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Friday, June 9, 2023

Creating Bharatiya content that celebrates diversity, values and unique inner selves of children

Growing up in Kanpur, Chitwan Mittal heard “wonderfully imaginative stories” from her ‘dadi at mealtimes and from her convent-educated mothers vast collection of storybooks. Moving to Boston for an undergraduate programme in English Education, she spent her weekends browsing the children’s section of giant bookstores longing to connect with her home and culture, to “someday stumble upon books with pictures and stories native to Bharat” but sadly, it never happened.

After she chose to pursue a masters in Values in Education in London, she was determined to be involved in curriculum development for school children and for the past decade-and-a-half has been doing just that, culminating in the establishment of AdiDev Press, an independent publishing house that has just released two new titles that celebrate the diversity, values and unique inner selves of children and has lined up another 20 books for release during the year.

“Since 2005, I have been actively involved in children’s education and served on the committees that established Indian Institute of Teacher Education and Children’s University for the Government of Gujarat. Both institutes are focussed on experiential learning and holistic development through innovative education tools. In addition, I set up an education consultancy – ‘Educational Innovations’ to empower schools in Tier2 cities, to make curriculums more holistic and engaging.

“In 2015, we moved to Singapore and as a young mom and I started my hunt for culturally relevant content for my two boys – Aditya and Dev. I soon realized that not much had changed and Bharatiya storybooks were still hard to find. I decided to stop looking and start creating the very books that I always missed stories that represent Bharat’s people and culture. And, AdiDev Press came into existence, based on the names of my sons,” Mittal told IANS in an interview.

Its two new books are certainly the right fit.

“My First Hanuman Chalisa” is an illustrated translation of the devotional hymn, each page including the original text in Awadhi with an English transliteration that children can read, understand and enjoy. There is also a QR code on the back cover that enables parents and children access verses and word meanings being read aloud.

“Are Your Emotions Like Mine?”, with its simple text and magical illustrations, not only helps young children identify their emotions, but also teaches them how to cope through the simple strategy of taking a deep, deep breath.

Mittal has managed to put together a pretty formidable team, with social media being a great boon.

“It was due to platforms such as Instagram and Behance that I was able to identify so many talented Bharatiya subcontinental illustrators living in Bharat and different parts of the world. Today, we work with illustrators from Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, Jaipur, Kolkata, Goa, Chennai and even Singapore and France. We have recently commissioned samples from illustrators based in the Caribbean, UK, and Sri Lanka,” she explained.

Mittal was “lucky enough” to be able to work with award-winning illustrator Debasmita Dasgupta and equally fortunate to have collaborated with architect and urban designer Shruti Hemani who created the picture book on emotions using traditional forms of line art and drawing on her experience of urban design.

Ambika Karandikar created such fun illustrations for the upcoming “J is for Jalebi”, that she was signed her on for a set of bilingual books. Art Director Aparajitha Vaasudev “took on the challenge of illustrating Hanuman in a completely original manner, adding elements of magic, fantasy and pop culture to create unforgettable imagery. It is unlike any other depiction of Hindu gods that have been seen before”, Mittal elaborated.

The company has added several award winning authors just in the last one year including Nandini Nair and Pervin Saket. Chief Editor and resident poet is Sarita Saraf, a writer with an intense passion for philosophical literature. Ashwitha Jayakumar is the historical researcher who ensures that the text and visual representation for each book, especially those based on historical characters, is based on thorough research and analysis.

“We have a very exciting line-up of books releasing in 2022,” Mittal said adding: “We are launching our series of biographies for children called ‘Learning TO BE’ that introduces young children to big values in an engaging manner.

The first three titles to be released in February are “Kindness with Mahavira”, “Service with Guru Nanak” and “Peace with Buddha”. There is a series on Women in Science that includes “Passion” on oceanographer Aditi Pant, “Courage” on Anandibai Joshee (one of the first female doctors of Western medicine), “Perseverance” on botanist Janaki Ammal, and Commitment with physicist Bibha Choudhuri. The set on sportswomen includes “Trust” on P.T. Usha, “Resilience” on Bhakti Sharma (the first Asian woman and the youngest in the world to set a record in open swimming in Antarctic waters), “Adaptability” with Arunima Sinha (the first female amputee to climb Mt Everest), and “Transformation” on (Revolver Dadi) Chandro and (sister-n-law) Prakashi Tomar.

“We believe that biographies can be powerful tools to inspire and uplift. And we are committed to developing this series by writing books on performing artists and change makers,” Mittal explained.

In addition, there are a plethora of other books on Bharatiya itihasa, festivals and culture under development.

“The stories we are told form the fabric of our childhood. And, I want to ensure that we at AdiDev Press play a role in giving our children the head start they need in discovering their roots, appreciating their culture and defining their values as they embark on their life journeys,” Mittal concluded.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide. In particular, the contentious and colonial term ‘South Asia‘ has been replaced with ‘Bharatiya’ or ‘Bharatiya subcontinental’ as appropriate)

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