Jamie Mullick writes about the first part of the event in East Nizamuddin.
When you enter the MCD Primary School at East Nizamuddin, it’s hard to accept the fact that it is an MCD school. You will be pleasantly surprised that the infrastructure and facilities that are available to the children at this school is above the standards we come to expect from a school run by the MCD. And upon further investigation, you’ll find out that it isn’t, in fact, maintained by the MCD. The East Nizamuddin Basti, along with the school is adopted by the Aga Khan Foundation which ensures the proper availability of facilities and amenities for the school. It was by the cooperation of the kind people at The Aga Khan Foundation that ‘Bookaroo in the City’ was invited to this very special school.
The story telling session was conducted by renowned children’s author Samina Mishra, who is the great granddaughter of Dr. Zakir Hussain, the third president of India. The stories Samina chose for the first session, which was for the children of the primary school, were in fact, translations of the stories written by Dr. Zakir Hussain. The tales chosen were Abu Khan Ki Bakri (a story which most of the children knew), Puri Jo Kadahi Se Nikal Bhaagi and Murgi Ka Nirala Baccha, a captivating tale about a baby chick who refused to help fire and water, yet was helped by them when he needed the help.
Though Samina , being her modest self, said that she usually held story-telling sessions for 20-30 children at a time, but the way she kept an audience of roughly 120+ children captivated and engrossed in her stories left us in awe. And what left me even more impressed was the fact that the children sitting at the back were also sitting in rapt attention which was evident by their active participation during the post-story discussions when Samina walked amongst the children. This is a rare feat that is incredibly hard to match, especially for such young children, who have easily wavering attention spans.
I joined the second session of this event at East Nizamuddin and absolutely loved the session with Samina.
The second session was for older students who come to the school after their regular classes. The small group of students present for the event grew slowly, but steadily. And all the children there stepped into the shoes of a young girl called Hina. Samina chose this book to read to the kids as the book is about a girl who is discovering her neighbourhood – Old Delhi (Purani Dilli). Samina talks about the importance of discovering the magic of old places and how they are equally important in today’s world where they may seem rather distant from all the things we know and the places we frequent and live in. When she asked what kids knew about Purani Dilli, one of the answers that elicited laughter around the room was ‘Delhi 6 – the movie’. Travelling from this current reference to Purani Dilli, Samina shed some light on the history of the place and how it used to be called ‘Shahjahanabad’ and that someone had once referred to it as an album of a painter.
Samina has the gift of bringing a place/situation alive with her descriptions. As she described the old woman who does Zardosi work at the Badi Haveli, the kabootar-baaz (pigeon trainers) who stands on the rooftop and scatters food to his pigeons, the young Hina who goes to school…and so on. She also touches upon the partition of India and the histories that have then developed in localities because of what happened. And in this process, she lays the foundation for what she wants to discuss : the concept of ‘Home’.
Samina also mentions how important it is to go to school. When she asked the kids if they all loved going to school like Hina (in the book) did, one girl raised her hand and said that she enjoyed coming to school even though her parents aren’t too keen about their daughter studying. Through a short session of questioning the kids about the real purpose of going to school, Samina reinforced the idea of its importance. This unexpected direction that the storytelling event took was a welcome addition.
Samina ended the storytelling session by using pictures from the book as conversation starters to learn about the kids and their homes. What followed was an engaging question and answer session that allowed the kids to learn more about Samina and her work.
You can view more pictures here.