet by China. A map of the world was displayed for the children to identify the country, and photographs of the mountains, the people, their lives, and their leader were shown. Some of the guests who were Tibetan contributed with interesting bits of information about their
food, their music and their religion.
After this absorbing introduction, drawing materials were distributed and the children were asked to illustrate their impressions of Tibet and its people from what they had just heard. Nearly all the children drew the mountains, but it was moving to see how many of them did draw people escaping across them one or two even showing cattle accompanying the people. When all the drawings had been completed and hung up for display alongside the fluttering flags, the group got down to the main business of reading from the newly released books and introducing the author. Sandhya read an excerpt from Dolma visits the City. For the finale, Tanu led the children in a Tibetan song and a dance. Before our guests dispersed, the beautiful bookmarks made by Eric were given away – the gasps of pleasure from many of the parents and from some of the Tibetan organizers made it worth the effort of bullying Eric into doing the hard work.
Patara was paid the princely sum of Rs1000 for the evening, from which we returned 500. Far more valuable were the string of prayer flags and the knot of infinity that were presented to us; even better was the sense of satisfaction from participating in a worthwhile and successful Patara session.
“Can you help us set up a library?” was the request from Chirag School in the Kumaon Himalayas at Uttarakhand. “On a clear day, you can see the entire Nanda Devi range, as well as Trishul and Panchachuli from around the corner,” the letter added. What was I waiting for? An assignment dear to my heart and a chance of a sight of the Himalayas. I didn’t waste a moment and so July 1st saw me heading out north. To Delhi first, then an overnight train to Kathgodam and then a taxi ride to Sitla, near Mukteshwar. My spirits rose with the ascent and I found myself breathing in the air as I had never breathed before. I had not seen such a blue expanse of sky for so long and a feeling of great serenity came over me as I gazed at the lush green trees . I knew I would be happy and at peace here.
After a day, I began the interaction with the school. There are almost 60 children from ages 3 to 9. They speak Kumaoni and Hindi and very little or no English. The school itself is set in a valley with a magnificent panorama all around. Every now and then when the sky looked dramatic, I would stop short to gaze and wonder, probably much to the amusement of the kids and teachers. My target was to immerse the children in English with the help of stories, poems, songs, games and activities and finally plays. As an add-on, I was to spend an hour in English activities with the teachers too.
But what of the library, you ask. I am getting to it! The school already had a wonderful collection of books, magazines and AV material thanks to the wisdom and planning of Rajiv, the Guruji! So my first task was to alert him that a record of all the books they have was an urgent necessity. With the help of a couple of volunteers, the accession began and was almost complete by the end of July. This record enables users to borrow and return with the help of the accession number. It also categorises the material into different broad topics with a sub-topic added. Material can be accessed through key words. If books go missing, re-ordering is easy with the help of the information in the accession register.
Secondly, a physical space was located in a corner of the English language room and the library was formally housed there. A large sign, displays of books and magazines, posters and pictures made by the children, low seating for reading, a pick-a-book box, and colour-coded labelling for books and shelves, ensured a welcoming and user-friendly atmosphere.
Thirdly, an important aspect of a library, namely care for books and right handling was taken up through talking, showing and some dramatics. Book marks were made by the oldest children as a follow-up activity. Each book mark had a sentence written by the child about reading or about books. These were placed in a convenient holder for general use in the library.
Fourthly, the whole concept of browsing and borrowing was introduced through a game of selling books like in a shop, choosing what is wanted , buying it and finally going home with it. They were told that in a library, the same thing happened except that they could, at no cost, borrow and return the books.
They were now ready for borrowing, and again thanks to the free hand I was given by Rajiv, I started the Devdars, the oldest group, on borrowing. But first they had to understand the importance of registering their borrowing and returning. They also had to realise that it was a system based on trust. So they each made themselves a borrower’s card with their name on it, columns for date of borrowing, title of book and date of return. With this in place they were off and running! Every day books were going home and coming back. I waited a bit for this to get set and then would just ask what the story was about or what their favourite part in the story was, to make sure the book was being looked at!
Next we had some mini- book talks. Without fixing it beforehand, I just asked three or four children to come up and speak a little about one of the books they had borrowed and why they liked it or not. This was an introduction to a book talk and by now they must have done a few more. This activity grows in depth and sophistication as the children get older and as the librarian/ teacher also learns to ask key questions.
One fun activity we had was a treasure hunt. Each child was given a written clue leading him/her to a book they had seen on display or had borrowed. The children found their books in a flat 2 minutes! So next time the clues should be harder. But the follow-up activity was challenging. Related to the theme of the book was a thinking question. They had to respond to this with three or four sentences of creative writing.
The library project we took up was the creation of a book written by the students. Each student drew a chit with a teacher’s name on it. They then jointly wrote down some questions they would like to ask the teachers. They were to go off and do the interviews individually, get back and write their own page for the teacher with a drawing on the back of the page. This worked very well with only one or two students needing extra help. The book was put together with an illustrated cover and a title chosen by them, a back cover with blurbs from readers and a copyright date and the publisher’s name on the inside cover. This book was released at the play day on August 1st by Madhavan da and is now a part of the library collection. The younger two classes were also preparing an Alphabet book with each child being assigned one letter of the alphabet. On their page they had to write the capital and the small letter, think on their own and write a minimum of five words starting with their letter and illustrate each word. By now this book too should have been released perhaps on August 15th! These two younger groups were also assigned a weekly library period when they could sit in the library, browse and read there quietly. I was told by the teachers that this went well.
We also instituted a library rota with two children each day being in charge of changing displays and generally making the library look inviting. This too took off well.
With the teachers, we had some poetry talks and later story talks. These consisted of their taking home a poem or story to read and coming back to present it to the rest, followed by a general question and discussion session. This went very well and I saw each teacher growing in confidence.
Finally, with the teachers, we made a book buying trip to Nainital. Before going, we went through the main features of selection. At the bookstore, teachers spent 45 minutes individually selecting books for the library which were of interest to them personally. Then we all gathered and tried to make a more careful selection of the ones put aside. Some things became clear. We eliminated too many of or by the same author. Also books which were too specialised. Similarly books with bad binding or very small print were taken out. Teachers were helped to discern good publishing and translation works. The exercise was very enjoyable and energizing.
Patara was a pleasantly refreshing experience. The activities are unique, simple, un-fussy and basic. Like the book jacket they made them this year. It is a novel idea and one which can actually inspire children to read more. My daughter and I have decided to make a jacket for every book we read, and on completing the book we will write the blurb for each. This way we will be able to keep track of the number of books we read and can start building up on the children’s library we plan to set up (far in the future). Last year Patara took the children bird watching, to Sankey Tank, which I thought was wonderful, because it was not a long fussy excursion to some far off bird sanctuary, and yet the children internalized it that way! Wonderful!
The people running Patara are a team which is truly passionate about reading and for ‘real’. Their resource people are interesting and unusual!. At the risk of sounding a snob, I have very high standards for childrens’ workshops, as I am a teacher of children myself and unfortunately very few worshops in the city have ever reached up to my standards. I honestly never sent them for the “summer camps” because I never felt the camps could offer them more than what I could at home with stories and art and craft. Also most camps are commercial ventures which I personally feel take away from the spirit of child-classes.
Patara totally reached up to the highest standard both in content and in attitude of the core team.
My only suggestion and wish is that Patara would conduct their sessions somewhere closer to where I live! Nonethless the journey to Malleshwaram is worth it!
Thanks for being unique.
“I loved Patara, last year I enjoyed the bird watching. I also enjoyed meeting a real authoress Mrs. Shanta Rameshwar Rao. I enjoyed the puppets because I had never made puppets like those before. The aunties are very sweet and kind. I would love to keep having Patara every week.
Sharanya Srinivasan (age 8.5yrs)
Some library interactions with the children of the Shraddhanjali Integrated School.
This is a school with mainly children who have severe disabilities and is situated in Hennur.
After a workshop with the teachers of the school on innovative use and approach to the library, I went to the school along with two young students fromCFL, Dakshayini and Yamuna to actually do library sessions with each class. We covered four periods and the objectives were to initiate and expose children to the library collection, its use, reading for fun, care in handling of books and making the library an attractive place to visit.
1st period. 5th and 7th standards.
Before we began, we asked them to tell us what the library contained and where. Their awareness about this was good. Since they are older children, I decided to do a session on reference books and how to search for and find information from them.. The idea was to simulate use through a game. Students were asked to choose chits (prepared earlier) which had topics written on them. Children formed pairs and then looked up these topics in the reference books. After they found the relevant page, they noted down the page n. on the chit. Then they in turn showed the page and told the others what their topic was. In this they learnt that topics were listed in alphabetical order. So they had to look it up and read whatever they could. The follow up activity for the teacher on the next visit would be to ask them to locate the book and page, read as much as they can and write two sentences of their own on what they have understood. The activity generated a lot of excitement and interest.
2nd period. 2nd and 3rd standards.
We felt that these children needed to learn about care of books since they were a bit rough in leafing through the books. The two children accompanying me staged a dumb show, one enacting the role of the book and the other the user, both good and bad! As each action was performed, the students were asked to guess what was happening and say it. This exercise was very useful since in a fun way they saw what happens to a book which is misused and vice versa. After this we asked the children to make book marks so that they can keep to the page they are reading without turning the book upside down or fold the corner! This went well and they seemed happy to be using their hands. The follow up activity for the teacher would be to ask the children to think of one sentence about a friendly relationship with books and have them write it on the book mark so that whoever uses it next can learn something more. These book marks can be kept in a container on the library table.
3rd period. 4th standard.
I had found an excellent book published by Pratham called “Chuskit goes to school” by Manjula Padmanabhan. This lady has worked with children with disabilities and her story is about a disabled child and how her classmates help her. This is the first story I have read where the main character is disabled and I found it sensitively written.
I read out the story to the children who appeared to be much taken by it. After some talk about the story, some children worked on posters for the library and with the help of the two children with me, some others made a mobile for the library using tree pods, coloured strips etc. We also talked about story books and authors. The follow up activity would be for the teacher to source unusual books like this, read them out and have a discussion about the characters and the plot. Also encourage the children to think a little more of the kind of posters they can draw. The themes they could use could be themes of books, like animal stories, adventure stories, fairy stories etc.
4th period. 1st standard
With this class we thought we would ask 4 children to be shopkeepers. They were asked to take out a large number of books from the shelves and arrange them on the table. After doing this they were to “sell” the books by recommending them to particular children in their group for reading. They had to learn about the best way to arrange the books, choose those with attractive covers and think who would like what kind of book. After they warmed up, the activity went well and every child had a book to look at. 5 minutes before the period ended, they had to collect the books and replace them. There too care was needed to replace the books with the title showing, right side up etc. The follow up here by the teacher could be to have the children read the books they chose and have two or three of them tell the story briefly. Others listen and ask questions.
For me and for the two children with me, it was our first experience of working and interacting with disabled children. At first we were hit hard by the extent of their severe disabilities but when we began to talk and interact, their readiness to engage and total absence of feelings of limitation freed us and we enjoyed the entire experience tremendously. I found the children bright and full of curiosity and very friendly. Perhaps my only suggestion would be to find ways to free them from any psychological limitation and find ways to enhance their creativity and original thinking. I found that many of these activities were good for them in this regard.
The last moment was an unforgettable one. We wanted the mobile to be put up but the hook was rather high. The security guard could not do it and asked a tall parent who also could not reach. He immediately carried one of the school children who slipped the mobile onto the hook and we all burst into spontaneous applause!
Cubbon Park on a bright sunny Saturday morning, hundreds and hundreds of school children converging on the place and just five groups to tell stories every 20 minutes….Sounds like a recipe for disaster? Wrong!!!!
Hippocampus, spearheaded by Aravinda and Vimala actually pulled off a gala event where everyone, children, storytellers and parents went home reluctantly but contentedly with the fare they had enjoyed.
As for us, we were happy that after many years, Patara was getting a chance to flex its wings and wonder of wonders, could still soar and fly!
Patara was a movement some of us had started way back in 1992 to see if we could re-enthuse children to read and love the wonderful books that are available to the discerning. We had a treasure chest, a puppet weary of reading and a fund of books that we discovered in the box as we interacted with our audience. Invariably the puppet would get engrossed in the story and ask for more! We would weave in activities to further the reading . We travelled around with the chest so it was a fun event when we landed in a location and began our act!
Now that Times of India in the Sunday Bangalore edition of March 9th has featured us, we need to think seriously of reactivating Patara.
Any ideas or volunteers welcome.
Once upon a time, there was found a small room in a large compound of schools in a town called Chamarajanagara near Mysore. There came to it a team of magic-makers who had the will, the determination and the persistence to make that room a vision and a dream for all the schools, teachers and children in the district. Did they do it? This is not a mystery story so I can safely tell you that they did. A most wonderful transformation came about whcih was seen, appreciated and most important, used, by all those who were thirsting for it. There came out of the team, a film about the centre and its services, myriad photographs to show its evolution from a slow-moving caterpillar to the sparkling butterfly it is today. The Chamarajanagara educational resource centre.
The saga of the open library at the Guddahatti school continues. Already there is so much for us all to learn.
Abhimanyu, Ini, her sister, Indu, Dhee and old-young student, Tanu and I took on activities at the school last Saturday. The things we did seemed too simple at one level but as I shared with ShashiKumar, the ground for a successful open library has to be laid very very slowly. Children at any location need to experience and assimilate what it really means to have an open library. Just telling them and leaving it open results in chaos as they discovered just that morning.
So we began with four simple activities after explaining what each of them were for.
Now next they will go on to book talks and other book-related activities as we go deeper into the use of the library!!
Just picture a small Government school with children from very poor families. Then sketch in a team of extraordinary teachers and a headmaster, who function in amazing harmony. Don’t forget to highlight an ex-student who went on to become an engineer and wants to give back to the school a fraction of what he gained from it.
What am I tring to convey? Just that on Saturday, September 29th at 9 a.m. the school inaugurated its open library in a separate room dedicated to the library! The children and teachers were thrilled to have Shri G.P. Rajaratnam’s daughter present, to tell them about her father and read out some of his stories and poems.It was quite amazing that there were no locked cupboards and all the books were accessible for the children to pick up. The headmaster began his talk by saying that there were going to be no speeches(!) He asked the children to come in anytime to read, borrow and browse. The library was theirs to use, to take care of, and to be responsible for. The head teacher then spoke and said, “ Ask questions, come and read, tell us your difficulties, never be afraid.”
This- at a time when every other day, we read horror stories of teachers punishing and harming children for no reason.
I call it a miracle because the headmaster told me that everything seemed to move favourably towards this outcome. I too recollected that it was in January this year that Mr. Shashi Kumar of Wipro came to attend the Educational Conference at CFL and went back with some ideas and plans buzzing in his head. That enthusiasm and sustained contact with us made us respond too and in just 8 months the idea, the philosophy and the actuality of an open library has emerged. More follow up is needed and will happen, but the attitude of the students is heart-warming. They show confidence and trust and affection. Mr. Shashi Kumar spends every Saturday morning with them at the school, reading, discussing and communicating.
A small story — but what a big difference it has made in the children’s lives!
Two days ago, Leela Garady and her intrepid group chugged to Malleswaram to interact with the girls at Seva Sadan, a home for orphans and abandoned children. The children ranged from age 6 to 18 so Leela’s ingenuity was stretched to the full. However, as we might have guessed, she came up with a very delightful set of activities for all the ages. This included the ever popular painting with natural colours but also had the older children make stick and string puppets which they dressed up imaginatively with cloth pieces and decorated with gee-gaws. We were all struck by the enthusiasm and persistence of the girls who returned after a simple lunch to complete their craft work.
We started the morning with the presentation of Punyakoti through the string puppets made by Leela and her friends. This was a professional performance thanks to the new Seva Sadan stage with overhead lights and graded seating. After this Leela talked about the difference between Janapada stories and other tales and read out the Kannada version of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’. This has been written by Kuvempu who has translated it brilliantly and breathed his own life into it. Leela loves it and was happy to expose these youngsters to it. But she was also saddened to hear that though the Kannada language is these children’s strength, they had only known of the poem in English!!
Hats off to Leela and her gang of six!