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Children's Books in English in India: Where Do We Stand?

Nivedita Sen

Taking stock of children's books in India in English more than sixty years after Independence, could we rate them to be among the burgeoning literatures in English the world over? Does our mushrooming industry of children's books in English overcome a postcolonial angst about our literary ability to stand on our own feet vis-a-vis the English language? Moreover, have we really been able to integrate our mutations and mutilations of the colonizer's language within our corpus of indigenously produced spare time reading matter for young readers in a way that it sells? My investigation of what children read is obviously limited to that elite segment of literate children who know enough English to want to read fiction and non-fiction in English. Going by the hype around some children's books in the western canon-for instance the prodigious number of city-bred children who grab a Harry Potter in the wee hours of the morning on the very day it is released—there was not much evidence, to begin with, of the relatively new Indian children's literature in English having filtered down to popular reading. Nonetheless, I hoped to unearth an appreciably decolonized mindset in some children in their decisive preference to read Indian English fiction. Among children's writers, one could not begin but by speaking to Ruskin Bond, whose name is synonymous with children's literature in India. Children's writers owe to him the path that he single-handedly carved out against heavy odds, making it easier for those who have followed in his footsteps. Bond thinks that in a country where booksellers are not very educated and have merely been handling the family business for generations, bookshops often have a random stock of books that is neither profitable for the seller nor pleasurable for the buyer. He feels, however, that enlightened teachers and parents have contributed to some extent towards inculcating reading habits among children, and that publishers like the National Book Trust have been trying to produce more eye-catching, reasonably priced books. Educational publishers like the NCERT have been working in tandem with them. He seemed to voice some amount of introspection and irony all along about his own growth as a writer, confessing that it has taken him 55 years to find a place on the map. These self-questioning articulations of the most established children's writer in English located within the context of a not-too-savvy book trade set the sceptical tenor of ...

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