Weed:Paro Anand

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APRIL 11,2009

In the wake of the terrorist attacks and the images still fresh in our minds,the Habitat Children’s Book Forum organized a Book Discussion on a book that deals with Kashmir and terrorism. It was felt essential to discuss such a topic at the book forum so that children could be sensitized about the topic, and also be made aware of the situations existing on both sides.

The Discussion took place at India Habitat Centre on April 11 at 9:30a.m.The book taken up for discussion was “WEED”, by Paro Anand.

Paro Anand is the author of 18 books for children and young adults, including plays, short stories, novellas and novels. She is also published in several anthologies and has written extensively on children’s literature in the country.She headed the National Centre for Children’s Literature, The National Book Trust, India, the apex body for children’s literature in India. As a part of her work here, she set up libraries and Readers’ Clubs in rural India and conducted training programs on the use of literature.

She is a World Record Holder, for helping over 3000 children make the World’s Longest Newspaper (850 meters long) in 11 Indian states in 13 languages. The concept behind the project was to give a voice to those children who do not have a platform and to empower young people to create their own literature.

Paro Anand has been awarded for her contribution to children’s literature by The Russian Centre for Science and Culture. Dr. Kalam, the President of India,honored her for her writings on Republic Day, 2007. She has represented the country at various forums internationally, including in the UK and France.

She has been a resource person with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, working with children impacted by terrorist, separatist violence in Kashmir. Coming out of her experiences, she has written “NO GUNS AT MY SON’S FUNERAL”, a book that has had extensive critical acclaim. The book was nominated onto the IBBY Honor List, 2006, as the best book for young people from India. It is currently being translated into Spanish and German and talks are on for basing a film on the
book. The book is about a young boy, seduced into becoming a terrorist. A follow up novel, also based in Kashmir, entitled “WEED” is the story of the son of a terrorist and his struggle to find an alternate life to sustain himself and his family.

Paro Anand has been actively working with children afflicted by terror attacks and violence. She has personal experiences with these children which she shared with us at the Discussion. The children of Kashmir are no different from the children here. They wish to enjoy their childhood but are made to stay within the confines of their homes, which is not only suffocating but also makes one
feel claustrophobic.

The Discussion started off with reading of some passages from the book. The basic outline of the story is as follows:

After Umer’s father leaves to join the jihadis, the family is pushed to the brink of poverty and desperation, but his mother will have nothing to do with her husband. The government and charities working in Kashmir, in their better wisdom, believe it is best not to offer sustenance to the children and wisdoms of militants. Isolated by society and trapped in adversity; Will the mother’s determination to turn her back on violence crumble/ Will Umer go his father’s way? What choices will this family make?

“WEED”, a follow-up of the award winning “NO GUNS AT SON’S FUNERAL”, is a hard-hitting exploration of uneasy questions that keep raising their insistent heads in the `war against terror’. Complex issues are examined through the innocence of a child caught in a web he never spun.

After the reading Paro Anand held a discussion about the various themes emerging from the book. The dominant one being terrorism and how the children are vulnerable to the elements of excitement that the terrorists use to ensnare them in their trap. They are easy to use since they have an impressionable mind and will blindly follow what their heart is made to believe. The Discussion became heated when the topic of terrorism and terrorists came up. Children expressed their views which edged on hatred and abhorrence for the terrorists and their families. A very important thing that came across was that no thought is spared by people to the family members of the terrorist. He and his family is loathed and they are made lead a life of extreme poverty and die invisibly. But is it justified that those innocent lives be punished for the doings of someone in their family?

The Discussion carried on and children made it clear that they seem to have no mercy for such people since they are related to the enemies of PEACE. This was followed by a writing activity where the children were given a sentence and they were to follow it up. The time given was between 1-2 minutes. This exercise made the young minds race and be charged up with ideas.

This Discussion for me was not merely a book discussion but also helped me see the pent up anger within children, and the merciless attitude they uphold towards the families who had members involved in terrorism. This topic would be worth discussing with children in school as its essential to see their point of view and at the same time make them see that the family of a terrorist does not deserve to be outcaste since they too are living beings and are innocent. The children there would follow the path of terrorism if all options are exhausted before them. And the society does not permit them a life of peace and accepts them into the mainstream.

The function was attended by 2 students from our school, Gitanjali Singh and Surya Raju of class XII-B.And they actively participated in the activities and displayed some very strong views which was appreciated by everyone.

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