Children at Literary Festival in Jaipur India (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

Children at Literary Festival in Jaipur India (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

In India a recent literature festival organised in Jaipur attracted thousands of children aspiring to be future poets, writers and authors.  

The festival not only featured an expansive collection of children’s books but also gave children an opportunity to interact with famous authors.

Jasvinder Sehgal attended one session at the festival called – “there is a poem in my brainbox.”

Hundreds of children have gathered in the open amphitheatre of the Jawahar kala Kendra, the cultural hub of the city. 

Every one of them is keen to learn how to write a poem.

Jerry Pinto an Indian writer of poetry, prose, children’s fiction and the winner of this year’s Windham-Campbell prize is their poetic guide.

He asks the children to express their thoughts on any subject, but in poetry.

One 13-year-old aspiring poet, Riya Raj, decided to write a poem about an important Indian delicacy – the samosa!

Riya recites her poem which says, “My lovely samosa, the hot samosa … Potato-filled-samosa, My lovely samosa…  

Aaina Chaudhry, aged 12, is another aspiring writer.

She has written a poem on a subject she hates the most.  

“I have written a poem on physics. Why are you so brain eating, studying you feels like sleeping, Friction- momentum all are so boring, calculating them takes me to the fairy land. Why don’t you die? Full of confusion, full of dreams, oh my God feeling so sleepy.”    

The children and Pinto enjoy the words of the young writer.

He shares the secret of writing good.

“I suggest that you should try and remember that you have a mother tongue which may not be English and that mother tongue is rich and fertile source of inspiration. The second is that you should pay attention more to rhythm than the rhyme, a poem should sound good, and it should not rhyme all the time.” 

Pinto conluded, “The third is read a lot of poetry, read one poem before you go to bed and fourthly don’t be in a hurry to publish.”    

Pinto also says that a lot more can be done to encourage children to write poetically.

He shares the reason for what he sees as the missing links. 

“I think it is really a question of re-educating the children about poetry. In schools in India we teach children to learn poetry by rote. They must learn the poem by heart and they very rarely interact with the beauty and with the magic and with the internal rhythm of the language. So the first thing you get children to realize is that a poem is a reworking of the world,” said Pinto.    

Of course some traditional challenges also get in the way, he says.

“We are not allowed to invent words for instance. We are expected to use our vocabulary and to use very big words to impress teachers when actually writing is about being simple and as explicit and clear as much as possible.” Pinto commented.

According to Pinto, we all spend so much time reading American and British books. “Our first stories are always about Jane and Richard who live in London. I really want to read a book about a leopon who lives in Beijing or about a little kid who is growing up in Jakarta or in Fiji.”    

The children enjoyed the session, as 12 year old Harshita confirmed,

“I felt it was good. We got to learn how to write poems. How to use our vocabulary in writing good poems? We can have any topic in our poems. So I learnt how to write a poem but I still need practise.”    

Parents also joined in the festival.

But Harshita’s parents don’t want her to become a writer or an author.

This is not the case with Anupama Sharma, the mother of a five-year-old daughter.

“She wants to become an artist so I don’t want to make her an engineer. She is already into writing small poems, she has written a few. If she wants to take up this, I don’t mind.”    

Pinto says that it’s the duty of the parents to guide their children.

And he has a word of advice for parents.

“Your child will do what he sees or she sees you do. They imitate you. So if they see you come home and relax with a book they will take to reading spontaneously, naturally and feed their minds and will be exciting people regardless of what else you do. But if you decide to come home and sit with your phone then the child will want to sit with his or her phone and you cannot blame him or for that, you should blame yourself.”    

In India the habit of writing and reading is decreasing day by day.

But Pinto hopes the young listeners to Asia Calling are developing good reading habits!

“Here is the poem for the children listening in to Asia Calling-Whether you are in Asia or Malaysia, You should be reading or seeding your mind all the time.”

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