author visits

Meera Sriram reading Dinaben and the lions of Gir to kindergarteners in CA, USA

Praba Ram reading Dinaben and the lions of Gir to second graders in Virginia, USA

Meera Sriram talking to children at Madhu Basha Kendar, California.

I was invited to be a guest speaker at the annual celebration of Madhu Basha Kendra (MBK) in Fremont, California, USA on May 30th 2011. MBK, founded and headed by Madhu Aggarwal, is an organization dedicated to keeping Hindi language and Indian culture alive, and offers supplementary educational programs and Hindi classes to children in the Bay area.

On the evening of the event, I joined parents and grandparents, teachers and siblings, to watch children of all ages enthusiastically recite poems, sing, and enact skits in Hindi. I also browsed books on display, some even with artwork and illustrations, authored in Hindi by little ones, on simple cultural themes and traditions. And when several hands went up as I began, ‘who amongst you wants to become a writer’, I was convinced that my presence as an author (and of a bilingual book) was relevant and important there.

I was hoping my own journey in writing would keep dreams alive and inspire many more. But there was also a mild inhibition I was fighting internally – to talk at length about the content of my book to children born and raised in a land foreign to “ghee” or “Gujarat” (or any basic Indian setting for that matter). This was also a familiar feeling because I had walked in with similar apprehensions when I visited my daughter’s kindergarten classroom where I had started off with first putting India on a map. But at the end of my session children had screamed “I want to become an author too”, “Hunting is bad” and “I like trees”, and had actually put my doubts to shame.

As always, eyes fixed on me and raised hands seeking a dialogue, instantly put me in the comfort zone. I talked about what triggered me, and my friend and co-author Praba Ram, to write “Dinaben and the Lions of Gir”. The subject of Asiatic lions excited and intrigued the crowd along expected lines. “What are some of the other animals in Gir?”, “I know what ‘endangered’ means!”, “We have ghee at home here!”, were shouted out with impromptu energy. Soon, I felt like a child myself. We played guess-the-number-of-lions-left-in-Gir game that led me to explaining how even a few hundreds was still “little”. I concluded with some tips on what it takes to follow one’s dream in the world of writing. And how satisfying it ultimately is. My husband read aloud the book in Hindi. I also signed copies and had some valuable interaction with parents.

Open minds, willing to take in anything…anything at all, with honest innocence and interest is always comforting and encouraging. Fresh and candid, their attitude is infectious. Dinaben, the Maldhari woman, is always welcomed and glorified everywhere (sometimes in an American accent). That evening, I was pleased. Immensely. Nothing like connecting with little readers. And nothing like enjoying a book together!

 

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