Chennai: Ahead of World Book Day, on Monday, there was no dearth of energy in the auditorium of the Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan in Chennai. School goers were brimming with willpower to put an end to a social menace as they threw some pertinent questions at author C.G. Salamander and co-author cum illustrator Samidha Gunjal at the launch of their book Puu, a book bringing into public discourse, the practice of manual scavenging and caste-based discrimination.
Manual scavenging and the threats, hazards and stigma attached to it need complete eradication. The creators envisioned putting across the complex topic through a children’s book. Salamander and Samidha had an experiment to execute: the illustrations are such that what meets the eye and the message they want you to conceive are in stark contrast. Visuals are believed to make internalization easy, but this book has a twist. The duo give an instance. The word Puu in English denotes excreta and in Tamil, flowers. In the book, a picture of flowers littered on the ground needs to be visualized as human excreta.
“Flowers are visually pleasing and we wanted to tell the stories to all age groups - children might not be aware of the illegal practice but the purpose of creating awareness will be served. They will know about it and will want to stop it.”
In an exclusive interview to Deccan Chronicle, co-author- illustrator Samidha elaborates on why flies, a pig and a bottle can also be seen along with pink flowers when the idea is to depict a material that has characteristics contradictory to what is presented visually.
“The illustrations of the in the book are to show this little girl and her bond with a pig, which she thinks is her friend. Her parents are manual scavengers.”
Did any personal experience of being bullied found its way into the book? “I have seen others... I am from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra.. . When I changed school, I too faced some discrimination. I was in class 1. Children had their own group and I was new in their environment and ignored. However, this book just happened, it was spontaneous. However, should some instances need reference, I draw such from my memory. The place where I am from did not have enough toilets back then, so people answered nature’s call in the open. Garbage bins were there but people did not use them properly. Litter was strewed around, and pigs were not a rare sight. But in the book we see flowers strewn across the road, which raises the question — who picks flowers? The answer is, it’s excreta being given an expression through flowers,” explains Samidha.
Recollecting how the book happened, Salamander goes back to their workshop days in Bolepur organized by the same institute where the duo first met. “We were in this workshop, ‘Children understand more,” where the idea was that there should not be any restriction as to what we tell them.” Samidha takes over, “When we reached the place we had no idea of what we would do. We went around for two weeks. One day he told me about one comic piece he had done on manual scavenging and then it immediately struck us. (Rajiv Eipe was the illustrator for the comic piece previously done by Salamander) We decided to take the message further. Then I started drawing random sketches and one of them caught his attention, he saw our protagonist in her. We worked for two or three days and came out with the book. ”
During an interactive session with the children who came from various schools, Salamander also referred to a robotic scavenger called Bandicoot.
“Manual scavenging is outlawed in India, but in actuality, the problem still persists. Although government has to do more about eradicating it fully, it’s upon us to make the change from the ground level. Don’t throw away plastics anywhere and everywhere. Don’t use the toilet when the train halts at a station. Someone has to remove it,” asserts Salamander.
With a degree in engineering, Salamander always knew he was into writing and went on to work as a freelance journalist for four years. The young author who started out as a tour guide today dreams of addressing more socially concerning issues through his books. “I’m happy this book has started the conversation we expected. It feels great to see these young people are talking about it and actually throwing up intelligent questions.”
On Tuesday the duo presided over a workshop on teaching children participants how to make picture book and voice their ideas through that medium.
The book launch was a part of the ongoing World Book Day events at Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan in Chennai. Their library summer challenge will go on from April 23 to July 30....