By Anoushka Agrawal:
“So what do you want your story to be about?”
“You want to write a story about a lion man? What’s that?”
“Half man, half lion!”
“Interesting. And what does he look like? Can you describe him for me?”
“He is yellow in colour, has purple and red hair, red nails, big muscles like Salman Khan, and six- pack abs.”
I remember laughing more than I ever have before that day, wondering how so much creativity was packed into such little brains. I remember marvelling at how those five children built idea upon an idea so quickly that even they were surprised. In the midst of all that happiness, confusion and entertainment, I was more excited than I had ever been.
For as long as I can remember, I have used my creativity as an excuse for being forever eager and incredibly loquacious. Naturally, I could not keep the one aspect of my life which defined my creativity – that of my love for reading and writing – to myself. The books that I read as a child, from Shel Silverstein to Dr Seuss to Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), shaped my perspectives, thoughts and of course, my creativity.
My childhood was defined by the books I read, and I think that was the most wonderful part about it. I wanted this to be prevalent in the lives of other children as well, particularly those who may not have had as much access to the published works that I had as a child. And that is how the idea of ‘What’s Your Kahani?’ was formed.
The aim of my project was to expose young children to the genres and kinds of books that we have all read and enjoyed and to, perhaps, inspire them to write their own.
Armed with ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ I piloted my project with the CanKids organisation, holding sessions with about thirteen children, thrice a week over the summer of 2015. Delighted at the interest they had for the books we read together and with the lessons and activities based around understanding the components of a story, I began planning for the next organisation I was looking to work with – the 3.2.1 Education Foundation.
The 3.2.1 Education Foundation is known for having an education system that truly allows its students to think unconventionally and understand themselves, which is why all its students are intelligent, witty and unbelievably creative. To start with, I began my sessions with five second-graders – Hamid, Reema, Tamanna, Aakash and Prachi. As the ideas in the books that we read began getting more complex, I found that the kids had started to relate to the stories that we read, with their own experiences. This allowed them better to understand the parts of a story, including that of plot, characterisation and illustration, and soon enough, they asked me, ‘Didi, when can we write our own book?’
Thus began our journey with ‘Chhotu The Lionman’ – a story that they came up with over a month, carefully describing every detail about the each of the characters and the reasons for why they chose the plot twist that they did, as I jotted it all down on large chart papers.
After dividing our story into scenes, we began illustrating our book using all sorts of materials, in which we got the help of an artist, Tara Anand. As they saw their book come together, they were awed. And so was I.
A whole year later, we’re printing no less than 1000 copies of ‘Chhotu the Lionman.’ Additionally, we’re preparing for a theatre production of the same, which we are planning to showcase in a couple of bookstores and schools. Hamid, Aakash, Reema, Tamanna, Prachi and I are like siblings now, linked by the same passion for reading and writing. They want their story to be read by lots of other children their age, regardless of which socio-economic backgrounds they come from, because they understand that every story is unique to the individual writing it. Their story is unique to them and deserves to be heard.
My dream, after this experience? To hold the gorgeous paperbacks of the hundreds of books written by these very five authors in the years to come, and to see that there is no voice in this world that is left unheard.
Make sure the stories of these extraordinary second-graders are heard.
Buy ‘Chhotu the Lionman’ for only Rs. 150, and please do spread the word!
Email at [email protected] for more information.