Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Good literature can induce positivity in children

In 1999, a young man decided to establish an organisation that recognises children with a knack for literature. Kartikeya Trust was established with the support from his friends and family and has been self-sustained ever since with the revenue generated from his own published children’s literature.
In 1999, a young man decided to establish an organisation that recognises children with a knack for literature. Kartikeya Trust was established with the support from his friends and family and has been self-sustained ever since with the revenue generated from his own published children’s literature. Fast forward two decades, the man, Kartikeya Ghimire, is today one of Nepal’s most prolific writers and the president at Children’s Literature Foundation Nepal (CLFN). His most popular works include stories ‘Ma Chor Hoina’, ‘Manko Mandir’, and ‘Pharsi Bahadurko Katha’. Also an avid traveler and a passionate storyteller, he has travelled to more than 40 districts in the country to facilitate storytelling programmes for children and adults alike. In this conversation with the Post’s Abijeet Pant, Ghimire talks about how children’s literature distinguishes itself from other forms for writing. Excerpts: 
For someone who has penned about 70 books for children, what was your childhood like? How did it nurture the writer in you?
Although I was brought up in a village in the Tarai, I had access to magazines such as Muna and Balak. One of the first books that I read was Panchatantra. I also grew up reading Hindi literature for children. Before I even knew, the bookworm in me had been stimulated, and the literary programmes organised by the schools and community only helped me improve my writing. I was in the ninth grade when a district-level inter-school poetry competition was organised in Sarlahi. Prema Shah, the famous children’s author, and a group of senior teachers from Sarlahi were among the judges who declared my poem ‘Kartavya’ the best. I was awarded a purse of Rs 2,500. I was really amazed by that extraordinary treatment I had received. The event had a deep impact on me. It was then that I considered writing seriously and sincerely.

You came to Kathmandu only in the late ‘90s. How did you begin your career as a writer? More importantly, why did you opt to write for children?
My literary career began with my work at the Balak magazine. Around the same time, I also got a job at Bal Mandir. I was always a very sensitive and an emotional person. I was very close to my mother who had gone through the unimaginable to raise her 12 children. Upon joining Bal Mandir, I came across so many children who never knew what the love of parents felt like. When I started living with those children, not only did I get emotionally attached but I also learnt a lot about their psychology. And then I started opening up to them myself, sharing personal stories which often motivated them. This is when the storyteller in me evolved and inspired me to write for children.
What distinguishes children’s literature from other genres of literature?
One of the most crucial aspects of children’s literature is its sensitivity. If good literature can induce positivity in children, it can also work the other way around. Children’s literature gives you the power to influence children. Both the stakes and responsibilities are high. Let’s say for example, providing a child with sufficient and the right amount of nutrition always takes so much effort. The food you prepare has to be special. Similarly, when you work on children’s literature, you have to work on the depth and length, diction, illustration and overall plot in a way that gives the children what they need, in healthy and correct dosages. It’s a lengthy and intricate process. You can make or break a children’s approach towards life with children’s literature—this is what distinguishes children’s literature from other forms.
Children’s literature also stands out because its content is not judged by literary critics. It is the children who decide how good or bad a certain work is.
Like you say, children’s literature takes a lot more than just creativity. Can you share some of your personal approaches to writing a new book?

Before my stories go to press, I often go to various places in the city and beyond to share my stories for reviews. I read the stories to groups of students from different backgrounds. If in the end, I find them happy and smiling, I consider my work a success. But, should there be a mixed response and I find the children emotionally drained, I immediately make changes to my story. If you want to come up with a good book for children, you have to go to them to judge your work and the impact it has.
In this tech-savvy age, YouTube and the internet have become the big sources of knowledge for children. What roles then do the books play in the lives of today’s children?
While children have access to the internet, they are also increasingly getting confined to their houses.
The children barely get out of their houses or go to a park and play with their friends like we used to. How then do they learn about our society? The importance of reading books has become more significant than ever before. It is from the characters of books that children learn the most. When reading, a child is engrossed with the life of that character, its sorrow, its joy, and its ups and downs.
When reading, a child learns to distinguish between the good and the bad and about the ways they can add positivity in the world around them. Reading increases their understanding of the world and builds up their confidence.
However, I am aware that it is high time that we digitise all the available literature. We need to make children’s literature accessible to the children in any way possible.
Other than the need for digitisation, what other challenges lie ahead?

One of the major challenges is reluctance on the parents’ end. In Nepal, we have the misconception that indulging in fiction or literature in general will hamper the academics of the children. There are very few parents who buy literary books for children.
In addition to this, we haven’t been successful in depicting much of our society in the stories. We ought to portray a myriad of backgrounds and characters coming from various corners of our society. We also have to work on portraying our history and cultures. In most cases, lack of originality is also an issue.
To the aspiring children’s literature writers, what would be your two cents?
Well, there are children from thousands of different backgrounds in our country whose stories haven’t been told. Besides, we haven’t been able to get to them to learn their stories first hand. New writers ought to be proactive and travel to various corners of the country and come up with original stories.

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