Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Perfect Caravan - The Perfect Childhood

How would the world be if the greatest of inventors kept their discoveries and inventions just for themselves instead of giving it to the world? Sharing your happiness does not decrease it but increases it multi-fold.

"One idea can change the world."
What is the best childhood memory you have? Mine is reading out passages from Enid Blyton's Rag, Tag and Bobtail and Other Stories to my kid sister during our bed time. We would cuddle up together on our bed and I would read her out a couple of passages as we took a flight together into the magical world inhabited by goblins, fairies and elves. I remember and delight at how I taught my baby sister to read and spell words from our Dr.Seuss and Blyton books before my sis was formally taught the alphabets. I used to make her sing along with me as I read aloud poems like The Midnight Tea Party and many other rhymes I had learnt.

Can't thank my parents enough for not subscribing to the
cable connection for our TV till I was grown up.

I was introduced to the wonderful world of story books when I had by chance happened to find an old hand-me-down copy of Blyton's Tell Me A Story which belonged to an older cousin of mine. The five year old me was so fascinated by the colorful illustrations in the books which helped me imagine and make pictures inside my head how creatures like elves, brownies and pixies looked like as I read along the stories. It has been more than sixteen years since and I still have the book with me. That was the beginning and I haven't stopped gorging on books ever since. My mom often caught me hiding and reading my beloved Famous Five books behind my textbooks. Every year with the money I got on my birthday, I would go to our local book store and come back with my hands full with bags filled with story books. Our school library card permitted just one book a week and I borrowed the books my friends has issued from the library and read as many and as fast as I could.

A few pictures from my very first story book
A few months back, a friend of mine happened to send me a surprise gift package. I literally cried out of joy when I opened the package to discover my very favourite books from childhood, the entire set of The Naughtiest Girl inside it.

I happened to see this video which was a part of the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012 partnered by Franklin Templeton Investments

Rohini Nilekani, Founder Chairperson of Pratham Books put forward a few insightful facts that provide a statistical view of the child readership status in our country-

  • Our country has a child readership of around 300 million.
  • The book output which caters to this 300 million readers is just 25000.
  • In comparison to the United Kingdom where every child has around 6 books to read, one book in India is shared by 20 children.
  •  50% of these books published in our country are in two basic languages- English and Hindi. A very small number of all these books are published in vernacular languages. In a country with more than 150 languages and with 200 million children who cannot read English, it is important to publish more books in the regional languages which can be read and understood by these children.
These statistics were something I wasn't at all prepared for. I could not imagine how life would have turned out for me had I never found the joy of reading story books. They helped me think out of the box, imagine a world that I had never seen and they made me who I am today. And to think there are children who have access to not a single book is heartbreaking. It is extremely important to tell a child how the world looks beyond the text books. There is a world full of surprises and wonderful stuff that only textbooks can never teach you. It is only with the help of these story books that you can discover them and take your flight.

Pratham Books with association with some philanthropic patrons have started with a mission to reach out to these little kids in every corner of the country and have set out with the motto of "A book in every child's hand". The dream is a huge one to accomplish but since their very foundation Pratham Books have changed the scenario for the better. Pratham Books have engaged a huge number of writers, illustrators and enthusiastic volunteers who have helped create original stories which children can easily associate with and have published story books in more than 11 languages so far.

The video clip reminded me of the time when I was in primary section and the school library was accessible only to the secondary and senior secondary students. I used to pray to God to make me grow up super-fast so that I could read all those beautiful story books I saw neatly stacked up in the library shelves. During the lunch break, I would stand outside the library door and peep inside and stare at my lucky seniors who could read those books. Little did I know then that the school librarian had been keeping a watch on me. And one fine day, to my utter delight, I found her approaching me and taking me by my hand. She made me sit on her chair and asked me why I religiously stood outside the door everyday and I told her the reason. Miss Grace (that was her name) went over to the magazine rack and brought me a few copies of Champak and Tinkle to read and told me I could come to the library and read whenever I want. That was the kindest and the best thing anybody could have possibly done to me.

A few years back, I had to move to Kolkata from Kochi and my parents were trying their best to reduce the luggage to the minimum. Naturally, my old stories books were set aside in the "leave behind" box of things. I, who was extremely attached to all my books was adamant not to leave them back. But then, better sense took over and I decided to give away my old story books to my friends from the colony. I gave a bundle of books to each and every friend I had and made them promise to read them after I left Kochi and I like to believe they kept their part of the promise and I was able to initiate a change, however small that was.

The aim of reaching out to these children and hand them each a book is a very difficult task to achieve. Pratham Books have taken huge leaps in the direction by publishing story books at extremely low prices of around Rs.25 each book. Even at this rate, the dream was a distant one. So they came out with an even better plan, the concept of a story card. An excerpt from the Pratham Books website explaining the concept of a storycard-

"The story of the Storycards is an interesting one! They are a living example of making an effort to reach the last child... Pratham Books has always been committed to increase penetration so that ALL children have access to good reading material. As Pratham's programmes began to touch the lives of more and more children through the READ India Campaign, there was a need for low cost material that could be distributed to the children. This was how the idea of creating story cards out of Pratham Books' titles germinated. In economically disadvantaged states, even the cost of a Pratham Books title would make it a discretionary buy whereas a story card can strengthen and encourage reading at a fraction of the cost and can be an attractive and motivational takeaway for a child. "

Just look at the interest and delight with which she is reading
The concept of these reading story cards is amazing as it reduces the production cost of books. The cost of producing these are fractional to the production cost of a complete story book. These are mini story books which are available each at Rs. 2 which can easily fulfill the dream of giving one story book to a child and ensure a change.

These storycards take me back to the time when I was in the primary section. Our school had allocated specific library periods for us when reading books apart from those in the syllabus were made compulsory. For us little ones who were not eligible to access the main library, our Head Mistress came over to our classes with a big bundle of these card like mini books which had fascinating tales and small wondrous articles about strange organisms like the Piranha fishes and sometimes about gardening and other amazing stuff. We used to compete to finish as many cards and find answers to the exercises that were at the back of these cards in the one hour duration of our library period.

There is a saying that goes "Charity begins at home". I believe that change is possible, it begins at the individual level. Every small step counts and it is only with baby steps that this mission can be accomplished. The best part of this wonderful initiative is the fact that it is open ended. People like you and I can join and encourage others around us to come together and work for the cause as volunteers, by pledging ourselves to the cause, helping in providing the books, donating and helping in establishing libraries in the remote corners of the country where these books are not easily available.
"Imagination is what sets us apart from all other organisms. Help children find their wings so that they can stretch them and fly."

As to how I plan to bring in the change from my side, I have promised myself to donate my first salary to the cause when I get a job. I had already started out with the change long before I had actually realised and I hope to take it a step further by doing my part of the change. I cannot explain the joy it gives me to see my little niece coming running towards me with her picture books and her Geronimo Stilton story books for me to read and translate the stories to her. It takes me back to my very own childhood.

Pictures from the niece's story books ^_^

This post is submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger-Franklin Templeton Investments "The Idea Caravan" Contest.
Visit for more such real inspiring stories.

P.S.- All pictures except 3,4 and 9 are taken from google searches.


  1. My father was strongly against cable tv, it never reached my home until I was at the door of 2nd semester of my BTech. I am now happy that he did that. It blessed me with the habit of reading. It began with mom reading me stories while i eat lunch or dinner or bedtime, n then it became more than passion or desire. Since was quite young i had been staying out of WB. So although I could speak my mother tongue, but couldn't read it. Initially mom used to read me Bengali stories. Soon i realized i am more curious than that(not stories...i guess they are called novels). In that process I learned how to read Bengali. =D

    1. Ditto on that ,mate!! I can't ever thank my parents enough for not subscribing to cable channels. I would have never got bored and searched around for old stuff had it not been the case. This initiative by Pratham books is an amazing one, helping children think and imagine outside the boxed up textbook worlds.

  2. reading benefits everyone . it gives an acclamation to new experiences. getting into the habit of reading from a yound age helps in building stronger self-discipline, longer attention span, and better memory retention.
    And you did a great job by giving away the books to as many people as you could. sometimes small things make big difference..
    nice post..:)

    1. I couldn't have agreed more, Monica :)
      Thanks a lot :)

  3. Swarnali, it's a great writeup! I loved the idea of story-cards instead of books. Superbly written.

    I have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Please refer to the following link.

  4. Good post! I can't imagine not being surrounded by books. I always was and still am a book-addict! I think the initiative is a really good one.. its amazing how such a simple and unique idea can make such a huge difference!

    1. Exactly, the idea is indeed a great one... :)

  5. Um..
    3rd try is the charm!! Are you seeing these? LOL

    Great post love.
    I was saying in my other comments (the 1st one was so long!) that I loved reading (still do). And that I wish I could buy all my childhood books!

    1. Thank you,Amber...
      Yes, i have had the same wish for a very long time :D

  6. my fondest childhood memories include reading thakumar jhuli, those campy ghost stories in behgali and playing for hours in the evening with my cousin everyday. beautifully written swarnali.

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  7. I have fond memories of tinkle , chacha chaudary and asterix obelix bed time stories. this pratham books is really nice initiative
    saw this video. It inspires to see that many can have access to books
    good write up and good quotes :)


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