The much-talked-about International Year of the Child is past the half-year mark. The book world in India was full of promises of what it would do during this year. But the yield has been unquestionably disappointing. It is very difficult to observe any tangible ongoing trends which may have a positive influence on publishing for children. One would have to be an incurable optimist to feel that the remaining few months may show better results.
The failure of the publishers to break new ground can be explained only in terms of the vicious circle which all efforts in this field are caught up in. Just about everything seems to conspire against them. To begin with, child culture is an unknown concept in our social set-up. We find it very difficult to get out of the ‘children should be seen, not heard’ mentality. When we make a conscious effort to do so, we succeed only in treating them as playthings to be indulged and pampered, almost never as little individuals whose development depends on careful nurturing. This dangerous tendency to teeter between two extremes is chiefly responsible for the deplorable lack of naturalness when an Indian adult sits down to write for children.
Another factor which militates against good writing for children is that it is not lucrative. Most parents in India, except perhaps in Bengal, are yet to become conscious of the necessity of providing good reading material as an essential part of their children’s education. To crown all these drawbacks, publishers of children’s books would have to go in for an intensive research programme before they can hope to come up with something worthwhile. In this context, writers’ workshops for children’s literature, such as the Children’s Book Trust organizes in New Delhi, could indeed provide some answers. Haphazard productions to meet a deadline cannot be anything more than a genuflection to the Year of the Child and just as transitory.
(Vol. III Nos. 7-8 July/August 1979)