Reading "Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why", Together...

Sowmya Rajendran brings forth an incredibly impactful story of the Dr. Ambedkar in this book which led to some very profound discussions amongst the young readers. Satwik Gade's illustrations helped us go back in time as we witnessed several events unfold in front of our eyes as we read every page. While it was expected that this book would sensitise children about the concept of untouchability and the unfairness of the practice, the young readers brought much more to the table. They discovered many hidden perspectives that were waiting to be found in this book. Here is a brief account.




It was interesting how the group comprising of 10-11year olds reacted when this book was suggested. They took time to observe the cover and read the blurb before sharing their thoughts. Some made connections with lessons on untouchability that they had read about in their school textbooks and others made connections with what they had read in the Amar Chitra Katha book on Dr.Ambedkar. But that did not deter them from choosing this book to read together. They knew about Dr.Ambedkar but wanted to know more about him as a child. Furthermore, we discovered that almost all of us had witnessed incidents of discrimination against someone, somewhere. Why did it happen? What is the rationale behind it? We didn't know. We were hoping this book would enable us to understand better.


Some made connections with lessons on untouchability that they had read about in their school textbooks and others made connections with what they had read in the Amar Chitra Katha book on Dr.Ambedkar. But that did not deter them from choosing this book to read together. They knew about Dr.Ambedkar but wanted to know more about him as a child.

Through this book, we witnessed discrimination stoop down to basic needs and how children belonging to the lower castes were denied access to drinking water. We observed the illustrator's approach to depict discrimination in the classroom as it occurred. He had chosen different colour schemes for the upper caste children and chosen to leave the lower caste boys seated at the far end the classroom. One reader raised the issue of racism in the approach. Another reader was quick to respond and pointed out that the purpose of the chosen color scheme and illustration style was to bring out exactly the issue of discrimination/racism in the most impactful manner. The illustrator had successfully sown the thought about racism in the reader's mind and paved the way for deep reflection. With this thought in the background, when we proceeded to read the text, more information came up making the scene even more vivid. A group that is generally very vocal about their thoughts, fell silent in thought.

A group that is generally very vocal about their thoughts, fell silent in thought.
There is always light at the end of the tunnel

While the author presents vivid pictures of what happened she also takes care to show that there is always someone or some opportunity that opens a closed door even when things get really bad. Apart from enabling children to recognise the unfairness of the practice of untouchability, the book also shows how there is always light at the end of the tunnel. One just needs to keep persevering to find that person or opportunity.


Speaking about the contrast in treatment while Dr.Ambedkar was in the U.S, one reader remarked, "It must have felt odd at first to be treated well after years of being discriminated. But at the same time it must have also felt nice." Contrasting experiences bring to the surface the ability to appreciate the smallest of changes. The book showcases contrast in feelings as a means to drive the message home.


"It must have felt odd at first to be treated well after years of being discriminated. But at the same time it must have also felt nice."

From a writing approach standpoint

The readers observed that the approach felt different as there is contrast portrayed between any two pages on the same spread. While it helped to feel the difference, it felt unusual, sometimes even as if there was little disconnect between the scenes, they said. Given the nature of the subject, they understood the importance of contrasts to make the intended message felt. It however did not change the good first impression they had formed when they first saw the book.


 


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