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Storytelling time: 25 years of Karadi Tales

Mohammed Rayaan | Updated on July 01, 2021

Past forward: Karadi Tales was started by CP Viswanath (left), Shobha Viswanath and Narayan Parasuram in a bid to introduce children in India to “traditional stories”   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Chennai-based publishing house marks its silver jubilee with virtual hangout, audio books and stories from rural India

* The house mascot — Karadi, the bear — is a recognisable and much-loved figure

* Karadi is also known for its audiobooks, published in collaboration with Naseeruddin Shah, Girish Karnad, Gulzar, Vidya Balan and others

* Over the past few years, some of their titles have been translated into German, French and Spanish

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The gaping hole in their son’s bookshelf troubled the Viswanaths. Young Kaushik was an avid reader and loved his Disney collection. But CP Viswanath and his wife Shobha realised that there were hardly any stories based on Indian folklore and culture that their son could be drawn to.

That was when Viswanath, who was heading international business for an energy and environment solutions firm based in the US, reached out to their close friend Narayan Parasuram, a Carnatic musician who taught sound engineering at IIT Bombay, with an idea that eventually changed their lives. The trio felt they had to do something to expose children in India to “traditional stories”. The Viswanaths moved to India from the US in 1996. And that led to the birth — on June 27, 1996 — of Karadi Tales, which started by retelling iconic stories from Jataka and Panchatantra.

Twenty-five years later, the Chennai-based publishing is a household name for children’s books. The house mascot — Karadi, the bear — is a recognisable and much-loved figure and books such as the Farmer Falgu series huge hits. Karadi is also known for its audiobooks, published in collaboration with popular personalities such as Naseeruddin Shah, Saeed Jaffrey, Javed Jaffrey, Girish Karnad, Gulzar, Vidya Balan, Nandita Das and Usha Uthup.

All ears: Karadi collaborated with popular personalities such as Girish Karnad for their audiobooks   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

“We get dozens of ideas every day. On an average, our selection ratio is either 1:800 or 1:1,000 manuscripts. Though we don’t get the time to respond or give feedback to every writer, we, however, make sure to read everything we receive,” Viswanath says.

The focus, he adds, is on picking out stories that have a “unique” voice. “You can retell stories of epics like Mahabharata many times but what works is only if the writer can offer a fresh voice to it that makes it stand apart,” he explains.

Karadi was among the early adopters of the audio format, says Shobha Viswanath, who used to work at the Detroit Institute for the Visually Handicapped. She points out that they had no real reference medium for ideas and inspirations. “But we did get inspired by Bollywood songs,” she adds. “All these songs have amazing music, colours and dance.”

Parasuram notes that as children were exposed to traditional storytelling, which had sounds or music, they aimed at bringing out stories that could also be narrated as songs. “We try to find the production value behind every audiobook manuscript we get,” he says.

Viswanath says that the team spends at least six to nine months to bring out a title from manuscript selection to planning out its illustrations, editing and the final stage printing. Over the past few years, some of their titles have also been translated to foreign languages such as German, French and Spanish.

Karadi Tales was funded by the trio from 1996 till 2008. Eventually, Karadi Path Education Company, the holding entity the team set up in 2010, found investors. Karadi Path recently won the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Award in the Educational Learning Resources category.

Making learning fun

Viswanath explains that Karadi Path helps children learn the English language through a “process of discovery”.

He points out language teaching in schools is often poorly executed. “We just mug it up and write the exams for marks. We never actually learn the language. Once you’re done with the class, you forget and that’s it.”

Yet, he adds, Indians can easily learn new languages. “We are multilingual because we live in an ecosystem that fosters such ability. For instance, if you are a Tamil speaking person in Mumbai where everyone talks in Marathi, you will eventually adapt yourself to learning it,” he says. So, the team started studying how children who moved to different cities could learn a language.

The Karadi Path methodology comprises four modules: Action, music, reading and story and integrates features of theatre to capture the elements of a language. “The class feels like you are having so much fun and there are many activities,” Viswanath says. “In rural schools, teachers who aren’t well versed in English also become co-learners.”

Today, their teaching module has been used at over 4,500 schools across 18 States, trained 70,000 teachers and has reached over a million young students, the owners say.

New adventures in the pandemic

Was Karadi also affected by the pandemic and the lockdown, like most other publishing houses? The founders stress they have started working on new ways to boost their business. Parasuram points out that since the start of the lockdown, sales of their online books have spiked.

The team has also become active on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and hosted various interactive sessions.

It has been posting short videos or posts, highlighting the functioning of the publishing house. These posts include interviews with the in-house team of editors, illustrators and other creative artistes.

Among its new projects is “Katha with Karadi” — a “virtual hangout” for young readers. This platform includes storytelling sessions, author readings and drawing and craft-making workshops.

Another project the founders have started is the “PARI series” with journalist P Sainath, the founder of People’s Archive of Rural India. The series, according to its website, tells the “real stories” of rural India. Shobha Viswanath explains that the project not only introduces rural people to urban India, but also gives rural communities insight into the lives of other such communities.

Will children’s literature ever see stories based on the pandemic? She doesn’t think so, for the pandemic, she believes, is just a phase. “What I do know for sure is that stories with human conditions — joy, sorrow, grief — will always exist,” she says.

Published on July 01, 2021

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