It’s International Labour Day today, a celebration of labour and the working classes. In India, child labour is officially banned, but it prevails in spite of government injunctions. In Bangalore, where I live, one often encounters children begging at traffic signals, children selling flowers, stationery, tiny little toys, tissue paper ... It is ironical and heartwrenching that these children are selling stuff that they should be enjoying (flowers, toys) or using (stationery, tissue paper). In an increasingly materialistic society, should we not realise that investing in the children will lead to healthier, better-informed, and more productive adults tomorrow?
In this context, I want to write about a very different kind of book, called Trash by Gita Wolf and Anushka Ravishankar, and illustrated by Orijit Sen. It’s published by Tara Books, famous for the unique slant they bring to children's books and to the art of book making (more about that later).
Trash is about twelve year old Velu who runs away from home and a drunk abusive stepfather, and arrives at Chennai. An older girl, Jaya, takes him under her wing, and they live on the streets and work as ragpickers. Velu learns all about garbage (what sells, what doesn’t), how to get his dues, how the rich are wasteful and often throw away almost as much as they consume, and very importantly, Velu learns to enjoy himself (Fridays are for Rajnikanth movies and, sometimes, a sweet bun) even as he undergoes a rather painful lesson on how to manage his income.
Tara Books is unique in several ways. It is one of India’s first publishing houses set up with the desire to give children a more nuanced literature and one that incorporates elements of visual storytelling; it is also famous for their handmade books – books that are made entirely by hand - from the paper to the artwork, the printing and the binding. They have popularized several forms of tribal art – and have not only revived some of these dying art forms, but have also offered the child reader a completely different world view in the process. They publish fiction and non-fiction books on a range of subjects and themes, and all their books are informed by a deep-rooted concern for human rights, gender equality, tribal cultures and children’s rights. The book, Trash received a SPECIAL MENTION in the White Ravens Catalogue for World’s Best Children’s Book 2000.