YOUNG WORLD

Can you tell why?

R. KRITHIKA

Can you tell why?

Why do I have to walk so far to the river to fetch water?

Why can't we eat rice twice a day?

Why do I have to graze the Babu's goats?

These are among the many questions that Moyna, the protagonist of Mahasweta Devi's The Why-Why Girl, asks. The book (which was released in eight languages) marked the launch of the partnership between the publishing house Tulika and Pratham, a non-governmental organisation for the Read India project. The objective is reach out to children and ensure accessibility of books thus encouraging the reading habit.

Educationist Ahalya Chari of the Krishnamurti Foundation, who released the books, spoke of the need to make books available to children. While much was happening in terms of children's literature, how many children did it reach, she wondered? More often than not, the reach is limited to the affluent urban child, due partly to the pricing factor. So what happens to children in small towns and villages? How will books be made available to them?

She also focussed on the need to select stories judiciously. India has a rich tradition of folklore and mythology. But not all stories are meant for children. The other aspect is raising relevant current issues through the medium of stories. "In this book, Mahasweta Devi takes up the issue of poverty and hunger through the questions of the tribal girl," she pointed out. This is a good way to take up the topic of the divide between haves and have-nots with children.

An audio-visual presentation on Tulika incorporated a speech by Mahasweta Devi on how this book came about. The evening ended with a reading of the English and Tamil versions of The Why-Why Girl by Sandhya and Jaya respectively.

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