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A happy galatta over books: At the Kovai Bookalatta

Which one do I pick?

Which one do I pick?   | Photo Credit: R Jayashree

The weekend saw delighted children reading, writing, drawing and listening to storytellers at the lit fest brought to Coimbatore by Atta Galatta

“Appa, please buy this one.” I sidled closer, as a little girl waved a Ruskin Bond title while her father held out for an abridged version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes because “it is a classic”. “But I have stories by him in my textbook and they’re so nice to read.” A little argument later, father and daughter decided to take both books.

If you wanted proof that today’s children are as interested in books as they are in their smartphones, all you had to do was to be at the Kovai Bookalatta at the Suburban Higher Secondary School, Ramnagar over the weekend. As I walked into the ground on Sunday morning, sounds coming from the stage resolved into Leon James giving a demonstration of the didgeridoo’s capability. After his performance, there was a break enforced by a power cut, which set back the day’s programme. But no one seemed to mind.

Paro Anand checks out a book

Paro Anand checks out a book   | Photo Credit: R Jayashree

Once the sessions began, the older kids made a beeline for Paro Anand’s talk. Thanking them for turning up on a Sunday, the author spoke about her venture into storytelling. “I was an expert at telling lies,” she announced amid delighted giggles and went on to talk about her “pet Capuchin monkey” and how she had to kill it off when she couldn’t maintain the fiction any more. A story about the riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination had one boy remarking that such stories showed them why we needed to learn history. “So that we don’t repeat such things.”

In another room, Trupthi Srikanth was leading a group of younger children in a song about why the thumb is situated away from other fingers with her audience eagerly mimicking her.

Waiting patiently for the programme to begin

Waiting patiently for the programme to begin   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The courtyard played host to those who decided they just wanted to paint. Raju Dyapur offered little postcard-sized sheets of watercolour paper and “a few paintings ranging from easy to difficult. They can either follow that or add their own elements.” We were interrupted by a request for blue paint and Raju squeezed out a dollop into a palette and showed the artist how to add water. The kids worked, undisturbed by our conversation or the hot sun beating down.

The latter sent me scurrying to the cool room where Ameen Haque was narrating a story about two goats trying to cross a bridge on a mountain. They butt heads but eventually accomplish their purpose with a few magic words: ‘please’, ‘swalpa adjust madi’, and ‘thank you’. At the end Ameen explained, “The mountain is Coimbatore, the bridge is the road, and the goats are people. When you are stuck in traffic, don’t lose your cool. Use the magic words and go your way.” There were sheepish looks from the adults in the room.

At Janaki Sabesh’s session

At Janaki Sabesh’s session   | Photo Credit: R Jayashree

Janaki Sabesh, who took the stage next, swung into the story of the stammering ostrich who wanted to take part in the jungle storytelling competition. A few teenage volunteers were heard enlightening ones who didn’t know better that Janaki was “Vijay’s mum in Ghilli.”

Andaleeb Wajid at Kovai Bookalatta

Andaleeb Wajid at Kovai Bookalatta   | Photo Credit: R Jayashree

The seniors had, by now, moved on to writing stories under Andaleeb Wajid’s direction. Formed into groups, each had to write a story around a wild animal and an object selected from what they had. In one group, a girl was wearing flowers in her hair and the animal they chose was deer. So they wound up writing a story about a deer and flower. One group began a story about a Tasmanian Devil and a time-travelling watch.

“I must say that I didn’t expect the numbers or the enthusiasm,” said author and poet Nandita Bose when she stopped for a chat. “I am very impressed with their hunger to learn.” She had made one group write nonsense verse and confessed to being “amazed at their sense of humour. They came up with such funny lines.”

‘She bora aajob…’ The strains of a Baul song floated along the corridor where Leon and his group were conducting a sing-along in a packed room. When the next session turned to be Harish Bhuvan’s clowning, the kids’ cup of joy was overflowing, especially when their attempts to help Harish remove the mike from the stand ended with the wire wrapped around his legs. Paro Anand and Janaki Sabesh, who walked into watch, also began to dance along with the little ones to the fruit salad song.

The Amar Chithra Katha team, Vani Mahesh and Aparna Jaishanker told stories from mythology and conducted a quiz that saw the participants egging each other one. “Who was the first European to reach India?” asked the quizmaster. Groans greeted the answer “Christopher Columbus” while a boy who was right at the back yelled in dismay “Dei, Vasco da Gama, da”.

As some children crossed the ground to get to a poetry session, the strains of Tamil film songs floated across. A teenage boy was playing a medley from films like Johnny, Mouna Ragam, Payanangal Mudivathilai, Punnagai Mannan among others. A few sang the lyrics or hummed softly, as they made their way to the next room.

Aattum, paatam, kondattam … song, dance and celebration of books, writing and the word. That sums up the first edition of the Kovai Bookalatta. As one audience member asked, “When will they do this again?”

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 11:20:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/the-kovai-bookalatta-was-a-celebration-of-books-writing-and-the-word/article28329874.ece

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