Di­rec­tor Apee­jay Sur­ren­dra Group and the force be­hind Ox­ford Book­stores, Priti Paul talks about the im­por­tance of our ver­nac­u­lar with the launch of her book ABC Desi.

India Today - - SIMPLY KOLKATA - By Malini Ban­er­jee

Q. How did you come up with the idea of ABC Desi?

It’s an idea that came to me while bring­ing up my chil­dren Jad, Kais and Jai. When they would go through the ABC books, I re­alised that they were just same as they were sixty years ago that my hus­band and I read. The im­agery was not par­tic­u­larly In­dian and I felt as if it would be hard to re­late to for In­dian chil­dren. And even for NRIs, the images were not some­thing that they could use to learn about In­dia or In­dian cul­ture.

That is why I thought of ABC Desi, in which C could still stand for car but the im­age would be that of an am­bas­sador. P for panda is com­mon but why not have a pea­cock and T for tiger or Tif­fin. My chil­dren in­ci­den­tally did not know about the con­cept of a tif­fin box.

The pic­tures in my book have been painted by com­mer­cial artists who paint posters for Bol­ly­wood films—an art that’s been dy­ing out in this dig­i­tal age.

The colours used are also recog­nis­ably In­dian, such as par­rot green, rani pink and so on.

Q. How im­por­tant do you think it is for your chil­dren to hold on to that In­dian con­nect be­ing global cit­i­zens? I think it’s im­per­a­tive be­cause it serves as an ac­cess point to where you are from. I caught with one of my class­mates from Loreto (House) re­cently, and her chil­dren grow­ing up in New York don’t know Hindi. I think it’s im­por­tant to know where you come from and speak the lan­guage, know the val­ues and rit­u­als and re­spect the pu­jas be­cause you would need all of these things were you to func­tion, work or run a busi­ness here. But I do think I am more con­scious of this be­cause I’m from Kolkata.

Q. Is it im­por­tant to read in the ver­nac­u­lar for that to hap­pen?

One of those ac­cess point to the cul­ture has to be through read­ing. My chil­dren are learn­ing four lan­guages right now Hindi, English, Ara­bic and French, and the only way to get for­ward and to learn it is through read­ing. I find a huge gap in terms of what is be­ing done by in­ter­na­tional press and what is hap­pen­ing there in re­gards to ver­nac­u­lar medi­ums as well In­dian writ­ing for chil­dren. Take for ex­am­ple a sim­ple mat­ter of the English clas­sics taught in class­rooms which are adapted for dif­fer­ent ages brack­ets. Why should one have to wait to read a book till one is twenty? Chil­dren’s books need an at­trac­tive pack­ag­ing es­pe­cially in terms of the lan­guage, con­tent pre­sen­ta­tion and pic­tures.

Q. Speak­ing of books, what is your pre­ferred medium—ebook read­ers or phys­i­cal books? And what is the fu­ture?

Phys­i­cal books def­i­nitely. And I am not just say­ing that be­cause I run Ox­ford Book­stores. Book­stores in Lon­don still see snaking queues be­fore Christ­mas and it has been proven that peo­ple tend to only read a cer­tain kind of books on their e-read­ers. My chil­dren, who in fact learnt to read on on­line medi­ums, pre­fer books to com­put­ers and elec­tronic de­vices. So that’s why book­stores will sur­vive.

Q. Com­ing to your other pas­sion, ar­chi­tec­ture, there’s a move­ment to pro­tect a lot of build­ings from be­ing pulled down in a bid to hold on Kolkata’s ar­chi­tec­ture. What are your thoughts on that? One of the rea­sons I de­cided to take up this field was be­cause I was ex­posed to Kolkata’s ar­chi­tec­ture from when I was very young, and I hated see­ing the beau­ti­ful build­ings be­ing pulled down to cre­ate ugly mod­ern fa­cades. In fact, restora­tion is al­ways on my agenda when I come to Kolkata. We have restored Park Man­sions and I am cur­rently look­ing at restor­ing a sec­tion for the Goethe In­sti­tute. We have made it a point to hold the Apee­jay Kolkata Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val at im­por­tant ar­chi­tec­tural spots in the city.


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