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Our Expression in the Money Economy

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I am in between translating an English text on Black Drongo in Hindi for my magazine for children. The text is informative and readable. There is this one sentence that caught my attention- “sometimes black drongo takes a free ride on a cattle”.

The phrase ‘free ride’ particularly got me interested. How commonplace has it become to use phrases like ‘free’ to describe a relationship between two organisms. It is two people sharing a space at a certain time and interacting with each other. Their moment and their relationship can not be described as a free ride or free anything.

It could be a fun ride. One could think about drongo’s perspective from above the ground. Or the feeling it could be feeling. Or how does the cattle feel about it. It’s just them being themselves.

Success is Trending

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As I was growing up, my parents urged me to study harder. “Just be financially independent. I don’t want you to be a career-driven girl.”, my mother would remind me. She was worried if I got trapped in a bad marriage, I should have the financial stability to take my stand. She was also concerned about my wishes after marriage. She would say that although she earned but she gave all her earnings to my grandmother, who was very loving and gave everything to my mother before she even asked. That is mainly because she never asked. But my mother lived this pain of not being able to buy even trinkets when her peers could buy expensive saris and jewelry. She thought that my financial independence would let me fulfill my wishes.

She never desired me to be successful. In fact, she was very clear that I should not be successful. I should just be able to get by. Because I am a girl, you know. I have to get married and be a mother. Here, she set the bar very high. She trained me to be the best daughter-in-law and a self-sacrificing mother.

However, my commitment to my professional degree gave me a different perspective on my life. I worked and it got appreciated. This new found confidence in my skills encouraged me to walk on a path of creativity. My father used to say, do whatever you wish to do. But be the best in what you do. I found this desire to be the best at whatever I did. At some point, I was actually quite good.

My cousins and peers had the desire to be successful, which I could never develop. So, even today I am not successful but I am good at what I do. Success never attracted me.

However, success has become quite popular. Today, many people are discussing it. Successful people are talking about their success. They are not sharing success stories. They are telling you that they are successful. They are successful in spite of their educational failures.

This is new to me. I wonder what is the meaning of success for an academic who does not read well or write well. I found that a government job that pays well is the definition of success for an academic. Then I hear stories of humiliation by the hands of these successful people. I wonder what is this kind of success that is not creatively satisfying, that leaves you with a strange emptiness, which is filled by arrogance and violence.

Money and domination are the two ingredients of success. We got this definition of success from the colonial rule. We saw their success in the form of their ability to dominate us and acquire riches. This idea of success is not new. Empires were built and conquered for it. What is new is that my friend, my brother, my peer wants to be successful and dominate the world.

Can you see the implication of this success in our world today? Is this why grand old wisdom tried to show us the difference between happiness and success?

Happiness is so tacky and low standard. Success is trending.


Writing for Children

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As an editor of a children’s magazine, my primary job is to commission articles. There are many senior writers whose work I enjoy. Then there are writers I feel whose ideas, style of writing must enrich the body of children’s literature. Because of the purity of their expression. They are just writing what they think with such honesty that it seems they are talking to us. They are engaging us in a conversation.Such articles, stories are missing in children’s literature because the moment one talks about writing for children, they immediately assume the position of an adult. They write down to children.

E.B. White has famously said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

Then the basic rules of writing such as ‘Show, don’t tell’ are seriously flouted. The attempt is to explain every possible word used in the text is explain, which makes it an excruciating read.

Beverly Clearly says, “As a child, I disliked books in which children learned to be ‘better’ children.” Children’s literature in India is full of such texts.

More recently, a very dear friend of mine asked me to translate a story for children. Saying ‘No’ was not an option as she would then think of me as too high headed. The story writes down to children. Children are not unaware or silly beings who do not know what goes where. In fact, they are very observant of not just their natural surroundings but also of human behaviour. That’s how they learn the rules of society. It does not see children as reflective beings. It also tries to teach good behaviour to children. The story is on environment. Why do you have to write a story on it? Why can’t you just write about deforestation? The idea of deforestation used in the story is also dated. That is not how we are presently thinking about environment. We have moved way ahead. A text on Greta Thunberg and other (Indian) children environmentalists would have made an interesting read for 6 years-olds too. They would be able to identify with child activists and identify their agency to act.

How does one explain this to writers of children’s literature?


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A forest was burnt down in the morning,
potted plant and surviving birds mourned
in my balcony.