Magadi Days

Letter from an old student

A letter from an old student about three books she read recently.

Ma and I have been wanting to buy a book for the CFL library, and I was wondering if you might help me choose. I’ve short-listed three, of which two are actually by the same author so we thought we might buy both. The first one is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. If school doesn’t have it already, I’d definitely love to gift this one. It’s a classic, written in 1953 and set in a future American society where all books are banned and “firemen” are hired to make fires (and burn books) instead of putting them out. I think you might have heard of it already.

The other two are by Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash and Quicksilver.

I read Snow Crash first so I’ll tell you about it first, though I think you might enjoy Quicksilver more. Published in 1992 (at a time when the internet was nothing like it is now) the book is set in a sort of sci-fi world and falls, among multiple other genres, into that of Cyberpunk. What fascinates me about Stephenson and this book in particular, is its’ total defiance of categorisation. It includes everything from computer technology to the history of the Sumerians and the Tower of Babel, from business monopolies and a pizza delivery ‘mob’ of Italian gangsters to a Katana wielding protagonist named Hiro Protagonist. It also includes this parallel virtual gaming universe which is mind-blowing when you think of the fact that he was writing before video games and avatars became what they are today. His writing is wonderfully crisp and if he wrote for textbooks, I would never have difficulty understanding any academic concept again.

The other book, Quicksilver, is part of the Baroque trilogy but since I haven’t yet read the others, I cannot say if they are as good. This one, is science fiction but set in the past. Actually it’s hard to tell how much of it is fiction, because it’s centred around the Royal Society of Britain and has Isaac Newton, Robert Hook, King Charles et cetera as main characters of the novel. Naturally, it is set in the 1600s and includes as much history as science. Science was called Natural Philosophy then, and chemistry was Alchemy. Personally, I really enjoyed the book because I’ve never really understood what people like Ishaan find so fascinating about science and experiments, and this book has completely changed that for me. By fitting science into the (for me more tangible) world of mystery, discovery and controversy, the novel sort of brought science out of that box of emotionless, mechanical processes that I think we so-called “humanities” people tend to put it in.

For that reason alone, and if not for the crispness of his writing that I mentioned before, I think you might enjoy this book a lot more than Snow Crash. But there’s another thing I thought I should mention. In terms of the reading itself, I found Snow Crash a lot easier and much less tedious, I think because of its’ racy plot, while Quicksilver required quite a bit of effort and took me an embarrassing amount of time to plough through.


Conference 2015

Centre For Learning hosted a conference on the theme “Worlds of Fear: School Cultures”, from 12th to 15th December 2015, on our campus. The programme included formal talks, small group discussions, presentations by schools and plenty of unstructured time for conversations and walks. Over the four days of the conference, committed and passionate speakers shared their ideas on our theme in the context of philosophy, cognitive studies, history, sociology and school practices. More than a hundred participants from a variety of educational contexts will attend this conference.

For more information about the conference, visit the Conference 2015 mini-site, or read the conference materials.

The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Awards 2016 announced

The Hindu Young World Goodbook awardees (from left) Sujatha Padmanabhan, Prabha Mallya, Venita Coelho and Vishakka Chanchani at the Lit For Life Festival. Photo: R. Ragu

The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Awards 2016, the first Indian awards to promote excellence in Indian children’s books, were presented here on Friday.

Sujatha Padmanabhan received the best picture book- story award for ‘Bumboo…The Donkey who would not budge’, published by Eklavya, 2015.

In the citation, the jury comprising Usha Mukunda, Sujata Noronha, Amruta Patil, Aashti Mudnani said: “An endearing story of a little donkey, living with a loving family high in the mountains of Ladakh. The relationship between the young girl and the donkey is delineated with sensitivity. Bumboo has an engaging storyline that manages to keep the suspense alive. For the reader, there is a slow but sure connection with the characters and personalities.”

Prabha Mallya bagged the award for the best picture book-illustrations for ‘The alphabet of animals and birds’ published by Red Turtle, 2014. In the citation, the jury said: “In describing collective nouns, the premise of the alphabet of animals and birds, Prabha Mallya notes that they exist not for utilitarian reasons, but to bring nuance, metaphor and imagination to language. Such quirky delights find kindred spirit in Prabha Mallya.”

Venita Coelho received the award for the best book- fiction for ‘Dead as a Dodo,’ published by Hachette, 2015. “A smart, witty, fast-paced novel about saving the Earth and animals from the reckless greed of human beings,” said the jury comprising Manjula Padmanabhan, Jai Arjun Singh and Anil Menon in the citation.

Vishakha Chanchani emerged the winner in the best book-non-fiction category for ‘The house that Sonabai built,’ published by Tulika, 2014. The book is about a remarkable woman who began experimenting with clay to create toys for her little son. “A heart warming and significant book about life, art and above all hope,” the citation read.

Goodbooks, a website for Indian children’s books, is supported by Wipro Applying Thought in Schools, Wipro’s social initiative in education.

Catering to the young – Anil Menon, Sujata Noronha, Shailaja Menon and Vidya Mani on children’s literature in India

When Vidya Mani was a child, Enid Blyton opened up a world where tin cans often held sardines to feast on. Only, the cans she opened at home hardly ever held this delicacy, a staple in Blyton’s larder.

It took Vidya a while to realise that sardines were a type of fish, and even longer to figure out that they were not served out of cans in this part of the world. It was for reasons like this that the panellists at ‘A Good Book: Literature for Children in India’ — author Anil Menon, teacher/library educator Sujata Noronha and researcher Shailaja Menon, in conversation with writer and editor Vidya — agreed that Indian children need to read Indian books.

“Books serve as both mirrors and windows — they should reflect your own realities and give you an opportunity to see the realities of others. Growing up, we didn’t see our lives mirrored in the books we read — the lives they lived, the food they ate and the language they spoke were all different,” said Shailaja. Now, there is a boom in the number of Indian authors writing in English, and a steady growth among those writing, illustrating and publishing for children.

“We can actually reject books at the library now {her organisation, Bookworm, works with children and communities through a library programme}; that alone shows we have come a long way from a time when we were glad for any book that came our way,” said Sujata.

The panellists agreed that a distinct Indian voice is emerging, one which celebrates the factors that make us who we are, without being apologetic about it. However, Anil pointed out that children still need stories that have them addicted to reading, something with about 20 volumes to satisfy their hunger.

“We don’t have a Chetan Bhagat for children and, perhaps, we need one,” said Anil. While Vidya commented that children don’t always respond to what adults determine as quality literature, Sujata responded, “No child would read a good book if we left it up to displays, given the current bookshop scenario. Nurturing and urging is a professional responsibility.”

The panellists critiqued and commented on many aspects of writing, publishing and reviewing, and agreed that Indian literature for children still has a long way to go.

“We’ve made great strides and this is not to critique those strides, but to celebrate them and hold the bar higher,” said Shailaja.

On Boti Betta, 2013

Many of the frequented rock assemblies in our vicinity have been named by CFL children. It doesn’t take very long before a “new” haunt gets “named”. And whatever the name and however clear or curious its association with a place, the name comes to stay.

So nearby we have Cake Rock and Caterpillar Rock and Owl Rock. On the northern horizon, almost always in view, lies Bermuda Triangle. Also to the north is Mallige Betta, with its wild jasmine. These landmark rocks are often destinations for walks.

Boti Betta or Boti-like rock rises abruptly up from the scrubby land. A scramble up brings you to a lovely table top. Here you will find small rock pools, clumps of grass, ferns tucked under rock faces and a cold breeze. It is a lovely perch from which you can gaze out far in all directions. The story goes that while on a walk, children were munching tube shaped crisps called “botis”. They climbed up this yet un-named rock and decided to call it Boti Betta.

Our eleven and twelve year-old Palashas recently spent a long morning on Boti Betta. Most of the time was theirs to spend as they pleased. They had prepared a picnic breakfast, which they graciously served. They then convened in a circle to play a silent a game on the rocktop, séance-like.

And then they dispersed to their own spots from where they sketched, holding their pieces of paper down, lest they fly away.

Savandurga, our elephantine monolith, loomed in the southwest. It was named before our time. Its name is said to have various origins. One suggestion is that it was named after the Vijaynagara governor, Samantdurga. Another thought is that the artist Robert Home, who drew this rock from a distance in 1794, named it Savinadurga, fort of death.

Our Palashas, as they sat in their silent circle on Boti Betta, were beautifully placed against all of these Ancient Rocks: Mallige Betta, Bermuda Triangle and Savandurga.

~ Diba

The Tamalas In The Magadi Goat Market, 2013

On a cool billowy Friday morning, the Tamalas, our ten year-olds, found themselves in the midst of goats and sheep and vans and people, dodging mud puddles at the Weekly Animal Bazaar.

This was the final trip as part of their Magadi History Project. The earlier trips had been to successively larger settlements, starting with Varadenhalli, where CFL is located and then to Motaganahalli, a village of a thousand homes, ten minutes by road. The visits had given the children a chance to look and listen and to gain a sense of lives around us. Back at school, they recounted their time. They talked aloud about what they had seen and learned. They classified their observations into groups such as homes, water, animals, work. They asked questions about each group, they compared aspects of the two villages. They asked themselves about change in this area in the last fifty years. They wrote down their descriptions, comparisons and theories.

The Magadi Trip was dramatic. It was Friday Market Day. The streets were full. Vegetable sellers sitting on the roadside, goat muzzles on the pavement, chickens and ducks packed into a tight coop. Potsellers, flower sellers. And the Friday Goat Market, on the vast premises of Kempegowda’s Fort grounds. After being in this busy midst, we spent a quiet half an hour at the peaceful Someshwara temple. We have been here over the years, and this time, it was heartening to see that it is now under the care of the Karnataka Archaeology Department.

The children came away both with very graphic observations and descriptions as well as with questions. Here is a sampling:

You don’t have to grow lots of vegetables to sell them. You can set up a small vegetable stall on a plastic sheet and sell what you have.

How can you tell how deep a step well is? Oh, you can just look at it and follow the slope of the steps all the way down.

Why do people sell goats? And what do people do with the goats they buy? They need the money. But people who buy goats also need the money. They can sell the goats again, they can sell the milk. They can wait for more baby goats and sell those.

The artists who carved the sculptures at the Someshwara temple were both very skilled and very patient.

Apart from being in the midst of goats and flowers and earthen pots, the children saw that even a very small farmer, who may grow vegetables behind her house, can set up a small shop on the pavement. They found out, to their surprise, that the vegetables we eat and school come from these very Magadi angadis, big and small.

~ Diba

CFL Newsletter 2014

It seems so very trite to state that we humans approach our world with moral stances. Obviously, these stances, or rather nuggets of attitudes, moral tastes, make up the very core of our being. Philosophers have argued over the ages that they constitute the essence of what it means to be human. Yet our moral anchors are also deeply problematic. When my sense of what is right clashes with yours, in any realm, conflict ensues. Moral anchors can be interpreted as what may bind us together within communities, but also, and to a greater extent, what divides us as nations, religions, castes and ultimately as individuals.

Read about this and more, in our latest newsletter, Issue 20!

Banana Fibre Workshop, 2014

The middle schoolers from Varadenahalli school and CFL were happy participants in a banana fibre workshop. Friends from Sirsi:  Vidya, Nirmala and Premila, conducted the workshop. In Sirsi, they are part of an organization, Chetana, which works with children and young adults with special needs. Six adults at Chetana have taught around thirty young people the art of making stationery and boxes with waste paper and banana fibre.

Together, they spend the day in song, movement and craft. We were all impressed by the precision and neatness of the work and the finish. Our younger ones insisted on attending assembly, the next day, with their lovely banana boxes by their sides.

~ Diba