I had imagined that publishing a book would be my biggest challenge. Marketing, perhaps. Little did I know that my test-by-fire would be reading ‘Bye, Bye, Motabhai!’ to a class of 20-odd first-graders. Armed with charts, activity sheets and an empty gallon jug, I entered the classroom with quaking knees and a stomach full of dancing pixies. Forty minutes later, I emerged unharmed and strangely light-headed. There was lots of laughter, a round of applause and a big hug from the teacher, which I interpret as signs of success. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Here is what I learnt –
If you ask children for their names, be prepared to hear them all. Over and over again.
A class of 20 children is something of an echo chamber. One person will tell you their name and then five others will confirm it for you. They will proceed in an orderly fashion for a few moments and then names will come flying at you from all directions. It is up to you to sort it out.
Never challenge a child’s notion of what is possible, they WILL try to outdo you.
I had prepared all these camel facts, their height, how much water they can drink and so forth. I quickly learnt that camels have nothing on a six year-old. They are taller, faster and can definitely survive longer in the desert than an ordinary dromedary. They can also drink 50 gallons of water in one sitting. Camels, take that.
There will always be one kid who doesn’t remember the name of the main character.
Just when I thought I was doing well, and they looked like they were totally absorbed in the story, one kid breaks the spell with “Who is Pavan?”. A reminder never to relax and rest on one’s laurels.
Trust at least one kid to question the basic premise.
I am to blame for this one. I did bring up the fact that camels live in the desert, so I should have expected someone to ask me why one dromedary was running loose in the city. What I didn’t expect was the very erudite “This is obviously fictional because camels are not found in urban areas” critique. Never underestimate your audience even if they are one-fifth your age and half your size.
They will leave you laughing alone at something only you think is funny.
In all fairness, the kids giggled sweetly at most of the right spots. However, I learnt quickly that if a joke is weak and you try to bolster it with a chuckle of your own, you will be the only one laughing. Canned laughter is for sitcoms. In real life, poorly executed comedy is met with stony silence. Cruel, cruel world.
One hand will always be up in the air.
This must be one of Murphy’s laws. One solitary hand will be up through the entire story. The owner of that inquisitive hand has no questions, of course. Unless you give them a few seconds to invent one on the spot. It is a slippery slope from that point onwards.
Give them an inch and they will take over.
It starts with the solitary questioning arm-in-the-air. You pause and take one question. Another query follows on its heels. Someone else has an opinion. Two kids decide to discuss the finer points of space-sharing on the side. One person needs a restroom break. Ten children want to share their pony-riding anecdotes with the class at the same time. And just like that, you have lost control of the proceedings.
At least two of kids will yawn through the entire story.
And finally, despite all attempts at funny voices, dramatic sound effects and little jigs, despite the bright eyes and smiles from the majority of the class, you can’t please them all. Fact of life.
A big thank you to the teacher, Ms. Bangia and her adorable class at DAV Montessori, Houston, for giving me the opportunity to entertain them. It was an unforgettable experience!