Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Workshop

***

The workshop is over. Phew. That's one thing ticked off on my 'to do' list! I was wondering if I should take it up at all because managing preteens and teens is not exactly easy, especially when one is increasingly beginning to resemble a penguin. I wasn't sure if I could stand continuously and talk all day without developing some scary pregnancy related syndrome.

But I'm glad I decided to do it. Thankfully, the organizers (Katha, Delhi) were mostly female and sympathetic to my almost-eight-months pregnant self running backstage once in a while and munching on something.

There were 350 children in all. Some as small as Class IV and some as big as Class X. The point of the workshop was to discuss the basic elements that go into story writing and encourage the children to be original and have the courage to write about their own lived experiences. At the end of the workshop, they were to participate in a story writing contest and the winning stories would be published in a Katha anthology.

In many of the writing activities we did, the children inevitably ended the story with a moral. Even if the stories themselves had a wild side to them,they'd end with a sanctimonious message printed in bold, capital letters. This wasn't exactly new to me. I've seen the same pattern repeated across writing events for children and it really saddens me that their opinion of adults is so low that they feel we'll only appreciate them if they talk like little wise bores.

I asked the children what sort of books they read and where they got their books from. Most said that they loved adventure and fantasy novels and that they picked up the books themselves from libraries and bookshops. Then,I asked if any of them had ever gone to a library or a bookshop and picked up a moral stories book. Obviously, nobody had ever done that. Then why did they keep writing moral stories? Did they think adults loved reading moral stories? If they did, they wouldn't buy moral stories and dump it on their children instead of reading them themselves, right? If nobody is interested in reading moral stories, why write them at all? Why not think about writing the kind of books they themselves loved reading? The sort of writing that you can't stop reading?

It astonishes me how we keep convincing generations of children that they must all be some message-spouting Prahalad types instead of unleashing their incredible reserves of originality. If at all they take the plunge and write a story that's not obviously moralistic, they can only do so if the story is about some John or Jacob robbing a bank in London. They find it so hard to set a story in a surrounding they know well without turning it into a message about the environment or hard work or something equally didactic. The inability to articulate their own experiences, to see the wealth of stories around themselves, the firm belief that adventures can only happen in Britian....really, what have we done to children? Though this was only to be expected and I've seen it happen many times over, I still feel sad about it. I hope the two days helped at least some of them to break free from this self moral policing and write with a free mind, with words they know and understand.

At the end of the workshop, one of the children came to me and asked if I could please, please publish Interval in CM again. I was touched beyond words because Interval is a comic N and I used to do together when we worked there and it was very special to both of us. I was super happy that she remembered it two years since it was last published! I had to tell her that I'd quit and wasn't doing it any more. Her face fell and she said she'd taken a 3-year subscription for the magazine only for Interval and she was really disappointed we'd stopped doing it! I felt oddly tearful and moved by it all.

As an aside, GBM was very excited throughout the workshop and kept kicking me all day. I hope this is one kid who never writes a moral story ever in its life.

11 comments:

R's Mom said...

Awesome GB...I salute you!

Its funny na..my dad used to tell me the same thing....about setting stories in Indian conditions...I grew up on my dose of Enid Blyton and always thought exciting things happen only to people in England and USA! (I am a big fan of the naughtiest girl in school - yaa I am weird!)

So the stupid stories I wrote always had girls eating scones and butter and boys having blue eyes! Dad read them and asked me...where have you seen scones and which boy you know has blue eyes!

and moral ending stories..my cousin's son always asks me when I tell him random stories - Chitti, whats the moral of the story?

now if you tell a story about a lion walking and falling over an elephant, where is the moral - Look before you leap???

I loved this post of yours...I am going to send it off to dad to tell him that there are young (thats you!) people who still write in Indian settings and encourage kids to do the same...

Now this is definitely a long comment...take care of your health!

The Bride said...

Wow that is sad. I thought that because there was more contemporary writing for children by Indian authors around, we'd have broken free of this.

The Visitor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Visitor said...

Great to know that you were able to conduct a workshop at this stage! Respect.
Amazed, particularly because I always use the smallest of reasons as excuse for not doing something that is supposed to be my work.

That's what probably distinguishes 'doing something for a living' versus 'doing something as a passion'. :| Even today I recall your Writing for a living series whenever passion and making-a-living are discussed.

Regarding stories and morals, I find it almost impossible to have a story without a moral (or an inference), unless they are open-ended leaving the reader adrift in the middle of nowhere. The least that I expect of any story that I enjoy, is that it has an ending, may be happy or unhappy. There is usually always an inference to be drawn from it. This inference is the moral, whether it is summed up and written in bold or left unsaid.
Was just voicing some nebulous thoughts in my mind, hence may not be clear.


-Uncle OT
PS: Say Hi to GBM and M.

vishesh said...

I have firmly refused to write anything set in England. In fact I am pretty critical of my friends who set all their stories in some unknown world which they have never seen. It is okay when you are a kid but as grownup writers, it is plain annoying and comes out all pretentious.

Srinivas said...

GB: It's a great point you make about how children (in our part of the world) take stories (or story-telling, at least) as an instrument for morals. It's a theme that I have regularly observed in your writes on writing - and story-telling - one I second and completely empathise with.
However, it would be interesting to see (I am not the expert here, of course) if this trait is particular to children brought up in (relatively) conservative set-ups, or if something of the trait is found in children across the world.

As to the other extreme... of fun stories being set in places outside those one is familiar with, I really laughed because I was guilty of it too. :D In my case, at least, he had to do with reading about these fabulous cities in novels and yearning for my narratives to be set there as well. I feel quite silly now about the whole thing.

"At the end of the workshop, one of the children came to me and asked if I could please, please publish Interval in CM again. I was touched beyond words because Interval is a comic N and I used to do together when we worked there and it was very special to both of us. I was super happy that she remembered it two years since it was last published!" - a lovely moment that. I remember how you often insist on children being great judges of REALLY interesting stuff because unlike adults they cannot rationalise through or endure a super-boring story. So, I can understand how much a compliment from a child is probably worth :)

Vini said...

I wish I had attended that workshop.

smartassbride said...

Loved this post. But it isn't just our stories - it's there in fancy dress, it's there in any form of creative expression - a message gets you points. And good essays always have "quotations" - this even if it's the summary of a story.

dipali said...

We seem to have squashed a whole lot of creativity out of our kids, and what is left is made to set in one particular mould:( I'm sure at least some of the kids at the workshop would have got what you were saying!
I think English literature colonised a whole lot of children's minds, and continues to do so:(

N said...

This is awesome! :-)

Mira Nalini said...

In many of the writing activities we did, the children inevitably ended the story with a moral. Even if the stories themselves had a wild side to them,they'd end with a sanctimonious message printed in bold, capital letters.

collection of stories