When I was younger, I was always keen on knowing where a book comes from. Where do stories come from? Are the characters real? Who draws or paints the images that bring a book to life?
Growing up, everything around me made me think, made me curious. I believe that as children, we are all like little pieces of sponges, soaking information from wherever possible, be it by observation, interaction or imagination. The books we read were the sources for us to discover and learn about places and things that were around us. We learnt about different geographical layouts of the world, along with its cultures, traditions, and ethnicities.
While there were a few khasi folktales back in school, there are many more untold legendary stories that I have only discovered whilst growing up as a child in Meghalaya. When I revisited the books I studied in school while helping my niece with her schoolwork, I saw the same old stories that I had read back in the day–nothing has changed! No new contextual content has been added in the past decade.
Education is an integral concept embedded in us since our first few steps into this world. As time changes, so do the ways of learning. If we observe the learning abilities of children today, we see a drastic change when comparing them to the older generations. The different advances in the learning space have incorporated numerous technologies, advanced machines, and artificial intelligence, which makes learning more precise and easily accessible.
Early childhood is a significant entity for a child’s cumulative development, which often occurs before the age of six years. But according to the National Education Policy 2020, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is still very much inaccessible towards children who are socio-economically disadvantaged. However, its potential can skyrocket when focused on the Anganwadi centres in and around India for it is these centres that can reach out to children who are disconnected from accessing the day-to-day learnings.
The Forgotten Folklore Project’s (TFFP) quest is to dissect the numerous limitations of contextualised aspects towards culture, tradition and folklore. Meghalaya, rich in biodiversity, culture and tradition has been the TFFP’s main focus of extracting content from the amazing folklore, rituals and beliefs of the state, having their own unique voices and cultural representations. The project plans to curate 45 storybooks for the children of the state, having their own journey in capturing the cultural essence of the three different tribes of Meghalaya–the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos.
The Voyage of the 45 books.
1. Field Immersion
In the sanctuary of our thoughts, our imagination runs through countless visions.
To curate a book, the TFFP team researches and explores the diverse corners of the Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo Hills. The objective is to uncover more of the different ancient tales and folkloric content from local communities. Interacting with storytellers is one of the most interesting parts of the process because this opens the door to discovering fascinating facts or hidden gems of information.
I am sure all of us would have memories from our childhood when our grandparents would tell us stories and we would stare at them in awe. As the team goes and meets storytellers from these remote areas and listens to their stories, we often find ourselves reminiscing about our storytelling sessions with our grandparents.
2. Returning back to base
Once the team has collected a wealth of stories, the team returns back to base to start transcribing the narratives. This step is crucial as it ensures that the oral tradition of storytelling is documented, as there is already a lack of oral text within these communities.
3. Compressing Information
The condensation of the narratives follows after the transcriptions. This phase of the journey marks the team’s effort to distil the collected tales by retaining the essence of the stories being told. This step is highly emphasised as it is vital to retain the authenticity of the narration by storytellers.
Once we get these condensed transcripts ready, the team reaches out to experts in folklore and culture along with talented artists and authors. Collaboration and contextualisation are at the core of this and other projects of the Sauramandala Foundation. We team up with like-minded creatives to whip up fictionalised stories that are not only fascinating but also informative. It's all about making stories that are appealing, and unique, ones that grab children’s attention.
5. Bringing a book to life
Our role in this stage is to take a step back and allow these creative minds (authors and editors) to explore, ideate and create something that holds the authenticity of the original folktale. Like any creative process, this stage is an exhaustive process, where authors, editors, and illustrators come together and brainstorm, ensuring that a book correctly represents the subject matter through words and illustration.
Once a story receives the green light from all involved in the process, it is first published electronically on Pratham Books’ digital platform Storyweaver. With this partnership, we aim to bring these captivating 45 tales not only in English, but also in their translated versions in Khasi, Garo, and Pnar, to a larger audience to preserve and celebrate the rich folklore.
As one child closes their thoughts, another one begins to wonder
At times, when the child in me takes charge of my thoughts, even my imagination runs wild thinking of all the small yet complex steps that are involved in creating a book.
Is it not interesting to see how the dimension of publication has shifted to a more digital form? Back in the day, though we had access to technology, hard-copy books were still in high demand and there is just something different about holding a physical book in your hands. The earthy smell, the touch and the feel distinguishes it from the digital formats of reading. Sometimes, it feels like the cover of a book calls out to you.
We want the children of Meghalaya to feel the joy of reading and enjoying the process of storytelling. In their physical forms, we want them to experience the sheer joy of holding a physical book, running their fingers through the illustrations and learning how to take care of a book. All the 45 storybooks that will be curated will be printed and piloted as physical copies at selected Anganwadi Centres and we would love to see such contextual storybooks being absorbed into the curriculum of the State.
As I reflect back on ‘Where does a book come from?’ I feel like I finally have some understanding of the literary voyage of a book. It has been two decades and it amazes me how much thought and creativity, hard work and passion goes into curating even a small children’s book.
I hope the children who read these storybooks will be as curious about what goes into making a book, and I hope these contextual storybooks open up a world of possibilities and imagination for them.
Written by: Nazarene F Jyrwa
Illustrations by: Leirik Oinam