Educator Grace Paljor, originally from Ladakh but born in Srinagar, recently launched the ‘Sheene-Pippen Series’- a collection of rhymes and short stories, an effort to promote creative and traditional Kashmiri literature for children. In a conversation with Kashmir Ink Correspondent, Saqib Malik, Paljor, who is the Principal of St. Paul’s International Academy, Sonwar in Srinagar talks about her love for Kashmiri culture and much more. Read on...
Q) What has influenced you to present Kashmiri short stories and poems for kids in a creative way?
In the last 26 years of experience in the field of education in Kashmir I have observed the absence of children’s literature. In fact I had written a write up on the status of children’s literature in the valley which was published titled ‘Once upon a time…’ 16 September 2020 in the GK which was a lament to the void and neglect to the genre of children’s literature. Even though I am from Ladakh, I was born in Srinagar and therefore Kashmir has had a huge influence in my upbringing. Since the time of my great grandmother who was appointed Inspectress of schools by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1914, members of my family have been educationists in the valley. As children we would listen with awe to the legends of Kashmir my grandma told us. My search for children’s books for the school library in the book shops of Kashmir Was disappointing as they were devoid of books contextualised to the region. Particularly when the pandemic hit and we were under lockdown publishing houses like Karadi Tales based in Chennai and Scholastic India came up with live story-telling sessions to keep children engaged and entertained.Various regions of India were represented and stories were enacted. How I wished there was a story from Kashmir too when a story from Ladakh was read. Since every region has stories associated with their culture and folklore I thought it would be nice for children of Kashmir to see stories about their region in print along with illustrations as well. We use a quote in my school for which we have a badge designed which reads, ‘I am a Seed of Change’. I also realise since the social structure of families have undergone massive transformation over the years. Families are reduced to nuclear families with working parents and children are deprived of doting grandparents to pamper and sing lullabies or tell bedtime stories during long winter nights. Moreover the tradition of oral storytelling is lost in the sands of time. I had to do something for our children to preserve the stories in a written form before they are lost into oblivion with the passage of time. I guess it was time to stop lamenting and ‘be the seed of change’. The best approach would be through rhymes and stories associated with what a child is surrounded with and to begin in the early years.
Q) How important is it to keep these poems and stories creative yet simple?
To capture the attention of young children in the current digital age is a challenge therefore I had to go an extra mile to ensure the illustrations were apt and captivating. Illustrations are what bring life to the words in a rhyme or story. I believe when the children and parents including teachers come across content which is culturally relevant it makes it all the more exciting for them and this is when learning happens and desired learning outcomes are achieved.
Q) Do you think the rhymes and text of these stories will imbibe the longing for learning Kashmiri language among kids?
It is not only about learning the Kashmiri language but taking pride in our rich cultural heritage and traditions. I spent a good amount of time compiling the Kashmiri nomenclature of the General Awareness section which focuses on the flora and fauna of Kashmir region from multiple sources and cross checking with subject experts. The Sheene-Pippen Series provides a cross-disciplinary approach to learning for everyone. Even though children use English as a medium of learning and instruction, the approach of the teaching-learning process must begin from the ‘familiar to the unfamiliar’ to enable children to take pride in their roots and avoid a disconnect with their environ, and what they are taught in their textbooks. Yes, I hope my attempt to contextualize will enable a yearning for the heart-language, the mother tongue – Kosher in this modern age. Thankfully, the new NEP 2020 mandates a bilingual approach and use of mother tongue in early childhood learning which will help promote the Kashmiri language therefore much needs to be done.
Q) How has been the acceptability of your books with poems, stories in the academic circles in Kashmir?
Since the books have come in print in the last month we are still in the process of getting the word around in academic circles to promote the Sheene-Pippen Series as a text book for children of Nursery to Class 1 as well as a book for reading pleasure.I have been able to share the books with many educationists and have received an overwhelming response especially at the EdRAAK exhibition at Mahatta Studios who have appreciated the contextualization to Kashmir. I hope the teaching fraternity would catch the essence and intent of the Sheene-Pippen Series and adopt it in their curriculum to enable our children to treasure and take pride in their rich culture and traditions in the formative years as they are introduced to the English language.
Q) What is your message for young Kashmiris with regard to promotion of Kashmiri language?
There is no dearth of talent and creativity in Kashmir as the people for generations have been associated with the finest craftsmanship and handicraft in all spheres and forms. Unfortunately, even though Kashmiri is taught at the school level and considered a main subject there is no reading material available for children. I sincerely hope artists, writers and poets would heed to the clarion call of the Sheene-Pippen and be inspired to pen and illustrate books for children through various mediums digital or print.
Q) Please tell us more about your initiative? Have you put these stories in an audio format yet?
My passion is to write for children and hope my next collection of stories and poems about the Valley for slightly older children sees the light of day soon. I am thankful to Mr Zahoor and Mr Umar Gulzar of Kashmir Book Depot (Ali Mohd Sons) who saw potential and helped me realise my dream project in printed form. To keep up with the trend and demand I am hopeful the publishers will ensure there is an audio and video format available as well at the earliest.