Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A gift, and Arvind Gupta's toys

I got a gift today.

It is a book called 'A house is a house for me' by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser, and it comes to me from Scribbler of Vintage books my kid loves, whose giveaway I had the incredible fortune to win. I still can't believe I did, but that is another matter! Anyway, the book is absolutely brand new: no scratches, no bent corners, even the new print smell intact. Amazing. Going by the name, I had been looking forward to getting a - well, vintage book as in something that had seen life, knocked around a bit, had a drink or two. But this is like its just come off the press. If one could leer at a book, I would be asking, "Where have you been all my life, dear?" to which of course it'd reply that for the first eight years or so, it wasn't even born... Thanks for the book Scribbler. [Are you sure that you haven't been and bought a new book, just for us? Not that I am returning it or anything, even if!]

Even better is the gift that is in the book. The gift of the book I should say. The gift of a new perspective, a new way of looking at things. It starts, very simply, with an enchanting verse that I can't resist reading in a sing-song voice -

"A hill is a house for an ant, an ant.
A hive is a house for a bee.
A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse
And a house is a house for me!"

And goes on in this vein, very gradually building up the concept of one being - or thing - 'housing' in another, to lead to this -

"A mirror is a house for reflections...
A throat is a house for a hum..."

Isn't that a bewitching, intriguing, tingling idea? As the book itself says,

"And once you get started in thinking this way,
It seems that whatever you see
Is either a house or it lives in a house,"

How beautiful to be able to think of the eye as a house for the world you see, the child as a house for laughter and joy, the trees for the raindrops that fall after the shower... But the end is the beautifullest of all, as Anna of the book might have said. Beautiful in its simplicity and grand compass.

"And the earth is a house for us all."

And on the subject of eco-conservation, I am going to feature today a site that is definitely not for online use, but it deserves a full post to itself. You'll soon see why when you visit Arvind Gupta's Books and Toys. An engineer by profession, Mr. Gupta is currently working at Children's Science Centre of Inter-university centre of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) at Pune, India. I don't know whether the correct big word to use would be doyen or a pioneer or something else altogether when talking about his popularizing science or promoting indigenous toy making, but I know of no other person who does these, and does them so well. He makes toys from waste material, scraps we would not look at twice before throwing away, and in so doing, redefines the meaning of toys for our generation. What are toys after all? Anything that can be enjoyed, played with is a toy. Every mother has at some time or the other lamented the use of her kitchen utensils as toys by tiny tots who ignore perfectly beautiful and expensive 'toys'. Kids don't have the same fixed notions of what a toy means - they are groomed into it. But not only does Mr. Gupta use the silliest of material, available even to the poorest of children, he also uses them to illustrate some point of science, and makes them doubly useful for teaching. And then, instead of charging a small fortune for great heirlooms of hard bound books with '1001 ideas' in them, he goes and distributes it all for free. Whichever way he can. Which is why you will find his 'toys', complete with illustrations, on his website for you to use, directly, or as you need to modify it. Just go through the site. Even if the stuff is too plebeian for you, you will still get ideas. And a new way of looking at things.

Also on his site are loads of pdf books - science books, education books, Russian classics, children't books - waiting to be downloaded and read. And documentaries. What else does one need to teach?

Or learn?

And now, the site itself. When you reach the homepage, there are three links - Books, toys and films. Nothing else. Click on each to expand or lead to a fresh page, and you have a veritable library on your hands. There are no flash galleries, no colourful boxes in sidebars and fancy banners, but there is a lot of stuff!

The url - http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/

Go on, challenge yourself to look at things in a new light twice over today!

P.S. Again, as the site is not meant for online usage, no star rating has been given.


Nino's Mum said...

the book sounds absolutely lovely - what a refreshing perspective on things!

Anonymous said...

I just downloaded Arvind gupta's toy making instruction guide. It is great! Thanks for sharing. Hats off to the most devoted mother, who also takes care of spreading her knowledge to other mothers...