A week before semester-end exams. After having multiple nightmares of being the only one in the batch without an internship this summer, I finally got an acceptance letter from a publishing house based in Gurgaon.
Fast-forward to the first day at work. Google Maps showed I’m almost there. I had been craning my head to see the top of all the corporate buildings in Epicentre when I located the H that resembles the blocks of Tetris. It was the brick-red building standing out amongst the sea of sober blue skyscrapers.
As the young, friendly-looking receptionist led me towards the Editorial department, my eyes almost popped out of their sockets while trying to take in the spectacular vision of books all around me. Suddenly, and painfully so, I understood how diabetic people feel when they enter a sweet-shop; or how a burglar feels inside a bank. My conscience reminded me of a Hindi adage that roughly translates to– – ‘you do not drill holes into the plate you’re eating out of’. The white angel inside me, after gagging the red devil shut, started chanting: “You are here to work. The books are not going anywhere. Do not give out signals of being a book-thief on the first day itself.”
I was shown my desk with desktop, stacks of books and loose manuscripts on the side and colourful book-covers pinned to the wall in front of me. I realised I’ll be working on the Children’s section, which made me nervous thinking how smart the kids had become nowadays.
As I started progressing from one assignment to another, the initial nervousness matured into a sense of responsibility. With adults’ books, the content, style and presentation were of prime importance; but when I’m editing for my tiny-tot readers, the basic spellings, tense and word- usage has to be flawless. There is no room for error because when a ten-year old will come across a word in my article for the first time, he will want to know what it means. He will ask an elder or look it up in the dictionary, and then he will feel a sense of achievement after having owned up a new word. It is going to be a conquest for him; he will keep using it wherever he can until he gets it right. Unlike adults, kids don’t read just for the sake of pleasure. They learn and internalise.
A problem that has been plaguing the Children’s sector in this industry is that the target audience does not read fiction anymore. At an age when they have to depend on their parents to pay for their reading, they are encouraged to read books on ‘How to excel in studies?’; but when they point at a book with a colourful cover and a title that says Wordygurdyboom!, the benefactors quiz them– – “How is it going to help you get good scores at school?”. The poor kids, obviously, cannot answer this question. Neither can I, or my publisher. Investing lakhs on a television-set seems pretty reasonable, but you better have a darn good reason to spend a couple of hundreds on a book!
As Roald Dahl wrote in Matilda, books transport us to new worlds and introduce us to amazing people who live exciting lives. “She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.” Don’t kids want a life like Matilda’s? Of course they do, once they discover that books are, in fact, the greatest teachers; and when you usher a kid into the world of books, you’re doing them the greatest favour.