Monday, April 9, 2012

Children’s literature in Nepal: a tale of stagnation

Kartikeya Ghimire
Writers in the coming decade must write children’s mind; enough has come about the writers’ mind in the name of writing children’s literature.

When the question of children’s literature in Nepal comes, I go back in memory to the year 1996 for reference, when I was a student-cum-teacher. I attended my school in the morning, and taught children during the day. My adventure into children’s literature started then. I can still remember the titles I read with zeal those days. The lot we had in hand was nothing more than the retelling of folk and fairy tales. The writers did not want to be addressed as ‘writers of children’s literature.’ The genre was still an underdeveloped one. They loved to call themselves writers of other things, as writing for children’s literature was a derogatory profession. Most of them projected themselves as writers for adults. They wrote with bias, with partialities. There too were some who revered farmers more than the king.
However, children’s literature continued to flourish. Fate decreed my career in such a way that in 2055, I was opportune to edit Balak, a children’s magazine. This paved me a way to keep myself engaged with children’s literature most of the time. I remember the words of most of the senior writers those days: a writer for children must be inspired by didactic and moral motifs.
But time turned out to be powerful. In 2000, after I attended a workshop on children’s literature at Dhulikhel, my understanding of children’s literature changed drastically. Even then, a big chunk of writers who also attended the workshop did not shun the old practice of simplifying and retelling fairy tales. Though some seminars and discussions on the possible future direction of children’s literature ensued, things did not change that much.
Story is more or less the same today. Well, fairy tales have replaces by modern tales, but the underlying motif is still didactic which is plagued by moral agenda. This presupposes that all children are wrong, and writers should correct them. Or, it might presuppose that the writes are police who need to discipline the children for a great national cause. I am not against this, but this is not the only thing about children’s literature.
Today, children’s literature has become a field of glamour. Writers have started occupying gorgeous stages on daily basis these days. In other words, a great and hopeful time has dawned. But time has foisted upon us the challenge to write literature that befits the demands of our age. We have twin problems. In one hand, we need to compete with the ever-flowing entertainment media, and on the other, we need to address the fleeting taste of children. Nevertheless, many good works are going on in the field of Nepali children’s literature. The growing popularity of literature online, increasing diversity in presentation, publication of multi-colored titles, and increased care in editing and language clarity are proofs of this assertion. Sadly however, themes are in jeopardy, and by the same token, the actual motif of our children’s literature is in jeopardy.
Over the years, certain facts have changed though. Books have become available to children not only in cities, but also in places remotely and secluded. We cannot overlook the role of Room to Read, an international organization, in popularizing children’s literature in Nepal. It dispatches books from village to village. It has also been gradually setting a standard for writing, layout and publishing books for children. We must also acknowledge the contribution of Read Nepal in the formative days.
Passing through several turns, children’s literature stands at a challenging moment, as far as writing is concerned. If in yester years, fifteen to twenty books came annually, we have more than 185 books coming out into the market these days. Nepali children’s literature is its rich glory, numerically. What we need now is a literature that lends intellectual input in accordance with the changing times, embellished with the feeling of mutual dignity and brotherhood.  In other words, we need to revisit our themes.
Much of the writing these days is measured against minor indicative of profit and loss, which is fatal for the entire field. We need, in fact, to be moving in the direction of producing a responsible citizen through literature. A good literature today can only ensure the evolution of a good citizen tomorrow. Therefore writing for children is a serious issue. Like a mother putting all her efforts to prepare a healthy gruel for her baby, a writer should put special efforts to enrich his writing with values. If your involvement is just out of a sense of hobby, you are doing injustice upon children, and also upon the nation. You must be aware of this.
A child is today’s ray of hope. He is also a forerunner. Therefore the reading materials we produce for him need to be seriously scrutinized, because it mentality that defines a man. Literature must inspire one’s mentality in the positive direction. 
When we talk about writing for children, we also undertake the subjects of their behavior making, sociability, and linguistic capacity building. A good literature contributes to the making of an amiable and responsible individual. It also enriches his linguistic capacities. An ill-formed literature not only destroys a reader’s language acquisition, but also harms his moral and ethical aspects. This makes children’s literature a very, very serious affair.
In fact, what is written for children should be directly influenced by their age group and family backgrounds. Consideration of age helps one to decide color graphics, selection of words, and reading material as such. This is crucial, because childhood is a fast changing time, and children keep shifting their interest with every single addition in their age. A writer should be fully knowledgeable about a child’s interest, psychology, and linguistic level. What is so dismally lacking in our children’s literature so far is the fact that writers seldom consider the question of age, and the different tastes and qualities children develop with age.
Before we end a short commentary on the situation of children’s literature these days! These days, at least twenty books get published every month, making it around two hundred annually. But the writers seem dazed when it comes to the principles of writing. They cannot tell for sure which age group they are targeting at. If a book’s exposition fits with one age group, climax with another, and the end with yet another, it is considered ill-made. Therefore, before starting, a writer must consider the readers’ age.
It is advisable that before writing, a writer decides among three age groups, and stick to one, of his pick: birth to 5, 6 to 9, and 10 to 13. I consider is good for our context. A plan with this decidability might be tested with other criteria I have delineated above. But, the best is, observe the activities of the children of that age that conforms to your target; talk with them, and find time to play with them. This will help you develop a great piece of writing that will not only entertain and instruct a child but also archive the shifting paradigm of the world in relation with the young minds of the juvenile children. Writers in the coming decade must write children’s mind; enough has come about the writers’ mind in the name of writing children’s literature. Best wishes!
(Ghimire is an acclaimed writer and trainer of children’s literature)
(Translated and edited by Mahesh Paudyal)

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