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To light a spark

Kutty Aagayam

Kutty Aagayam  

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Remember Vaandu Mama and his adorable creations? This generation of children too has a variety of Tamil children’s magazines to choose from,

Poonthalir, Jil Jil, Damaram, Sangu, Mittai... these are names of Tamil children’s magazines of the past. Mention them to your parents and grandparents who grew up in Tamil Nadu, and they will recall the good old times when there was so much to read in Tamil. My mother recalls ‘Irumbu Manithan’ (Iron Man), a superhero from a comic strip, who had a detachable arm with special powers. Then there was Bale Balu, Samathu Saru, and Veera Vijayan, characters that late writer Vaandu Mama created... but they’re all mere memories now.

Where are those endearing magazines that were edited with so much insight into young minds? They faded with time. But, a wave of new-gen Tamil magazines for children has now begun. Helmed by youngsters, they function with as much verve as Vaandu Mama, who single-handedly ran several magazines for children. Minmini, brought out by environmental group Poovulagin Nanbargal, has been around for three years now, and has around 15,000 subscribers. The monthly magazine focusses on environment-related stories. “We want to show children the magic of Nature; we want them to appreciate what’s around them, and also understand the politics that surrounds our environment,” says G. Rajaram, the editorial coordinator.

The Chennai-based magazine has contributions by well-known writers and artists, including Trotsky Marudhu. Rajaram says he wants to experiment with paintings rather than photographs. “We recently carried a watercolour of a leopard as the wrapper and it worked very well,” he says. The 31-year-old visualises a Minmini that is driven by paintings. “Children are attracted to something that is hand-drawn. These days, they are exposed to a variety of media; so, a photo of an elephant may not be new to them, but there’s nothing like a painting to show them an elephant’s mammoth scale and beauty,” he feels.

Rajaram wants to revive the works of writers such as Vaandu Mama through the pages of Minmini. “We don’t aspire to ‘teach’ children. All we want to do is introduce them to ideas and stories related to the environment. They will take off from there.” The team plans to hold story-telling events in schools to get closer to its readers.

Coimbatore-based quarterly Kutti Aagaayam (meaning Little Sky) is just two issues old and is already creating waves. T.S. Venkatesan, who runs it, says that it began four years ago in a Government school in Karamadai. “I’m part of Vaanam, a group that works with children. We spent a lot of time with children in the school, telling them stories, screening movies, and holding puppet shows,” recalls the 36-year-old. “At one point, we had a treasure trove of stories, poems, and art works by children. We felt it was a shame if they were to get wasted. That’s why the magazine was started — to provide a platform for children to showcase their creativity.”

Kutti Aagaayam has 36 pages and includes stories by adults as well. “They write on education and child health,” says Ventkat, who is in the printing business. “Our team consists of over 20 school teachers. We also have an editorial board that’s constituted by children,” he adds. Children form a major part of their brain-storming sessions. “We once filled an entire section with questions a little girl had about the world around her. It was fascinating.”

Venkat says that 30 to 40 years ago, there were about 50 magazines in Tamil for children. “There are only a handful now. It’s not that there were no attempts made to revive the format, but a lot of them failed. Chinna Nadhi and Oonjal are some of the names that couldn’t sustain,” he says.

Thumbi is a monthly that comes out of Thiruvannamalai. Tastefully done in handmade paper, it stands out for its quality. The people behind it, though, prefer to keep a low profile.

‘A story a month’, is their motto. Each edition consists of one illustrated story in Tamil and English — the founders want readers to mull over the story with nothing else to distract them. For, they believe that a powerful story is all that a child needs to expand his/her horizons.

The first edition, dated June 2016, carried the story Zlateh by Isaac Bashevis Singer, with gorgeous illustrations by Prakash. Thumbi’s defining factor — a cardboard bookmark shaped like its namesake, the dragonfly.

Coimbatore-based children’s writer Sella Ganapathy misses the magazines of his times. “We had writers who wrote such evocative wildlife stories. Several decades ago, we had Ko. Ma. Kothandam, for instance, who would spend time in the forests and write about it for children.” The Bal Sahitya Puraskar Award winner says the trend for children’s writing in Tamil has never been positive. “These days, kids feel satisfied just reading a few lines on WhatsApp,” he says. “But, there’s an ocean out there, waiting to be explored.”

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:56:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/To-light-a-spark/article15082896.ece

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