Sabha 2011 – Creating Joyful and Accessible Content for New Readers

The month of March was a fantastic one for us. We held two literary conferences called Sabha in Bangalore in Delhi. The Bangalore conference was about ‘The Joys and Challenges of Creating Multi-lingual Content for Children’ while the Delhi conference was about ‘Creating Joyful and Accessible Content for New Readers’.
Manisha Chaudhry, Head of content development- Pratham Books, writes about the meet held in Delhi.

On the morning of 14th March, all roads led to the first Pratham Books Sabha in Delhi!

Or so we felt as we rushed to IHC to welcome our authors and illustrators, buyers and well wishers. It was a busy busy monday morning with heavy traffic but the basanti breeze was kind and the silk cotton trees in full bloom.

The venue was humming with last minute arranging of books, going over the event flow and waiting for our guests to arrive. It was so wonderful to have more than 70 of our authors, illustrators, translators and other well wishers together for the first time.

Over steaming cups of coffee and tea, many introductions were made, many friendships revisted and many new conversations begun.

After a brief welcome to the Sabha,our chairperson, Rohini Nilekani spoke eloquently and passionately about the genesis of Pratham Books. The book as a medium is portable, cost effective and a great vehicle for ideas.She spoke about the need to invest in our children and their educational journey, if we wanted a truly functioning democracy.She spoke about the need to see the kind of work that Pratham Books was doing as a societal mission and more people needed to join in to see that last child has a book to read, a book to call her own.

Suzanne Singh, Managing Trustee Pratham Books spoke about the size and scale of Pratham Books’ goals and the gratifying journey so far. She spoke about our low cost, high quality books in many Indian languages for children across the country.The innovative and collaborative nature of our work had led to the creation of new products and platforms, so that we can reach the greatest number of children.For many people in the audience, this was perhaps the first time that they became aware of the scope and reach of Pratham Books and the breadth of its mission.

A lively panel discussion on Creating Joyful and Accessible Content for New Readers followed with a four very distinguished panelists -Rukmini Banerji, Director ASER Centre and Pratham, Shuddhsatwa Basu, artist-illustrator-animation film maker and teacher, Anushka Ravishankar, highly acclaimed author and Paro Anand, well loved author for children and young adults and literary activist. Each of them brought in very different yet intersecting perspectives on creating books for children and their personal experiences kept the discussion rooted in the here and now.

Rukmini Banerji’s effervescent presentation on why she thought it was important to create books for children was informed by the depth of her field experience where she enjoys meeting thousands of children who study in government schools across the country. She shared several amusing anecdotes that underlined the importance of reading and how it builds self-confidence and opens up a window to newer worlds. Her presentation also displayed the scale of Pratham’s work and the number of children who need support.

Shuddhsatwa Basu’s visual presentation of his growth as an artist was a delightful example of different styles of visual communication. The role of an illustrator in making children’s books joyful could not have been underscored in a better way.It was evident how the interplay between the words and illustrations make each book a dynamic site for stimulating the mind.

Anushka Ravishankar shared her journey as an author within the context of joyful and accessible content creation. She made a strong case for the subjectivity of the author. She felt that a joyful creative process imbues the book with joy. Her presentation made a strong point about a sense of comfort with being open-ended. She had written a script after looking at a set of vibrant illustrations, and she was also open to an illustrator having complete freedom to interpret a text she had written. She read out from two of her delightful books-both fine examples of joy and accessibility. She also said that overly didactic books turn off young readers.

Paro Anand spoke about the power of stories. Referring to her work with children impacted by terrorist violence, she said that stories are a powerful medium to begin a conversation on difficult issues of death and pain. As a part of her Literature in Action program, she had come across many children with personal traumas who could begin healing through the sharing of their stories. She also made a strong case for demystifying the act of writing stories as she said that anybody could write as everybody had a story.

A full house engaged in a freewheeling discussion on the many ideas thrown up by our wonderful panelists. Illustrations, suitable books for libraries, the role of an editor, the tension between didactic ideas and joyful content were all thrown up as stories about creating stories were told.

The conversation was animated and it set the mood for Gautam John’s presentation on Creative Commons. He made a short and pithy presentation explaining the basis and the benefits of this new way of looking at content. He illustrated the ways in which CC licensing options made Pratham Books more accessible and took it a step closer to its mission of a book in every child’s hand.

As time was short and stomachs were heard rumbling, we broke for lunch but Gautam happily held several mini-sessions for various authors and illustrators who were intrigued by the possibilities of CC licensing.

The first Sabha created a great sense of community between all the authors, illustrators and supporters of Pratham Books. There was such a feeling of warmth and sharing between everybody that we can truly say that we have a LARGE extended family! Thank you for being there and here’s to many more Sabhas! Cheers!

Also read :

Sabha 2011 – Why We Held This Literary Meet
Sabha 2011- Books in many Indian languages
Sabha 2011 – Writing Bilingual Books
Sabha 2011 – The Joys and Challenges of Creating Multi-lingual Content


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