International Children’s Book Day: Tribal Literature Looks For Promotion & Recognition In Odisha

Eleven years old Minati Marndi’s joy knows no bounds, when she curls up with Anej Aba Sarenj Abo-a collection of four children’s stories in Santali script Ol Chiki —inside her hut in Mayurdhar of Mayurbhanj. Santali wordsmiths spin yarns to delight many Minatis, though they, with no aid and assistance from any quarter, find it a tough row to hoe.

The state government threw its weight behind Pratham Books in 2014 for Adi Kahani (a series of 10 story books and four song cards in Saura, Munda, Kui and Juanga languages—written in Odia script as theirs have not been developed yet) to come out. But children’s stories in Ol Chiki-except the ones prescribed for Santali primary level students of multilingual education in tribal areas do not receive such booster doses. Though pulled back by tons of curbs and constraints, Santali litterateur put pen to paper to enlighten and entertain their tribal children.

“Not only original story are churned out regularly but also translations in Ol Chiki from English and other languages are taken up. This trend has been in vogue since 2010 when Biswanath Tudu, a LIC employee in Rourkela, received Bal Sahitya Puraskar from Kendriya Sahitya Akademi for his contribution to Santali literature,” says Arjun Marandi, the secretary of Odisha Santali Writers’ Association.

Marandi himself has translated two works of noted English children’s story writer Ramendra Kumar in Ol Chiki—‘Bir Re Internet’ (Ramendra’s collection ‘Internet in the Jungle’) and ‘Time Pass Uncle’ (Orginal collection has the same title).

A few publishers like NGO Pratham Books translate stories in other languages in Ol Chiki’s to prod on children’s reading propensity. “We have 160 such collections till date,” boasts Purvi Shah, Pratham Books’ senior director (story weaver).

When asked as to why Pratham Books has not yet have a work in Santali like ‘Adi Kahani’, she says, “When a funding agency chips in with its contribution, we will start working on it,” she says.

Most stories veer round nature, animal life and social morals, for tribal children forge  up an instant rapport with them, according to children’s story writer Dubraj Hembram, an assistant teacher of Government Primary School in Mayurdhar. He, however, admits of how marketing of books poses a problem.

Every year International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is observed on April 2. Sponsored by non-profit organisation the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), Switzerland, this annual event is observed on or around the birthday of celebrated Danish children’s book author Hans Christian Andersen. ‘Thumbelina’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Snow Queen’, ‘The Match Girl’, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’ are some of the famous fairytales penned by Anderson. The objective of ICBD is to explore the arena of children’s literature and its need of nourishing young minds.

Observed since 1967, ICBD is hosted by an IBBY-country that chooses a theme for the occasion. Greece is the host country in 2023 and the ICBD’s theme of the year is—I am a book: read me.

“As Ol Chiki readers are less, marketing becomes a tough job. As a result, nearly five publishers in Odisha that used to publish in Ol Chiki have downed their shutters,” says Dubraj.

Akademi award winner Biswanath Tudu, who has penned over 25 children’s stories, echoes a similar view. “We have to move around to sell or distribute our books,” he says.

“We sell at conferences, fairs and festivals in Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Besides, writers themselves sell their published write-ups,” says publisher Hajam Baskey in Baripada.

However, former Odia Professor of Baripada-based Maharaj Purna Chandra Autonomous College Dr. Damayanti Beshra, who has written over 20 children’s stories in Ol Chiki, stresses the role of government and State Sahitya Akademi in this sphere.

“Government felicitates tribal artists and craftsmen every year, but tribal literateurs are yet receive such recognition. Similarly, Odisha Sahitya Akademi has no award for tribal litterateur,” she says.



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