When actors took to reading poems for children at home during COVID-19 lockdown

Tulika Books and Apalam Chapalam bring in celebrities to host reading sessions on social media to keep children engaged

June 03, 2020 04:00 pm | Updated June 04, 2020 01:28 pm IST

Kalki Koechlin

Kalki Koechlin

The COVID-19 lockdown is a stressful period. If it can exact a toll on adults, it isn’t going to be easy for children.

Living in a connected world though has its advantages. Says actor Kalki Koechlin, “We are blessed to be in a generation where we can reach out to kids and keep them entertained during a lockdown. The previous generations, the ones that lived through World Wars, had no way of entertaining their children or giving them an education.”

Kalki, actor Shriya Pilgaonkar and actor-filmmaker Suhasini Maniratnam are coming together to present a poem for children at an event organised by Tulika Books and Apalam Chapalam on social media under Tulika’s ‘Many Voices... Many Languages... Many Stories...’ campaign.

Choose your platform

Recorded sessions of the trio reading Go Away Coronavirus! by Divya Thomas (Shriya and Suhasini will read the translated versions in Hindi and Tamil) will be aired via Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Tulika’s website. The multi-lingual reading session will also mark the online release of the poem.

The cover for Go Away Coronavirus!

The cover for Go Away Coronavirus!

“Through imaginative stories and pictures, our diverse range of books engage and entertain children everywhere. At a time like this, when it is difficult for [children] to make sense of what is happening around them, this rich resource of books offer stories that comfort and reassure them,” says Priya Krishnan, senior editor, Tulika Books, adding that the poem addresses the questions and anxiety of children “gently and sensitively”. Tulika’s campaign launched soon after the first phase of lockdown was enforced in March 2020. And so far, they have brought on board, authors and storytellers besides well-known personalities in cinema like actors Revathy and ‘Thalaivasal’ Vijay.

“Revathy had chosen to read the Tamil version of her favourite Tulika title The Rooster and the Sun for the Ranga Shankara online theatre festival for children in April,” says Priya. So impressed was Revathy about the response that she got in touch to read more books in these virtual sessions. “On Mother’s Day, she read Nandini Nayar’s picture book What Did You See? , and the following weekend she read A Saree for Ammi ,” says Priya, who calls Revathy a “natural” at reading for children. “She will be doing more readings in Tamil and Malayalam soon,” she adds.

Suhasini Maniratnam

Suhasini Maniratnam

For Suhasini, it is the first time she has done a reading session for children. It can be easy for an actor to be a storyteller but children are a different ball game. “You have to change the body language and make sure they understand the emotions. It will have to be different from how you speak to adults. But children are not judgemental. They just want to be engaged and all you have to do is get their attention,” says Suhasini.

The actor adds that though Tulika approached her for help with hiring professional translators from the film industry, she instead suggested that they seek out a group of medical professionals, who were also interested in Tamil poetry. “There is a skin specialist, Dr S Murugu Sundram, who runs a WhatsApp group that I’m a part of. It is named yannar ; it is an old Tamil word and it means beauty and poetry. I have been in this group for the last two years, and it is really wonderful to wake up to the beautiful lines sent in by medical professionals from all over the world,” says Suhasini. It was Dr Murugu Sundram who ended up translating Divya Thomas’ poem for Tulika. “I will refrain from calling it a poem. It is a paadal (song), as it doesn’t quite meet the arrangement of what a kavithai (poem) in Tamil should be like,” she adds.

While Suhasini reads it in her own style, Kalki added a bit of role play to her presentation. “I wore a witch’s costume,” she laughs, and adds: “I had a wig on... red hair and a witch hat.” The costume and character was required because Kalki believes that it will help catch the attention of children. “I love working with kids because they are honest and they don’t hold back. If they don’t like it, they make it obvious and they also get bored very quickly. They are a very good audience because they keep you on your toes,” she says.

But isn’t the witch always the villain in a story? “I think you can have good witches as well as bad ones. I’m a good witch,” Kalki laughs.

The reading session can be viewed on Instagram handles: @tulikabooks or @apalamchapalam

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