April in Malihabad is full of promise. The huge mango trees are full of blossoms – signs of the heavy harvest in the months to come. Already in each village, there is much mango related activity. While blossoms are turning into fruit, planks are being into wooden cartons and boxes for transporting mangoes all over the country and abroad. The mangoes from here are very famous. They will travel all over the country and maybe go abroad as well.
There is another blossoming happening in Malihabad. Quiet, steady and almost invisible. We stop at a government primary school. Like many other schools in the area, there are big mango trees leaning into the courtyard. In the verandah Children of Std 1 sitting in a verandah outside a row of classrooms. They are reading? All the children have the same colourful story in their hands. Their heads are down, eyes on the page, concentrating. In the story-card, there is a monkey. The monkey has just snatched a roti from a boy and he is sitting on a wall and eating it. Down swoops a bird and picks the roti from the monkey. The bird lands on a tree. The dog barks. The bird is startled and drops the roti. The dog runs to get his roti….Roti aayi roti gayi. Jiski roti usay mil gayi. [ Read more about this title “Roti Roll
” from Pratham Books
I sit down at the edge of the group. Softly I ask the boy next to me about the monkey. The boy looks nervous and hesitates. I am a stranger. He is very young and unaccustomed to be asked about what he is “reading”. But some of his friends are not shy. Soon I am being told about what happens in the story. Different children add different pieces. They show me the pictures of the action.
Maybe some of the children can read or at least recognize words. Most can read alphabets. On the little pieces of paper all around me I can see evidence of how much these children have blossomed.
A few kilometers away, just off the road is another school. Here the children of Std 1 are in a classroom. But it does not seem like the usual kind of classroom. All the children are in the middle of the room huddled together in a tight circle. There is one story book open on the floor near the teacher and many copies around it. “Mera Parivar? ” I ask. [Read more about this title “My Family
” from Pratham Books
] The children are very surprised that I know the book. Here there is no hesitation or shyness. “This is the grandmother” says one girl. “We call her badiamma”. A quick discussion follows. Who has how many members in their family. I talk about another book in the set. “Have you read Tap-Tap-Tapak?” [Read more about this title “Drip Drop Drip”
from Pratham Books
“Oh yes!!!” A rapid stream of voices start telling me about the drop of rain and how it falls on the leaves and how the animals in the jungle get scared.
April in Malihabad is full of promise. The mango flowers will soon turn into mangoes. The boys and girls will soon be reading. The mangoes will travel across the country. Soon the word will also travel that children can enjoy storybooks early in their school life. The harvest is going to be rich. For the mango crop and for this crop of children.
 Malihabad is a block in Lucknow district. It is very famous for its mangoes.  From January to April 2007, Pratham and UP government collaborated on a joint program called Nai Disha. This program was designed to build reading skills and basic arithmetic ability for children in Std 1 and 2. As part of this program, children in Std 1 and 2 received a different set of story cards and mini-books every 10 days. These sets circulated in a cluster of schools for a period of several months.
Source: An article by Rukmini Banerji, Pratham
Girl on Bag Picture via Dey