A HOME OF OUR OWN
By Megha Aggarwal. Illustrations by Habib Ali
Tulika, Chennai, 2019, pp.28, R175.0
A book with an interesting cover! This was the first thought I had, soon as I held the book. It seemed kind of like a bioscope, introducing us to all the characters. Children with wide smiles, lying on the ground, looking at the sky. The vibrant green and yellow background adds to the happiness. The floating clouds indicate connection to dreams. Another interesting thing about the illustration is how is tells us about the social context that these children come from. The following page has drawings of home made by children.
What defines a home? Is it just the bricks, walls and roof and nothing else? Is that really how children perceive the idea of home? Or do these drawings reflect nothing more than following the stereotypical urban idea of a home. Habib Ali’s illustrations, however, are nuanced and detailed.
But there’s something that I was rather upset about. On one page, a character finds boxes with leftover food thrown in the dustbin outside the restaurant. I find it to be little problematic. Food wastage is a big issue in our country, so if you can show the reality in pictures, then it will give readers a chance to think about such a serious issue.
Let’s talk about the story now. It’s about the children on streets, perhaps all within the age group of 7-10 years. The story is about those kids who are part of the urban society, managing to live on their own. As I read through the story, I kept wondering about the thoughts on home these children may have in mind. How do they perceive the idea of home? Is having a home a part of their concerns at all? Or is it something else?
The stories of street children get little space in mainstream children’s literature. Hence, while bringing in their experiences in a book, one has to be aware and sensitive of their lives and the endless struggle they face. There is always a trap in the process. Rarely do we find a real, honest reflection of their lives, without any idealized and glorified picture or attempting to propagate sympathy in readers’ minds. Quite honestly, I feel that even this story has fallen victim to this. For example, when Dulari is handed over old, broken utensils as a payment for her job. This incident rather reflects helplessness, which leaves the person with no choice but to accept things as they happen. But what about the strong personalities these children develop to fight with the daily difficulties? Shouldn’t they too be talked of in the story? Another character, Sunahari is a dark-complexioned little girl, with her pig-tails hanging in the air, wearing an old frock with a darn. I feel that this is a stereotypical image of the poor, especially propagated by the cinemas. But, through the medium of picture books that gives a lot of space for innovative illustrations, shouldn’t we try and break away from them instead of reinforcing them?
Tulika has published stories reflecting lives of children from different backgrounds like, Kali and the Rat-Snake, Why Why Girl? Guthli has Wings and so on, that have built up an expectation as well as a tradition of multi-layered, nuanced, reflective stories. Well, this book has a long way to go, to reach the mark.
In between all these conflicts and contradictions, the book indeed draws our attention to a few critical issues. There’s an illustration of a chauraha in the city and a couple of pigeons sitting on the cable. There are cars everywhere, but not even a single tree! Isn’t that a serious issue?
Finally, what appealed to me the most was the connection and cooperation all the characters shared. It is beautiful to witness them running around collecting things, all just to create a home for themselves!
Deepali Shukla loves reading, especially children’s books. An enthusiastic photographer and storyteller, she is associated with publication programme of Eklavya Foundation for more than ten years.