Monday, September 4, 2017

A visit to Kumbakonam

To promote my YA Axxiss trilogy novels and Children’s' books, Children of the Enchanted Jungle, my publisher, Scholastic, has me visit schools. This to both promote reading among the children and, of course, plug my novels. The most exhausting schedule was the one to Hyderabad – ten schools in three days. The routine is the introduction by the older kids, 14 years old, who have scoured the internet for every scrap of digital information on me. Sometimes, they do print up the covers of a few, and read out a short biography of me to the audience. Then my ten to fifteen minute talk - on the importance of reading – followed by a Q&A. The teachers want me on the stage for this, I prefer to roam the hall with the mic to interact with the children. They enjoy asking questions, though some are repetitious. Some googlies though which need careful thought before I answer.
 On Wednesday, I catch the night train to a Kumbakonam, 200 miles south of here.  The principal of Dr. G.S Kalyanasundram Memorial School, Ms Bhavana Shankar, has invited me down. I met her earlier when she was a school principal in Chennai. Froze to death in the sleeper car, 16 decrees C, so was groggy when I got there. The town has 1800 temples and is a major pilgrimage destination for the believers. I managed to see only two of them as we drove to the school a bit out of the town. I am used to some welcomes, this was a major one.
The school band was lined up at the gate and started playing when, like royalty, I descended from the auto rickshaw with the Scholastic person. There was a large display of me, with the titles of my novels before the school entrance and the principal came to greet me. Children gave me roses. Ms Shankar told me that the majority of children come from the surrounding villages. She added that they think differently from those in Chennai schools. How different? They think out of the box, she tells me. After the chat with her, the hall was packed with children, and some parents at the back, and even more photos and a projection of me on the screen. Two girls danced a short Bharatanatyam, two had a singing duet, a dozen sang ‘We shall Overcome’, in English, then a debate between the kids on e-learning or classroom learning. They were articulate, talking without notes.
Then of course I had to talk to them, rapt silence as the great writer spoke words of wisdom – the importance of reading books.  After other speeches, there was a Q&A with the kids, usually happens. The school tried to get me on the stage but I prefer moving among the kids with a mic to close the gap. These were good questions, out of the ordinary other kids asked and I was impressed. A smart boy handed me a box of sweets and pointed to the cover. ‘Murari’ sweets. It was thoughtful of him to have found it, somewhere. Two girls came to compliment me. They expected someone to wearing a suit and not be friendly. But they said 'you are simple, and also the way you dress'. Wasn't sure how to take that.  By that time exhausted so needed a siesta in the guest house and lunch. The school hadn't warned me that I had to talk to the teachers on how to teach. How would I know?  So I have 40, all women, waiting for my lessons. One teacher, dutifully put up her hand to ask me a question. ‘How do you keep a child quiet for ten minutes?’ I hadn’t the faintest idea, and winged it that she should read or sing to them. Apart from that, the teachers were less curious then the kids. Then I had to catch the night train back to Chennai, didn't freeze this time but can never sleep well. I used to in my school days but age has caught up.