Can visually-impaired children experience the vibrant world of picture books? Nearly ten years ago, when he was yet to start Thumbi, a bilingual, monthly children’s magazine, Sivaraj dwelled on this thought during a conversation with children’s author, the late Vaandu Mama.
“He told me that many children today fail to realise how fortunate they are. They have everything. Parents, an education. Eyes to feast on the world; ears to listen to a birdcall. What about those who are unable to do so?” Vaandu Mama, says Sivaraj, told him that he wished to write something for such special children.
Now, five years after the launch of Thumbi, and 58 issues later, the magazine’s editor Sivaraj, has brought out its first braille compilation of children’s stories. Published recently, the collection, named after the magazine, includes three stories. It will be distributed at 60 schools for visually-impaired children in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, starting this week.
This includes Poonamalle Blind School in Chennai, St Joseph’s School for the Blind in Madurai, Dharisanam School for the Visually Handicapped in Batticaloa, and Vaazhvaham Home for Visually Handicapped in Chunnakam, Jaffna. In Sri Lanka, the anthology is being distributed by Canada-based Suba Balasubramaniam through Let Us Help Now Foundation, a non-profit that works with the elderly and children in special needs homes in Sri Lanka.
“The plan is to bring out a braille compilation with three stories every month,” says Sivaraj, speaking over phone from Tiruvannamalai. “Each of these stories will be rooted in different landscapes, such as mountains, forests, and the sea,” he says, adding, “We have picked stories that have already appeared in Thumbi and have converted them to braille with the help of the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Poonamallee.“
The series was launched by artist and writer Manohar Devadoss on March 4. Eighty-five-year-old Devadoss, who was awarded the Padma Shri last year for his work, gradually lost his sight over the course of his life; he now lives in Chennai. “He was an inspiration for this venture,” says Sivaraj. “He gave us an understanding of his world; which is both magnificent and fascinating.”
Since most of Thumbi’s stories are picture-heavy, Sivaraj says they plan to expand upon the text to make the braille version more appealing for readers. A four-member team from the magazine, comprising Shilpa Krishnan, Suyambu Selvi, Maasilan Meenakshi Sundaram and Palaniappan Ramanathan, have taken up this task. “Henceforth, all our issues will have a braille version as well,” says Sivaraj, adding that this will run parallel to their monthly braille compilation.
Audio book versions of their issues are in the pipeline too. Sivaraj says that they plan to document stories special children share as an anthology in the future. He asks, “What kind of stories does a visually-impaired boy narrate to his friend? How does he describe his world? We want to note down every word.”