Why Should Urban Kids Read Stories Set in Rural India: Writers from Karadi Tales PARI Series Answer:

By Yoshita Srivastava

Award-winning independent publishing house, Karadi Tales, has launched a new series of chapter books for children, in collaboration with People’s Archive of Rural India. The five stories in the series are heartwarming tales of triumph – of children who participate cheerfully in civic issues, athletes who power past their disabilities, citizens who demand their right to be heard – and an attempt to give these voices a platform, as well as address the serious dearth of children’s books that are set in non-urban locations. 

The series features five stories set in different parts of rural India –  No Nonsense Nandhini; No Ticket, Will Travel; Coming Home; A Big Splash;  House of Uncommons. All stories are based on articles written by top journalists and originally published by PARI Network.

Read further to hear why the writers think it important to talk to children in urban settings about rural India, and read about a life different from their own?

In No Nonsense Nandhini, Aparna Karthikeyan turns the inspirational life of Chandra Subramanian into a fictional story celebrating unrelenting resolve. Chandra is a Sivagangai district farmer, retailer, mother, and the recipient of the ‘homepreneur’ award.

Aparna Karthikeyan: I think it is important for children in urban areas and in other rural areas — for instance, rural Maharashtra to read about rural Tamil Nadu — as there’s much in common, and many interlinked threads. And much that is new and wonderful and thought-provoking as well.

By and large, the books we have, the shows and cinema we consume, tell us stories of ‘people-like-us’. This dominant view rarely speaks up for the marginalized; the rare occasion it does, there is a tendency to patronise.

In fact, so many older people were surprised during the lockdown to find the country walking back home, to discover that it was rural migrants who kept the cities running. Now, they are surprised that farmers in Punjab are striking. They can’t wrap their head around the agrarian crisis. The disconnect is acute. And scary. To prevent another generation growing up clueless about the world around them, we need stories that respect practitioners of livelihoods — all livelihoods, not just what we consider important — because, they are the people who keep alive the culture we flaunt with pride. 

In Coming Home, Priti David relates the tale about a group of resilient children from Sitilingi Valley who when forced to drop out, decide to start their own school and help create jobs in their valley. 

Priti David: Urban children do not get to see and hear about the other multiple realities in India — especially the biggest reality — of rural India, a place where most of our country lives and works. It’s important for their intellectual and emotional growth to connect, to understand, and to learn about the many knowledge systems in agriculture, craft, and livelihood, to meet people who put food on their tables, and to recognize and acknowledge the vast diversity that is India. 

Toddy tappers, bamboo carriers, weavers, farmers, herders, musical instrument makers, honey hunters, and shipbuilders are just some of the occupations and livelihoods practiced in rural India, and there is much that all of us, children included can learn about — resilience, skills, inherited knowledge and more. 

In House of Uncommons, Vishaka George gives readers a peek into the lives of the students at Snehagram, an institute for HIV positive children. The story is a gripping tale of grief, acceptance, and empathy.

Vishaka George: I read an article that said, ‘Sometimes it’s better to let fiction speak the truths we struggle to articulate.’ 

Many urban Indian kids can and probably learn about some of rural India through textbooks, but we all know what the end game there is — good grades in a ruthless education system.

They can also learn about this country by visiting these places, but most may never have the chance to do so. Since this appears to be the reality of most city-dwelling kids’ lives, we decided it’s best to take these stories to them.  The places and issues in these books may be starkly different from those in many of its readers’ lives, but how humans react and respond to injustice, tragedy, and happiness isn’t. And it’s these very human experiences of joy, pathos, and triumph that will keep the pages turning, no matter whose hand the book is in. 

No Ticket, Will Travel by Subuhi Jiwani is a series of short stories on migrant laborers who travel in search of work, determined to make a living, struggling against all odds and uncertainties on the way.

Subuhi Jiwani: Because this India is as much a part of their country as the images they see in Bollywood films, on TV or on Instagram. Because this India is an India they’re probably not learning much about at school or through their extra-curricular activities. Because this is an India that’s complex — not just poor — and doesn’t have the same kind of infrastructure or development as the cities.

Because learning about this India can help them understand their country, their cities and themselves a little better.     

The series is for children between 10-15 years of age. To purchase the series, check out this link: https://www.karaditales.com/catalogue/the-pari-series/the-pari-series-complete-collection/

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