It was meant to be a rushed, pit stop weekend trip, to cheer a friend who was to be a speaker at an event. Yet, by the end of the two-day Bookaroo children’s literature festival, now in its third edition in Pune, we were pleasantly surprised with all that it had rolled out. The storyteller, the child, the parent, the teacher and just about anyone who believes that this genre deserves a shot in the arm, would have given it a thumbs-up, we felt.
The goodies began with the scenic, spacious venue and this is something where countless organisers tend to give second-class treatment. Pandit Farms off Karve Road was a charming, well-planned space that managed to win early brownie points. The manicured lawns, tree-lined pathways, tented enclosures and reasonably large signage at vantage points meant that the structure and the framework were in order. No elbowing, jostling or stampede-like scenes and no blaring loudspeakers. So far, so good.
As we moved around to get a sense of the goings-on, the festive-like atmosphere complimented the idea behind this event. Keeping in mind attention spans, we noted how much thought had gone into ensuring that interactivity played a key factor at sessions. It was heartwarming to witness nine-year-olds throw back intelligent questions to speakers about life as a tribal boy in Chhattisgarh, or out-shout their fellow participants with fun facts about elephants at another session. Watching these bright young minds make a beeline to the temporary bookstore to ensure they could tick another title from their long list of must-buys, made for an equally reassuring sight. With encouraging parents and teachers in tow, the genuine glee writ large on these kids’ faces as they lost themselves among books had bowled us over by day 2. The food court was a huge hit too. It served moderately priced fare, run by families mostly, with loads of local favourites (our picks: freshly-crushed sugarcane juice and thalipeeth). However, the lack of a tea-coffee counter was sorely missed by chai-crazy folk, yours truly included. But we are nitpicking.
The Pune edition did catch us unawares, in a good way that is. The next edition surely deserves a larger pool of authors, poets and all kinds of Indian storytellers from the current to the traditional all on the same platform. Other elements integral to children’s literature — like puppeteer storytellers or live enactment of stories, would add tremendous value too. Funds, as in the case of countless such noble ventures that we’ve attended, will continue to be the bugbear, to ensure it survives, and thrives. We hope this need to celebrate books among our children doesn’t fall on deaf ears...somewhere, somehow.
Pune, and India’s children could do with more such hurrah moments.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day