Himanjali Sankar: Kala Ghoda

Our guest blogger today is Himanjali Sankar, on the scary prospect of reading to kids at the Kala Ghoda Festival and in schools.

Writing, as I see it, is a wondrous profession and authors are wonderfully insane people who deserve to be worshipped. Not the crappy ones but the ones who brighten up my life. I sometimes do wonder if I deserve to be published. Publication implies responsibilities. One morning as I was indulging in one of these little bouts of self-doubt and despair inside my head, Sayoni phoned, all brisk and cheerful and invited me to a reading and discussion at Kala Ghoda. My mood changed. I am that fickle. I felt all authorly and wonderful. I was delighted to jump on to the bandwagon. But.

The idea of reading to a bunch of kids is intimidating. Children are brutal and honest. Give me cocktail-sipping adults with plastic smiles any day. I scribbled elaborate thoughts and ideas into my notebook but found them unsatisfactory. I practised reading aloud and thought I sounded horrible. I even bought a pair of sunflower sandals with the desperate hope that they would shift the focus from my reading to my footwear. And then, as if to further establish what a loser I can be, I got all late for my flight and Anushka had to almost physically hold on to the aircraft to stop it from taking off. Yes, publishers must perform these random acrobatic feats too.

First came the school visits. Cathedral School at 8 am. The children were waiting in long, disciplined rows in a large hall with high ceilings and open windows. I was asked all sorts of trying questions by an attendant – did I want to sit or stand? Did I want the mike in my hand or on the stand? I felt peeved and victimised. I did not have the foggiest notion of what I wanted. The children were waiting patiently. Basically, I like children. I respect them. So, I decided to forget about tiresome adults and their silly technical questions and chat with the children instead. Mike in hand or foot and sitting or standing on my head – can’t quite remember now – I started talking to them about my favourite topic. Dogs. And dogs in books and books in dogs. Maybe not the latter but, anyway, when I found all these bright eyes listening and hanging on to my every word, my nervousness and irrational angst vanished. And then I started enjoying myself. I told them about Rousseau, we discussed literature and I read from my books. It was a beautiful morning.

Ditto in the other two schools I visited – JBCN International and Avabai Petit. JBCN is a smart, modern and enthusiastic  school while Avabai has an old-world charm and beautiful grounds and I could hear the piano playing and the children singing in a manner that took me straight back to my own childhood. I had a whole lot of fun. I did trip on a particularly sharp question that one of the kids asked, the answer to which I had not thought through. So I got a little shifty and asked the other kids instead, “What do you imagine could have happened – let us think of ways to answer this question.” I got many creative and wonderful answers so I have a cunning plan the next time I get stuck – just throw the question right back at the other kids.

By the time I reached Kala Ghoda for my event I was feeling on top of the world. The Kitab Khana is the sort of beautiful old-world bookstore with dark panelling that one instantly falls in love with. The kids sat cross-legged on the floor in front while a motley crowd of parents and adults hung around at the back and on the balcony. I played the Rousseau song and showed them some rather random video clips of Rousseau wearing sunglasses, Rousseau hanging on to our kitchen counter, and so on. They laughed at the Orange Marmaladies  as I read from my book and asked me questions that were intelligent and sharp.

As a concluding exercise I asked the children if they had a superdog what superpower would they like him or her to have. From very specific powers like spreading marmalade on bread and philanthropic ones like helping the underprivileged, to useful powers like my dog would turn into a television whenever I want to watch a favourite show – we had every possible superpower covered! And then, when kids and parents lined up and I signed so many books, I began to think that I might really be an author. No kidding. I will never be a Roald Dahl or a James Barrie.  But I felt good about myself. All thanks to the superfun and superbright kids I met at Kala Ghoda and at the schools that I visited.


One comment

  1. Excellent writing. Took me back to the days when I was a teacher at a primary school and the fun I had then, could never beat what I got as a teacher in higher classes. Children, pre-teens and young adults…they love stories and what better than to spend a day or two reading to children and interacting! By the way, 17 year olds hang onto your words as much as 7 year olds, just get them hooked!

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