A Stand-Up Book
Arna Seal
HOME by Nina Sabnani Tulika, 2010, 150 pp., 450
November 2010, volume 34, No 11

At a time when the children’s ‘edutainment’ industry strives towards luring the urban child into the finger-clicking world of instructional video, computer games and mono-directional communication that leaves little space for the child’s imagination to take roots, Nina Sabnani’s ‘stand-up’ book published by Tulika emerges as a trend-setter.

Home immediately jumps out of the clutter of one-dimensional ‘books’ children are used to seeing and evolves as a unique offering in printed visual medium that gives children something to touch, maneuver and ‘play around’ with while exercising their minds. It breaks grounds by literally going around the usual linear approach—the ‘start to finish’ way of doing things.

The world, our place in it, and our identities vis-a-vis others: these are overlapping concepts, cross-cutting rigid layers. To portray them through a printed visual medium is challenging enough, to make it have qualities similar to ‘hyperlinks’ of the cyber media makes it even more daunting.

Yet, Sabnani achieves the difficult, nay, almost impossible in Home, where the physical structure of the device merges with the thought process that there is no beginning or end to our unfolding identities.In Home, they pour out of the windows, which are really the windows of our mind, into the world around us and everything in it. From each fold jumps out something new, each turn promises a surprise.

As the back-cover of Home suggests, Sabnani’s inspiration for this book comes from the sandy story-land of Rajasthan, where story tellers carrying a portable wooden shrine—the ‘Kaavad,’ travel from house to house telling religious stories. The Kavad’s many-hinged panels display vibrantly coloured scenes from local myths and folktales. The Kaavadiya Bhat narrates the stories, opening up each painted panel as he goes along, pointing at each figure with a peacock feather. Through the stories he reinforces inter-connections within his community and establishes his own space in it.

Similarly, holding Home in one’s hand, a child or a teacher-facilitator can be immediately drawn to the pictures, the words, phrases and one-line questions that peek from its layers.Looking at them, they can either connect the pictures to the words to start a conversation about different kinds of homes and families or else start building a story with the pictures and words.The possibilities are endless.It is actually the minimal writing coupled with the vibrant pictures that eggs the user on to reflect and initiate a dialogue with oneself or with listeners—a dialogue that can take the form of a conversation, a poem, a thought-piece or a story.Not only that, the minimal use of words and vibrancy of the pictures, also makes Home a resource that can be used for communication in any language across the world.

At a concrete level, the text and the pictures gives the user and reader ideas of homes, families, identities and living. Looking at Home, one can ‘discover’ that families are not all about a mother, father and children;that animals also have families living in large groups. Else, some prefer to live alone. It tells you that one can live with siblings on a wheelchair and still be a happy family.

This way, Home helps to celebrate the differences in life and living and drives home the point that everyone while being unique and special is connected to others through this thread of uniqueness. It also drives home the point that it is precisely this uniqueness that gives the world its vibrancy and makes it such a fun place to live in!

Moreover, every time one takes up Home in one’s hands, the possibilities of creating new dialogues and new narratives emerge.This ‘flexibility’ afforded by its structure makes Home an enjoyable ‘teaching-learning’ resource as well as a resource that aids reflection. A piece of reflection, that tells us—where we live, how we live, with whom or without …., they all have a place in Home—which then becomes a metaphor of the planet itself.

A couple of concerns:one might need an ‘orientation’ on ‘How to use’ Home. Some ‘start-up’ ideas on the back-cover may have helped. The other is of course, the price, which might create a strain on the pocket, limiting the circulation of such a brilliant piece of work.

Review Details

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