Tag Archives: development

Matilda Turns 30!!!!!

Standard

Matilda as a world traveller in the new edition.

Photograph: Penguin Random House

Roald Dahl was one of my favorite authors whenever I stepped into a library or bookshop as a child. And I still find myself swerve towards shelves that showcase his books. Thus, when I read that to mark the 30th anniversary of the first publication of the book Matilda, three sketches drawn by original illustrator and old friend of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, will appear next month on the covers of special collectors’ editions, showing Matilda, a 30 year old woman as an astrophysicist, a world traveler and as chief executive of the British Library. The collection will be released by Penguin on October 4, 2018.

Matilda was first published on October 1st 1988. It was the last major book published in Roald Dahl’s lifetime is one of his bestselling stories around the world – with 17 million copies in circulation.

Matilda was the prototypical young rebel, a girl ahead of her times. She broke all rules about how little girls should be in children’s literature. When girls were shown as dimpled, rosy cheeked with golden curls, she stood out as a modern spirited girl. She stood up to bullies twice her size without fear. She was tackled prejudices and discrimination, no matter what the consequences. She stood up to her nemesis, the horrible headmistress  Miss Trunchbull who made the grave mistake of underestimating her prowess. In turn she empowers and instills strength not only in her friends but also her timid and shy teacher Miss Honey.

Matilda’s story reveals the need to stand up for what you believe is right. It does not matter what size or strength you possess, its the courage to stand up to big bullies that matters. And when you do that you can change your circumstances and steer the course of your life as you want, and even rewrite your story as you desire. But for that you too need to stand up and face your bullies- it can be a fear, a situation or even a person.

From the article:

In his foreword to the new editions, Blake, 85, reveals he enjoyed imagining what Matilda might be doing now she has grown up. “Since, as a small child, Matilda was gifted in several ways, it wasn’t very difficult. I imagined that for each version of our grown-up Matilda one of her extraordinary talents and achievements would have come to the fore and shown her a role in life,” he writes.

“I am sure that someone who had read so many books when she was small could easily have become chief executive of the British Library, or someone exceptionally gifted at mental arithmetic would be perfectly at home in astrophysics. And if you have been to so many countries in books, what could be more natural than to go and see them yourself?”

Blake describes illustrating Matilda as a wonderful experience. “It has been very special to revisit her all these years later and marvel at the woman she would have become.”

Matilda at the British Library, as drawn by Quentin Blake
 Matilda at the British Library, as drawn by Quentin Blake.

Given the sales of Matilda as compared to other books by Roald Dahl, is higher, the question surfaces what is it that draws readers of all ages and gender to enjoy it irrespective that the main character is a girl. If we delve into children’s literature we will not find many strong female characters that have been equally enjoyed by boys as well. Be it Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew Series, The Babysitter’s Club, Amelia Jane series and so on. These had few takers and were solely popular among girls. Children’s fiction is still vastly classified as for boys and girls. We have some brilliant fantasy series like Inkheart by Cornelia Funke  or Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng, but since the main protagonist is a girl I do not find boys reading then with as much interest as the girls. But magic of Matilda draws both boys and girls.

Children’s literature still makes erroneous decisions in publishing books which continue to have boys/ males as lead because publishers wrongly think boys don’t like to read books about heroines. This faulty ideology makes Matilda appear all the more appealing and relevant. Matilda catches us by surprise when even boys seem to enjoy and laugh with her because its a rare sight to see. But we shouldn’t be because times haven’t quite changed even tough we pretend to think and behave so.

From the article:

Carmen McCullough, Roald Dahl editor at Matilda’s publisher, Puffin, believes this reflects a wider trend in children’s fiction: “We’ve seen a real movement towards more feminist publishing recently. Parents are more keen than ever to present aspirational female characters to their young children – boys and girls – and that is what’s helping Matilda stand out, because she’s a wonderful example. She has such belief in herself and is every bit as relevant and inspirational to children and adults today as she was 30 years ago.”

Children’s laureate Lauren Child agrees part of Matilda’s enduring universal appeal is that Dahl chose to write about a spirited little girl. “Like Jo in Little Women and Pippi Longstocking, Matilda is an incredibly modern character. You can relate to her. She’s not a sap, she’s not a goody two-shoes, she doesn’t take everything sitting down, she fights back. She’s for justice.”

Matilda the Astrophysicist.
 Matilda the Astrophysicist. Illustration: Quentin Blake

Child, the author and illustrator of the Charlie and Lola picture books, believes Matilda would have become an inventor. “I think she would be a very creative person at 30. The way she thinks is interesting. She thinks in a sideways way, a way that’s out of a box. She’s not confined. But the thing that you feel most about her is that she could be anything. I think that’s the message of the book: You can’t beat someone down if they’re interested in the world and they have a good heart.”

Matilda is the epitome of the modern day woman. With her brains and abilities she can be whoever she wishes to be. She is not restricted in her achievement and is not dogged down by the expectations of the society. She is her own person and follows only her own dictates. She stands for qualities that we should encourage and teach our little girls to embody rather than preening and grooming themselves to be later carried around by their husbands as trophies. Girls at a young age should be taught to aim high and to believe in their strength to open their wings and conquer all horizons. They should not waiting in the wings for their opportunities rather create one for themselves.

Never on the sidelines, but always on your own path.

Advertisements

International Literacy Day: 8th September

Standard
See the source image
                       Courtesy: karadionline.blogspot.com

Communication skills are the most important skills for the development of a society. It is needed to converse and engage with a fellow human being and to facilitate understanding. Nearly every individual learns to communicate verbally by observing their family and surrounding. But it is rather unfortunate that  not many get a chance for formal education. Thus with the call for eradicating illiteracy and bringing people together to help impart education the idea of celebrating an International Literacy Day was first discussed on September 8 to 19, 1965, during the World Conference of Ministers of Education in Tehran, Iran. On October 26, 1966, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gathered for the 14th general conference and proclaimed that September 8 will be celebrated as International Literacy Day.

This year, the 52nd International Literacy Day was celebrated on the theme ‘Literacy and skills development’. For ILD 2018, “skills” means knowledge, skills and competencies required for employment, careers and livelihoods, particularly technical and vocational skills, along with transferable and digital skills.

The main aim of the International Literacy Day is to draw attention towards and highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Literacy and level of education are basic indicators of the level of development achieved by a society.

In India, the literacy rate may have gone up over the decades, but the gap between literacy in urban and rural areas is still wide. There is also a gap between the male  and female literacy rate across India. The overall literacy rate works out to be 64.8 %, the male literacy rate is 75.3% and that for females is 53.7%, showing a gap of 21.6 percentage points between the sexes at the national level.

One of the main factors contributing to this relatively low literacy rate is the usefulness of education and availability of schools in the vicinity in rural areas. According to a survey, there is a shortage of classrooms to accommodate all the students. The rural areas suffer with respect to providing a space where a school can function properly. Children are more often just seeing as helping in bringing more money to the otherwise burgeoning family. Thus education does not come across as a necessity or even of use in improving their quality of life. For them hours in school are loss of time that could earn them more. Thus they need to be first educated about the usefulness of education and how an educated child can raise the standard of the family.

Another deterrent towards complete literacy is lack of access to quality education.The Gross Enrolment Ratio is a yardstick used in the education sector to determine the number of students enrolled in schools at different levels. It is the ratio of the number of students who live in that country to those who qualify for a particular grade. The GER numbers for primary, upper primary and elementary levels of education is significant as it is close to 90%. But, there is one catch in this, studies show that many children, especially in the rural areas, of class 8 cannot read a class 2-level text. This clearly shows the gap to access to quality education. A lot is written on paper and a whole lot of policies and plans are made for opening of new schools. Crores are spent on the project but the question here is does it actually get translated into ‘well-educated and literate society’? We have many institutions at school and college levels. But often, these institutions don’t deliver what they are supposed to. It has been observed that the GER consistently drops with the increase in grades, dropping to a low 24.3%. This means that only 24.3% of the total number of students eligible to study in colleges are actually attending college. Now one may ask why is it so? There are many answers as well as questions to it.

Is the curriculum followed by the schools not practicable, or is it not followed effectively. Does the government have any checks in place to monitor the quality and standards of the teachers? Are there regular checks and inspection in the government run schools to ensure that the funds allocated are properly utilized? Are teachers inspected for their education and verified? Is the curriculum preparing the students for life outside or is it just imparting facts? Is vocational training and skill enhancement a part of regular curriculum?

From my point of view, all these questions together form the larger problem. A regular check of what students are taught in schools does not happen in many cases. The syllabus is not updated regularly to keep up with the new advances. The books only impart information which many a times is hardly relevant to developing skills. There are many instances reported where the teachers are not qualified enough to teach students, and yet continue to be part of the teaching fraternity. The problem of teacher absenteeism has also beleaguered the Indian education system for long. Studies suggest that improving school infrastructure, allocating sufficient funds, increasing the frequency of inspections, providing daily incentives to work and conducting frequent parent-teacher association meetings are the best ways to get teachers to attend schools regularly. There should be regular training programs for teachers to keep them updated about latest research and findings in the field of education. So, rather than focus just on improving literacy rate, which is, of course, important, the real focus should be on providing quality education. And education should mean downloading facts and information into young minds. But to create a generation that can read and write and is also adept at handling life situations competently by imparting skills and knowledge for the same.

After all, access to quality education, is the birthright of every child.

See the source image  

Dog Boy: Eva Hornung

Standard

Image result for dog boy hornung

This was unlike any book I have ever read. After my first reading I was left aghast, as to how a child could be left to fend on his own. It took me a while to re read this one since the imagery had left such an impact, that the moment I held the book in my hands I had such an eerie feeling of deja vu that I had to push myself to re read. It is thought provoking, fascinating, gripping, sad, heart wrenching and at times so graphic that it feels your guts are being pulled out.

Imagine that you are a 4-year-old boy, abandoned in Moscow in the bitter winter cold?  What would you do? How would you fend for yourself in the biting winter? Would you wander off and join a pack of feral dogs and, over time, assimilate to the point of becoming one of them? Ludicrous? But these are the premises of Dog Boy”. Hornung’s work is inspired by the true account of a Russian boy named Ivan Mishukov, who lived with a pack of dogs for a period of two years before being discovered at age of 6. Ivan had run away from a home where adults had ill treated and abused him. In choosing to write about such a child, her dog-boy, Romochka, is not Ivan Mishukov, though he seems to share many characteristics with him. Eva Hornung opens up a Pandora’s box, full of questions about our humanity, our dealings with other creatures, our sense of family, and our sense of what is normal.

The plot: Romochka is four years old when his mother and uncle never return home (reason not known) to their small apartment building in an outer suburb of Moscow, leaving the little boy to fend for himself. While his mother had always told him not to leave the apartment or the building, when his food supply runs out, Romochka ventures out to explore.  All he has with him are some clothes and his blanket.

Outside, he ventures farther from his building than he’s ever been before, and starts to follow a beautiful stray dog down the alleys. The dog, a female clan leader, takes the small boy to her den . There he lives in the nest with her four puppies, and begins his life as a dog. There are seven dogs when he first arrives: the mother and leader, Mamochka (a Russian nickname meaning tender or sweet Mother); her two older offspring, Black Dog and Golden Bitch; and the four puppies: White Sister, Black Sister, Grey Brother and Brown Brother. Romochka becomes a member of their clan, sleeping and eating with them, hunting for food . He thinks more like a dog than a human, but since he was four when he came to them, he retains a mixture of confusing and complicated desires and human instincts. As the years go by, Romochka loses “normal human behaviour” and becomes wild. For an eight-year-old, he is feared, infamous in the poverty-stricken area that the clan considers its territory. Set in communist Russia there is  the militzia who are a constant threat, as are the gangs of kids who hang out in abandoned buildings before returning to their real homes and families. Romochka develops a bit of a reputation among both groups. There are increasingly military sweeps in an effort to round up homeless children to be locked into state run ‘homes’. The condition of these homes is hardly better than the life they are supposedly saved from. The fate of the thousands of dogs is at risk, if they are fortunate they’ll be spared, but most are mercilessly shot as menaces to humans. The possibility of discovering a real, genuine “dog boy” is tantalising to the psychiatrists who work with orphans. These people see such examples as research projects without understanding the impact and outcome of their intrusion. Thus, Romochka is hunted down like a prey by humans, even as the dogs try hard to protect him. The clan loses members but such is the loyalty and bonding that the sacrifice is hardly any task for them. The struggles of an eight year old, as he is pulled between his twin identities as a dog and as a boy is emotional and traumatic.

I had a very hard time getting through some parts of the book, as the writer doesn’t hold anything back. She goes into explicit and gory detail of their survival techniques; the constant licking of pus and blood from their wounds, the hunting and what they were eating.  Like for eg: the boy eats raw rats, pees on frozen food in order to eat it, plays with the bones from carcasses, and the most graphic and bone chilling is when he puts his hands into a bird carcass and pulls out the heart to eat it.

” Dog Boy” , gives rise to myriad of emotions and also kicks up a storm of questions in one’s mind. The story is like no other story that is told from the perspective of animals, or near enough. It is certainly no Charlotte’s Web or any other children’s book told from the point of view of an animal which leaves a soft fuzzy feeling inside. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that this is no children’s book at all. It is dense, descriptive, questioning, wondering and brutally honest. Beneath it all lies layers of philosophical thoughts and questions-the riddle of human nature, and a jab at what separates us from other animals, or at what we think separates us. I cannot do justice to the book while writing the review because there is so much to talk and question.

The book is a perfect platform to debate humanity and if humans really rise above the animals. A peek into Romochka’s life with the dogs reveals how they look after each other despite danger to own life. Quite unlike the humans who leave a small child alone in a big city, at such a tender age. It forces you to think, ponder, question, analyse, reflect and revisit the human aspect of life , and see for yourself are we human enough !!

Three Women: Rabindranath Tagore (translated by Arunava Sinha)

Standard

Image result for THREE WOMEN BY TAGORE

Having tasted the sweet nectar of Tagore’s writing, I am lately drawn towards his writings. My last read was ” Three Women”, a collection of three short novels . They are aptly titled that summarizes the whole complex setup within a word. The novellas, Nashtaneer( Broken nest), Dui Bon( Two sisters) and Malancha( The gardener). I would be only reiterating what the translator feels, that Tagore was a feminist before his time. Men often remark that women folk are beyond their comprehension. And yet here is a writer who not only understands women but each and every nuances of their heart.

The novels draw light upon the status of women in the Indian society across three decades. It highlights the complexities and the never ending maze created by love, romance and sexual desires. Add to this, the couples in the three stories are childless which seems a conscious effort on Tagore’s part to question the duplicity of marriage as a bond. The woman are barren which unconsciously is shown as a reason for the women to oscillate between the roles of a mother and lover with their husbands. As Tagore himself has written beautifully, ” There are two kinds of women, or so I’ve head some pundits say. one is mostly maternal. the other is the lover.” 

The first novel weaves the story of a lonely , love deprived wife and how she finds solace in a companion out of her marriage. She is sexually and emotionally deprived of  her husband’s presence in the married life. The 3rd story is about a sick and bed ridden women who is engulfed with despair at the thought of leaving her happy household very soon owing to her prolonged illness, which is further marred by jealousy and revenge.

The writing and the characters are all life like and completely relatable. Be it Charulata in Nashtaneer, who comes as a child bride and blossoms young womanhood unnoticed by her husband.  This is true for women married to men who pay more attention to their work than their spouses. Little do they realize that the first spring goes away taking with it many more seasons. Urmila and Sharmila in Dui Bon  are sisters whom we can find reflected in a family around us where when elder sister falls ill, the younger one fills the space. And sometimes that extension becomes a solid bond between brother-in-law and sister-in-law, resulting in an unhappy marriage to silence rumors. Though few such instances do happen. And in Niraja is every wife who lays claim on her husband as a property owned and not a person in question.

In all the stories, the characters fail to understand each other as well as themselves. They are so full of themselves that their own potentialities cries in the shadows while they unnecessarily deride themselves for others. The women characters have more gall than the male characters, but are rendered helpless due to societal setup. Be it Charu living virtually in two corridors without a common meeting point. Though Amal is himself a writer, he fails to comprehend the proficient and natural literary style of Charu. It can also be seen as reflection of the male ego being hurt. On one hand, Charu is misunderstood by Amal, and on the other hand she suffers under the lack of communication and understanding from her husband, Bhupati.She leads a double life oscillating between the two. Similarly, In Dui Bon, Sharmila and Urmila play dual roles of lovers and wives. Sharmila and Shashanka though married are not united, and the wedge between them though blurred is evident. Sharmila longs for the consummation as a lover, but she readily surrenders to the role of the stereotypical women  who hides behind the shadow of her husband. She is happy in the background. While her sister Urmila is impulsive, passionate and quite the opposite. She becomes the lover for Shashanka, while remaining faithful as a wife to Nirad. Then again in Malancha, Niraja discovers the essential biological drives in married life coming upon her with all colors of sensuousness. But in her current lifeless form she is helpless and this drives her insane making her feel hollow and barren. So she holds on possessively as a wife what she fails to get as a lover in marriage.

The men in Tagore’s story fail their counterpart with respect to emotional gratification and vigor because they are pampered and spoiled by the society at large into emotional immaturity and crudeness. They do not share or understand the female realm to be real participants. This leaves the womenfolk at the core, lonely, depressed, traumatized and bereft. Tagore gives them their own realm to venture forth, reflect and come to terms with the situations in their lives. All three resign to the situation in their life, be it good or bad. Nevertheless, they are shown as strong and relentless despite hardships.

Lines that are hauntingly beautiful:

” Neither of them noticed that he period in which husband and wife rediscover each other in the exquisite first light of love had slipped into the past. Even before savoring the new, they had become old, familiar and accustomed to each other.” : Nashtaneer

 

” She had been banished from the very garden that had claimed her heart, the heart of the childless mother. It was such a cruel separation.” : Malancha

 

Auggie & Me: Three wonder stories by R.J. Palacio

Standard

Image result for auggie and me

I had read Wonder as it was part of the recommended list I saw in my school. And it held me captive from the first word. Wonder told the story of August, a boy having craniofacial deformity. But the second book Auggie & Me tells the story from three different perspectives of Julian (the guy who bullied August), Christopher(his childhood best friend) and Charlotte (one of his schoolmates). It is really quite interesting the way everyone sees the situation in his or her way. Is Julian really a bully? Is Christopher right to hide Auggie from his new friends? Is Charlotte ‘nice’ enough to August or is she just pretending?

The first story, Julian’s Chapter, is about Auggie’s school bully, Julian, and his point of view. For him, he hasn’t been bullying August, instead August has been stealing his friends, giving him nightmares and terrorising his reputation in the schoolyard. Julian feels left out from his social network by Auggie’s arrival. And the resulting anger and frustration comes out without understanding that his actions could not only hurt but deeply wound Auggie. Nevertheless he realises his fault and makes amends. That’s what I like  the most because kids are like that. They do not harp on the feelings for too long, unlike adults who can brood for long.

The second story, Pluto, is from August’s best friend Christopher’s way of seeing things. He grew up with Auggie, so his face isn’t anything weird to him. He only first realised that his friend was anything different to every other kid his age when he was four years old, and from there he was in a sort of pickle – be loyal to his life-long friend or be teased mercilessly by his new school friends?A question that many kids face in their lives when they shift schools.

The third story in this collection is called Shing-A-Ling, and is written from the opinions of Charlotte, a girl who was chosen to introduce August to his new school. It examines her social life, and the different decisions she made, some of them relating to August, others not. We have all experienced one such person who is a teacher’s pet and thus happens to do things which they would not do otherwise.

This collection of the three stories is not only thought-provoking but also draws our attention to the fact that we bring up our children in a very protected manner, which renders them defenseless and clueless when faced with harsh realities of life. We should bring up our children to be strong in both mind and body. Just as we feed their body, we should also feed their mind to be open vessels receptive to every learning experience.The book will encourage readers to see classmates, friends, and family in a new light. It is more of a spin-off than a sequel to the much-acclaimed Wonder and digs deep into themes of kindness, friendship, accountability, and integrity with a deft understanding of middle school social drama.

 Auggie & Me in a nutshell follows three students in vastly different circumstances learning important lessons about relationships: Julian confronts his own cruelty and his enabler parents, Christopher acknowledges his selfishness and the work needed to stay close to important friends and family, and Charlotte expands her circle to embrace new friends.

What is heart warming is author R.J. Palacio’s gift for understanding the pressures of middle school. As in Wonder, some characters and situation seem a little too shiny and happy to be true. But they’re presented with such sincerity and faith in the basic goodness of people, it’s hard to take issue with it. So go for it, no matter what your age.

//ws-in.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=IN&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=sigygeorge918-21&marketplace=amazon&region=IN&placement=0552574775&asins=0552574775&linkId=2629f26d56e438bd45ff8d78bcdf10da&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff