Padma Shri awardee Geeta Dharmarajan talks to Kausalya Santhanam on bridging cultures and languages with Katha
This is a story that touches many lives. It brings the gift of education to countless underprivileged children and helps their mothers become self-reliant. It also brings the joy of connecting with various cultures and languages through the bridge of translation and activism. Katha, the non-governmental organisation Geeta Dharmarajan began a quarter century ago, is a tale of thinking out-of-the-box and has been a great success. It runs 21 schools in the slums of Delhi, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh.
It runs 50 libraries and reading centres in the slums and 50 in Corporation schools. It has trained and supported 1.4 lakh women. And it has educated 1.9 lakh children and reached out to eight million children through its books. Katha has two branches — “one to do with education, and the other with translation”.
“The story for us is a tool of social transformation, for education, culture linking and fun reading,” says Geeta, the Delhi-based founder and executive director of Katha who was in Chennai recently. She was awarded the Padma Shri for “education and literature” for 2012.
Geeta's Chennai connections are strong. “I went to Delhi from Chennai in 1987. I was then working as Hon. Deputy Director for Education in INTACH, Tamil Nadu. My love for literature was fostered when I was a student of Holy Angels School. I completed my graduation from the Queen Mary's College and obtained a Masters in Literature from Stella Maris College. My love for stories grew by listening to them at the temples in Madras. An inspiration was my father, a doctor who worked in Saidapet. More often than not it was he who gave money to the patient rather than taking the fee,” says this children's writer, educator, editor, publisher and activist.
Geeta who accompanied her civil servant husband in the early Eighties to the U.S. when he went to study at the University of Pennsylvania joined the Pennsylvania Gazette as an Assistant Editor. “I wrote journalistic pieces on education for the newspaper that was started by Benjamin Franklin, and also did courses in education at the university.”
When her husband was transferred to Delhi, she found that the underprivileged children who lived in the government quarters and whose mothers worked as domestic help did not attend school properly. “Even four-year-olds were working. I was worried about their mental health. But I learnt that diarrhoea was an even greater threat.
So I began Tamasha, a health, environment and story magazine for underprivileged children”. Setting up the Katha school in the Govindpuri slum was the next step. “I was a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. I was inspired by Bharata's Natya Sastra in the use of the story as a tool for classroom learning. This led to the Katha's story pedagogy where the ‘what happened next?' is crucial to learning. We do not use textbooks. Integrated learning for children is what Katha is all about — developing confidence and social consciousness — so that children have freedom of choice.” But to bring the children to school, the problem of generating income for their mothers had to be addressed first, as the children were supplementing the income through their earnings.
Helped by friends and well wishers of the organisation, the mothers were taught skills such as tailoring, baking and cooking. “Many of the Katha students have gone on to mainstream colleges and many of them are now doctors, engineers and teachers.
Quite a few have joined Katha schools to teach. And the Katha reading programme and school transformation programme have spread to Government schools in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Orissa with the government asking us to help in their schools as well as the corporate sector.”
When she set up Tamasha, Geeta simultaneously set the ball of reading for fun rolling by publishing the Katha books for children as well as stories translated from the regional languages into Hindi and English. Katha's books for children have fun titles such as “Pokiri parrot and the Needle-nosed Ojha”, “Dinosaur — Long-As-127-Kids” and “Hic!copotamus”.
Katha has translated and published 100 books for children and 100 for adults. “The focus is on capturing the spirit and the nuances.” The books for adults and children have won prestigious awards. Katha was nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, “the world's most coveted award in Children's literature”. Geeta's book “Moon, Ramu and I” won the Darsana National Award 2011 for Best Children's Book.
Friends and well wishers stepped in at every point to build up the chapters that make up Katha. And these include developing environment consciousness, imbibing a good value system, relating to the world of films and acquiring IT skills. “The Padma Shri is for everyone who has contributed to Katha,” says Geeta happily. “It is complete teamwork.”
Source: The Hindu