From Safdar With Love

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FROM THE BOOK REVIEW ARCHIVES

From Safdar With Love

By : Anita Kohli
1.
Ped

Ped

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Illustrator:
Mickey Patel
Sahmat, 
1989
2.
Gadbad Ghotala

Gadbad Ghotala

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
3.
Bansuriwala

Bansuriwala

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
4.
The Red Flower

The Red Flower

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
5.
Duniya Sabki

Duniya Sabki

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
6.
Natak Ki Duniya

Natak Ki Duniya

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
7.
Baag Ki Sair

Baag Ki Sair

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989

Safdar Hashmi's un­timely and sudden death sent shock waves through the urban population of Delhi jolting them out of their stupor, when they felt they couldn't be shocked further in an already brutalised environment. But his life, his work, his sincerity and his unsullied vision of the simplicity of the common man, came through to us more sharply after his death, and perhaps helped to pull us out of the apathy into which we had sunk. Suddenly people stood up, took note and dug out of their own psyches the very simple and straightforward principles he had stood for and tried to propagate.

It is these that are reflected in his set of books for children. Duniya Sabki, Baag Ki Sair, Ped and Gadbad Ghotala are books of poems. The poems are simple, direct, entertaining and carry a message that is subtle and yet so effective that it goes down like a satisfying meal, delicious yet nutritious and healthy.

In Baag Ki Sair he takes children on a trip to Lodhi Gardens, and while the children enjoy the beauties of nature, they are pulled up by the mali for their treatment of the grass, the birds and the flowers. The lesson is well taken and the mali joins them in their picnic. So many lessons are easily learnt - respect for property, love of nature, con­ciliation; respect and understanding for authority. Gadbad Ghotala is a child's delight, an upside down world where people walk on their heads and smell with their feet. When things are righted the world regains its order. Goodness knows that while deviation from a norm is desirable on occasion, our crying need is order!

Ped is the most delightful of these books. No child can help wanting to hug a tree and preserve it after reading the poem and looking at the illustrations. Mickey Patel's illustrations are gay and endearing and bring home the point in the nicest possible way. The tree has a personality and so do the children, the birds, insects and butterflies. Preservation of trees comes across as a joyful task and the poem contains a message of hope and promise even after the barrenness of autumn.

Bansuriwala is a clever adaptation in Hindi of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Hashmi's ideology of the 'power of the people' makes the end a happy one when the people throw out the corrupt leader, recall the piper and reward him handsomely. Leftist, democratic, honorable and a happy ending at that.

Duniya Sabki is a collection of poems interesting for the fact that they celebrate the lowliest, a thumb (Shivi Ka Angootha), mosquitoes (Machar Pehalwan), spiders (Makdi Ka Aala) Jaundice (Tabiyat Aldi Thik Karo) etc., and they give a new perspective on the common. Holi is no more colourful than the col­ours in nature and 'Azaadi' is a concept confused with the lone flag on Red Fort or TV.

Through the rhyme and rhythm of these poems, thr­ough the smile and the chuckle, one pulls up to think a little and then exclaim: Ah yes! Why didn't I think of that! In certain poems the illustrations make the poem. Shivi Ka Angootha is one of them. Duniya Sabki is a narrative poem familiar in its two main protagonists, Akbar and Birbal and in the universality of its message which comes through clearly - Duniya Sabki!

The illustrations on the whole are simple yet effective.

Theatre was always Safdar Hashmi's forte and he had a missionary zeal that cannot remain hid­den and it manifests itself in his book of plays - in­verse for children - Natak Ki Duniya. The first play Raja Ki Khoj, touches upon exploitation, a commu­nication gap between the ruler and the ruled, syco­phantic rats leaving the sinking ship and the wily courtiers. While reading it one felt for a moment that the concepts were too adult for children even though the characters were animals in a jungle kingdom; but this is not really so. Children today are so much more aware, and this being so, quite conversant with the ills of governments and socie­ties. Perhaps it is best that children ponder these things before adult disillusionment sets in.

The play Yeh Duniya Rangeen using the different colours as char­acters explores the ideas of cooperation, integration and the im­portance of the contri­bution of each to a larger whole. All col­ours are found in na­ture and add to its beauty, some combine to give other colours and jealousy is pointless as each has its place in the scheme of nature. The last two plays Girgit and Gopi Gavayya Bagha Bagayya are based on a Chekov play and a Satyajit Ray movie respectively, but have been adapted to be totally topical and rele­vant. There is an earthiness and rawness about the plays, occupied more with issues than literary niceties making children feel life as it is, not what one would like it to be. There is the odd swear word, English phrases and a general lack of illu­sions. Through the humour, there is a silent anger about the way things are and though the humour remains the lesson also goes home.

There is no doubt that the author set out to make a point and to act as a catalyst to make children think and react. There is also no doubt that on certain subjects he has an original point of view and that he is a champion of the small and the forgotten. However, one can't help but feel that there is too much cynicism and disillusionment to be communicated to such young children. One admires unconditionally his desire to change things for the better, but the young must be moulded through idealism that will change the world not through disillusionment with things that must be changed.

The language is totally colloquial and informal. The straightforward rhymes make them easy to read and enjoy their musical simplic­ity. The presenta­tion reminds one of Russian books for children, only the prices are capitalistic. Not value enough for money except for Natak Ki Duniya and Duniya Sabki that are well brought out and have enough reading material to make them good value.

I suppose illustrators feel that a child identifies with paintings that are more like their own. Unlike an adult who searches for abstraction in reality, I think a child is more comfortable with the real and the clearly defined.

Safdar Hashmi's voice is worth listening to and through these books children too will be able to hear it.