ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Competition Shortlisted Entry
Equalisers: Of Dreams, Stories, and Education
Aparna Srivastava, 23 years old, Mumbai
“This education has reduced us to a nation of morons; we were strangers to our own culture and camp followers of another culture, feeding on leavings and garbage . . . What about our own roots?” — R.K. Narayan
Macaulay’s Minutes gave India the burden of a dream deferred; the dream of having a language of one’s own land, mannerisms, and cultural ethos. After independence, this dream has not exploded but pushed on with a stubbornness of soul, just like the Greek King Sisyphus’ attempt to roll a boulder up a steep climb. The boulder slips back, but Sisyphus keeps pushing it uphill.
In this spirit, for the past 69 years, India has been trying to overturn the colonial aftermath that has lingered on in its education system, such as the way English literature and the interpretation and teaching of stories are still propagated at home, in school, and through books that circulate the market.
Yes, once upon a time we were a nation that mostly glorified Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and other Western stalwarts. Yes, we still read these writers with joy. Yes, the neo-colonial power of the English language still remains: it is the language the Indian elite and middle classes dream in after all, thereby setting a precedent for other sections of society to mirror. Yet Indian authors who have dreamt, hoped, and struggled like Sisyphus to pen literatures of ‘our own roots,’ have steadily been knitting a new tapestry when it comes to educating children about literature and storytelling. This in turn grounds children’s open minds in a more local cultural ethos.
Storytelling is a peaceful equaliser, in the same way that education is, according to Horace Mann. India needs this mode of locally rooted, creative, and inspired storytelling at the centre of an education system that can otherwise promote colonial ways of perceiving the world. In this day and age, the coming generations of children need to be made more sensitive than ever to intersectional issues of caste, gender, and class. This sensitisation has to be woven in with joy, and not forcefully spoon-fed to nurture distaste for it. India has already been striving for this, and must continue to do so. India at 70 needs a peaceful radical politics at its grassroots, and the potential for this lies in being creative with our education system through storytelling.
R.K. Narayan said that he felt fond of the English language and it was the only language he in fact felt comfortable speaking in. In doing so, he was one of a few exceptions who made it his own. In Malgudi Days, he wove words and narratives to create a rich tapestry that allowed Indian audiences to imagine into life in an Indian town. His writing provided a self-reflexive insight into Indian society with that pinch of humour so necessary for the complex Indian terrain. The novel went on to reach people beyond the living rooms of the middle classes when it was turned into a television series.
India has come a long way in trying to imagine and re-imagine itself, and continues to build and live this dream through its stories. To name specific authors, publishers, NGOs and ICT for Development projects involved in realising this dream would do injustice to the sheer number of people who have invested their time and energies in telling stories meaningfully, in ways that children can understand and absorb.
India needs to cultivate more outreach through rooted story-telling if it is to shatter its colonial intoxication with the English language. We need to tell more stories in indigenous languages, about different contexts, and in larger numbers to reach the next generation, if we are to dream a radical peaceful politics into reality over the next 70 years and beyond.