20 July 2016

THE PERKS OF PAATI-HOOD

ASHA NEHEMIAH
Well-loved children’s writer and Bookalorean, Asha Nehemiah, writes about why life’s a party when you become a paati!

Ah, what a delight it is when one’s little indulgences suddenly come to be regarded as basic necessities!

Buying children’s books for my private enjoyment is a luxury I treat myself to regularly.  Eyes are rolled and eyebrows are lifted at the number of shelves in my home carrying children’s books. The surprise is compounded when folks are told that these are not my children’s old picture books but my new purchases – meant for myself!

Then, one happy day, I became a grandparent. And discovered that one of the perks and privileges of paati-hood was that the purchase of children’s books changes from being a solitary pleasure into a serious family activity.

All of a sudden, the buying of children’s books assumes a new listing in family priorities. What fun I’ve had in the last two years – asking for recommendations, scouring reading lists, visiting bookshops and then buying books. Lots and lots of them, needless to say.

On a recent visit to my grandchild, I felt he was ready to receive some treasured books from my own collection. Good Dog Carl, a near-wordless picture book that I found some years ago at a used bookstore, was the one of them. First published thirty years ago, this wonderful book had not aged at all and the adventures of the baby and the baby-sitting Rottweiler remain fresh and current despite the visuals of a laundry chute and a powder puff.

In the run-up to my visit, I also bought new copies of my own children’s favourites. Big Dog, Little Dog was one of the old favourites I acquired, and it charmed my grandson thoroughly. There were many gorgeous new finds too, each arriving in time for me to linger over and savour every page before I gave them to him.  Rosie’s Walk, Giraffe on a Bicycle, I Want my Hat Back, Bark George, Bear Snores On, Good Dog Fergus, Duck on a Bike, No, David!, If you Give a Pig a Pancake… Fabulous stories all, with brilliant illustrations.

Mindful of children’s author Aravinda Anantharaman’s advice to those introducing books to children, I tried to buy books with different illustration styles ranging from the realistic to the abstract.  And though my grandchild was too young to be told about the visual styles, I would just point out little details when I read the stories to him. “Look at the Mother Dog’s expression,” or “See this…” That was enough for him to see the despair inherent in a mouth drawn in a single curvy line or to spot the familiar in the abstract images.

One useful tip when shopping for picture books, especially if you can’t go through them physically yourself, is to go online and try to locate a video of the book being read-aloud.  Young readers, teachers and actors often put up videos of themselves reading aloud their favourite books. This provides a preview of the entire book as opposed to the limited peek found in the ‘Look Inside’ option available at online stores. Several books were added or struck off my list when I used this strategy.

Asha Nehemiah at Funky Rainbow! (with Muthamma Devaya and Vidya Mani)
Asha Nehemiah at Funky Rainbow! (with Muthamma Devaya and Vidya Mani)

On my last visit, I took many Indian titles for my grandson. I needn’t have worried whether he would know who a banana-seller was or what kind of vehicle a bullock-cart was. He seemed to instinctively recognize that these were just new people and new objects that he’d encounter one day along with the aardvarks and rocket-ships he had been introduced to in his books.

Gajapati Kulapati was an elephantine hit with him and I’m ashamed to admit that I had to plead a “throat-ache” one day after I had “aaah…chooed” and sneezed my way non-stop through about a dozen re-readings of the book. Dosa was devoured too. We introduced the book one evening when his mother made dosas for dinner. More, more, more – was the request for re-reading the story. The actual dosa was, sadly (considering the effort invested in its production), rejected quite summarily!

In the realignment of family priorities when it came to acquiring children’s books, one turnaround still has me chuckling.

My husband is one of those tiresome sticklers when it comes to airline regulations. So, if the airline specifies 23 kg as the weight limit for each bag, our bags would weigh not a gram over 22 kg. What if the airline weighing scale reads differently from ours, hunh? Things are different now. No, no – each of our bags still weighs a kilo less than the limit specified. We now just carry a whole extra bag to accommodate the children’s books and other gifts for our grandchild!

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