By Sitara Rishikesh, Grade 10
On the first day of the Neev Literature Festival 2023, the school grounds opened up to a crowd of literature enthusiasts, both young and old, along with authors, illustrators, filmmakers, performers and other artists of our times. This festival is one of the greatest celebrations of Indian children’s literature, and a reflection of this was the lively and thriving environment of the Kitab Ghar pagoda. Here, readers of ages 5-12 could enjoy book launches, book readings, live performances and author interactions. Let’s take a look at the activities of the first day.
There were a host of different and diverse sessions at the Kitab Ghar. One such was the interactive session with author Mamta Nainy. Introduced as a “weaver of dreams and conjurer of emotions”, the author talked about how she turned childhood into an odyssey by embracing the magic of the ordinary through her book Roshan’s Road to Music, illustrated by Priyanka Tampi and published by Puffin Books. A part of the “Magic Makers” series, which currently includes two other titles, all three books are picture book biographies, presenting in an episodic form, moments from the lives of great creative icons.
The session began with an activity, which involved all the audience members closing their eyes and listening to a piece of music, while they were prompted to think about what images came to their heads while listening to this music. Afterwards, the answers to the prompt ranged from someone describing the feeling of the music as akin to “a cloud of puffed rice”, to someone else saying it felt like “the Marriott in Mumbai”.
This activity was geared to make the young participants understand that music is magic because even though we all interpret it differently, it still has the power to move us deeply. This was also true for the protagonist of the book, a young girl named Roshan, but known to the world as Annapurna Devi, the esteemed surbahar player. Roshan heard music all around her, even in the most mundane things, such as her grandmother’s snores. Her passion for music was so great that even though girls weren’t encouraged to learn or practise Hindustani classical music, Roshan trained her ears by listening in on her brother’s lessons, until she mustered enough courage to ask her father (Ustad Allauddin Khan, famed Indian sarod player) permission to take lessons. After a reading from the book, the stage was opened up for audience questions, which were many, such as why the author chose a musician as her protagonist.
Following this was a Hindi read-aloud of Anushka Ravishankar’s hilarious tale Moin and the Monster by the Maharashtra-based theatre troupe Goshtarang. Filled with fun, laughter, and a very catchy song, this performance told the story of a young boy, a monster hiding under a bed, and a drawing gone quite wrong.
This ten-minute-long performance was followed by another monster story, only of a different kind. The session titled Green Comfort was centred around the book The Monster Who Could Not Climb a Tree, by Tanya Majmudar. Except here, there was no monster under the bed. This book was about the monsters we have within us, how they might sometimes control us, and how we can eventually get the better of them.
Goshtarang followed this up with yet another performance called Indian Weavers, where they “wove” a story through the audience, stringing pieces of yarn across the circle of audience members, as they each took turns telling one line of a story.
The day ended with the book launch of Mahalaxmi Goes to Mysore by Niyatee Sharma. A story about a young and feisty second-grader, Ira, and her best friend, Mahalaxmi, this book introduces young readers to the Right to Education law through a heartwarming narrative of friendship. A short reading of an excerpt from the book was followed by various discussions between the author and the audience about events surrounding the story, such as field trips and fundraisers.
The importance this festival holds for children’s literature was evident through the well-curated events that filled the day. The festivities were to continue for another day, hosting a range of authors and books from around the world, and giving young children the opportunity to delve into the world of literature like never before.