Ramendra Kumar, the author of Against All Odds and over thirty other books, was recently at the biennial International Board on Books for Young People Congress in Athens, Greece.
It couldn’t get bigger and better than this: 450 delegates from more than seventy countries at the biggest event on planet earth devoted to children’s literature. And that too in Greece, which is the seat of ancient civilization and the modern bridge between the east and the west.
I am talking about the 36th IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Congress held in Athens from 30 August to 1 September 2018. Yours truly felt like a small speck floating in that sea of creativity and erudition.
I was invited to chair a session on 30 August. I unleashed my wacky (to me, and weird to most) sense of humour. My ‘personal’ Greek goddess had warned me against attempting this indulgence. I, of course, did not heed her advice. (Virgos rush in where Leos fear to tread!) Fortunately for me the audience, which was more used to pedagogic presentations and esoteric deliberations on rather abstruse themes, lapped it all up.
The following day, I was in the audience waiting for the session to begin when one of the organisers of the conference approached me.
“Mr Kumar, the chairperson has not turned up. I enjoyed your session yesterday. Could you chair this session as well?”
“Of course. It would be my privilege,” I declared, enjoying the look of horror on my Aphrodite’s face.
“What the Hades are you doing? You have absolutely no idea at all about the themes or the speakers,” she whispered to her Narcissist.
I just smiled, humming ‘Aisa mauka phir kahan milega’ to myself, and strode towards the dais.
With lots of luck and a slice of pluck, I sailed through what to my Cassandra passage between the Scylla of under-preparedness and the Charybdis of overconfidence.
Later, I presented a paper on the subject of the ‘Brave New World of Indian Children’s Literature’ at the Congress.
I spoke about seven books, out which four were from Duckbill’s stable: Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Shankar, Hot Chocolate is Thicker than Blood by Rupa Gulab, When She Went Away by Andaleeb Wajid and my book Against All Odds. The other books I spoke about were Paro Anand’s Like Smoke and No Guns at My Son’s Funeral, as well as my book A Tsunami Named Nani.
I talked about the theme, the issues covered and peppered these with quotes from the readers, the publisher as well as the authors.
The presentation received a positive response from the delegates, with many of them coming forward to deliberate on the vital issues covered in the books.
At the end of it all, when I turned to my Aphrodite-turned-Cassandra for a possible flicker of a whisper of appreciation, she quipped, ‘It was my reassuring presence and moral support which saw you through. Thank god I left my home and hearth to hold your hand and heart!’