1989

From Safdar With Love

Reviewer: 
Anita Kohli
Review content: 

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.

Book 1: 

Ped

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Illustrator:
Mickey Patel
Sahmat, 
1989
Book 2: 

Gadbad Ghotala

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
Book 3: 

Bansuriwala

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
Book 4: 

The Red Flower

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
Book 5: 

Duniya Sabki

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
Book 6: 

Natak Ki Duniya

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989
Book 7: 

Baag Ki Sair

Author:
Safdar Hashmi
Sahmat, 
1989

Our Green Friends

Reviewer: 
Vijaya Ghose
Review content: 

It's not easy to find a good book on Indian trees. Ask me-I've been looking for one for a long time. And then to find a book for children simple enough for them to under­stand and interesting enough to hold their atten­tion is well-nigh impossible. But Maneka Gandhi and Yasmin Singh's Brahma's Hair immediately rivets your attention and makes you want to read more-something one does with a story book!

If you have been totally unconscious of your green friends-and I mean it in the literal sense, not the figurative one!-Brahma's Hair will surely give you a totally new prospective of the world of trees and plants. The book begins with the legend, ‘It is said that all plants are created from the hair of Brahma, the Creator.’ That in itself brings to us a vision of all-giving, all-sustaining plants with which our survival and that of the created world is closely linked.

In many ways Brahma's Hair  is like a story book. The main text recounts legends and myths associ­ated with about thirty trees and shrubs. The leg­ends are taken from popular folk-lore and also from ancient Puranic texts.

Each chapter begins with the name of the tree in different languages-starting with Latin and going into at least six Indian languages. This is extremely useful, particularly if you are a traveller or a ‘tree­watcher!’. Each tree has a short introduction which gives the genus of the plant and then delves into the mythical association with that particular tree. And this is what is fascinating. For example, it says about the Red Silk Cotton Tree:

It is said that Pitamaha, the creator of the world, rested under the Semul after his labours were over. Its cup like flowers are considered sacred to Shiva. When the tree is in full bloom it is compared to Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune, standing with her arms outstretched and a lit oil lamp on each palm.

Its Sanskrit name Yamadruma means Trees of the Infernal Regions, because though it makes a great show of its flowers its fruit is not edible. Also, according to the Mahabharata, its thorns are used for torture in one of the seven hells.

One could compile a 'Did you know series merely from these introductions!

Did you know that....

...the name Banyan is said to have been given by the British to a tree under which Baniyas or merchants assembled for business and worship?

...the name Alstonia Scholaris (Devil's Tree) commemorates Professor C. Alston (1685-1760) of Edinburgh? Scholaris refers to the fact that the tree was used earlier for making wooden slates for school children.

...the Champa (Temple Tree) was mistakenly thought to have originated in China, which is why it was named Gulechin or Flower of China?

...in olden days the Tulasi plant was grown outside temples which were used as rest-houses for travellers? That's because it can curb thirst. With a couple of leaves under his tongue, the traveller would feel less thirsty.

...the strong perfume of the Keora (Screwpine) can neutralize the fishy smell of the sea-coast?

...Jehangir in his memoirs Tuzule-i-Jehangiri says that the scent of Keora is so strong and pene­trating that it even obscures the scent of musk?

...'Bhendi' is also the Hindi name of the Tulip Tree because its flowers look like those of the Okra or Bhendi?

...the Kadamba Tree is associated with the monsoons in Sanskrit literature? It is said to bloom only when it hears the roar of thunder clouds. The breeze that accompanies the rains is called Ka­dambanila or the fragrance of the Kadamba.

There are word associations too. The Latin name for the Black Plum (Jamun) is Eugenia Jambolana Syzygium Cumini. Eugenia comes from Eugene, Princess of Savoy, a patron of botany in the seven­teenth century. Syzygium comes from the Greek Suzogos which means 'paired'. Jambolana comes from the East Indies word Jamboos or Rose Apple, hence the Hindi Jamun. The Sanskrit for the same word is 'Phalendra' which means chief of fruit giving plants. The Teak Tree in Latin is Tectona and comes from the Malayam Tekka which first went into the Protugese language as Teca. It means carpenter. Grandis means large. The Sanskrit word Shuka means power, strength and vegetable!

The name Peepal has an interesting origin. The Peepal tree resembles the poplar only in that its leaves also tremble and shake. Aryan immigrants on seeing the Peepal for the first time called it Pappel or Poplar, the name they were familiar with. Even now in Italy, the transplanted Peepal is called Poplar delle Indie or the Indian Poplar.

Each story chapter ends with a short run-down on the tree. It is a matter of fact conclusion that gives all the relevant details-size, the shape of the tree and the leaves, the fruit and finally the utility of the plant. Sometimes interesting facts are added. Like, ‘the largest mango tree in the world grows in a village called Burail in Ambala. It has been given the name of Chhappar or roof thatch probably because it gives shade to so many. The area cov­ered by the crown is 2,700 yards and its average yield of fruit is reported to be 450 mounds or around 175 quintals.’

Stories or legends attached to a tree are taken from many sources-old religious texts, folk and fairy tales. To do so, the authors must have had to research deeply to get the relevant or the most interesting stories. But the hard work has paid off.

A word about the illustrations. In line drawing, the stylized black and white illustrations by Mona Bhandari are competent. The close-ups of the leaves and the fruit could perhaps have been have more detailed. One or two minor punctuation errors have crept in like the inverted commas closing before the full stop. But unless one is looking for mistakes with an eagle eye, one will miss them.

The book is highly recommended not just for its readability but also for the wealth of information found in it. Quizzers, fact-finders, info-buffs, you'll love this book! At Rs. 30/- it's a great bargain.

Book 1: 

Brahma's Hair

Author:
Maneka Gandhi,
Yamini Singh
Illustrator:
Mona Bhandari
Rupa Publications, 
1989
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