A pedagogue par excellence, an author for children’s literature and a performance story teller- Usha Chhabra rules the heart of her students and their parents alike. She has no full stop in her show; bursts with infinite enthusiasm to contribute in the field of Hindi, and make the children aware of appropriate usage of motherland language with regard. Her love for the language is stupendous and so is her displeasure for making Hindi, a poor cousin of English. She leaves no opportunity to demonstrate her abilities in enriching the lives of promising leaders and citizens of tomorrow, be it academic, cultural or creative. She is fun, she is knowledgeable and she is prolific in her ideas. A voracious reader herself, strongly advocates reading to be inculcated at an early age. Curious Hounds had a hearty conversation with this remarkable persona and brings here, her thoughts and concerns over the children and the language.
You are often found creating magic with children. How do you manage on every occasion with a new idea?
I want learning to be an interesting medium so that it is etched in young minds forever. Hindi being left out in favour of other subjects needs special attention to bring it on the forefront. This requires technique and an interactive visual method is best to make the children remember any kind of information. Therefore, I take every available chance, especially during the festivals, Independence day and the Republic day to make the occasion performance based so that it is not only entertaining, but is also full of wit and humour. My enacting the particular role livens the character and the children imbibe the essence of the story, consequently wanting to read and explore without having being told to do so. They learn to be creative and their hunger for knowledge mounts. Interestingly, parents too enjoy and learn the tales in the rendition form. Coming to the magic part, I try to create dramatic and intellectual effect. If you call it magical, I am glad that it is appreciated so much.
How did you develop such passion for Hindi?
Though I know English, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Bengali, Assamese and Gujrati also, and easily get connected with people, it was after my marriage that I came down to Delhi from Kolkata, then Calcutta, and started my carrier in Hindi language teaching. During the tenure, I was assigned various activities to plan and execute like preparing children for competitions, morning assembly and dramatics which required my indulgence in writing too. I, thus, developed interest in writing and did it extensively. During this course, I happened to meet a publisher who encouraged me to write text books. Initially hesitant, but then I completed a series of text books. Later, I also wrote another series for another publisher. It required a vast research to understand child psychology and before I knew it, I was deeply involved in writing and enjoyed the entire process. This enabled to strategize means to awaken interest in Hindi in various forms in children. I have done M Phil in Hindi and it certainly contributes to my goals. My research was based on Munshi Premchand’s collection of short stories- Mansarovar. I first enacted before my students in school; with lot of welcoming praise I wandered outside the periphery and since then marched ahead educating children with different creative tools.
You are a teacher, a performance story teller and an author, What ignites you?
Yes, I have been teaching Hindi in DPS Rohini, Delhi, since 1996. I also continue enacting story telling in my school that encourages them to understand the characters and further read to know about them in detail. Keeping the particular age temperament in mind, I like to experiment my teachings in various forms. Each time I like to evolve better than the last. Something new, some challenges, social work and of course children ignite me.
What inspired you to enact the stories? How do you connect yourself with children?
In this digital world children literally struggle to read. This is a matter of concern and I feel deeply about it. Parents are only anxious about their children’s marks. Most of them want their children to study Mathematics and Science. For Hindi, their focus is only till the text books. This attitude filters down to their children. Knowledge is much beyond the school books. Reading, is therefore, an essential part for every student and should be introduced in an early age, which unfortunately does not happen. I like talking to children; listening to them, I realized that they like people who are not fake and are genuinely interested in them. Eager to help them, I devised methods to nurture their desire of effective learning, and in the process, I easily connected with them. This inspired me to enact with feelings for the sake of clarity in their understanding. Their positive response gives me satisfaction and encourages me to add new dimensions in my successive activities.
What is your objective and what changes would you like to bring about in children?
I aim at children being curious, creative and yearn for knowledge; explore their capacity beyond the classroom so that their vision broadens and come out of rote learning. I would like them to establish regular reading habit and treat Hindi with respect.
What are your views on Kindle?
Reading books is always closer to my heart. Kindle is good for space constraints and more accessibility, but I still prefer books.
How do you promote Hindi and redirect children to books?
Every Indian must have a good understanding of Hindi. English medium schools have a major matra issues as all other subjects are taught in English. I have written Hindi text books; developed a Youtube channel carrying various matra lessons, basic grammar and stories; written a Hindi poetry book with a fresh approach; hold workshops on creative writing, theatre workshops and performance based story telling for children, teachers and parents; Stories help children in understanding diversity and arouses their curiosity. It cultivates sense of imagination. My artistic and inventive performances depicting the history, culture and folklores of our country at various venues evoke interest in the children to read and understand it in detail. I try to reach as far as I can. There are couple of NGO’s also where I have conducted workshops. My workshops are also on inspirational people and waste management which brings them a step ahead. Teaching and training with a twist, nourishing their intellectual appetite with researched and novel methods enlightens their ignored or half knowledge minds. Thus their own eager minds look for books. I now see, sudden upsurge in the demand of Hindi, as government too, is promoting it. Moreover, it is our language and should be respected. I appreciate the arrival of many Hindi news and entertainment channels generating interest in Hindi. The visual understanding triggers interest to read and reach to the bottom of facts.
What notions do you have about adults in terms of their knowledge in Hindi and their inclination of it towards children? What do you feel about it and what are your opinions on it?
Sadly, adults don’t have requisite grasp over Hindi, nor are they concerned of their children’s unwillingness to develop interest in the language. There is a very small percentage that have an inclination towards it. They don’t read Hindi Magazines or Hindi Newspapers. Most parents want their children to work on grades and so their focus is to cram.
Frankly speaking, the variety of English story books and publication are very good. Hindi publishers don’t have much market, so there are not much quality books for children. The books that are available have less of illustrations as it requires great finance.
What is the major difference in your students a decade back and now?
Today, students are more sharp, more digital oriented. Most of them, with exceptions, have a casual attitude. Series of tuitions leave no time to make friends, if they have any, the monotonic routine does not allow them to spend time with them. The trend of nuclear family has snatched the warmth of grandparents, so their natural extending the age old tested and trial methods of knowledge is not available to them. The overburdened parents don’t have quality time to spend with children, hence right values are not inculcated. It was different ten years back with children having fun with friends and grandparents and parents taking genuine interest in their children’s over all development instead of just grades.
So much about your terrific work. Curious Hounds is now curious to know your interests and hobbies.
I like watching thought provoking documentaries and films. In fact, art fascinates me, be it music, dance or theatre. I like to read a lot and then share it with the students. My school library is a great resource. I spend my most of the free time in library scouting for new books.
Traveling and learning about various cultures also interest me. And yes, after meals, though I am not a great foodie, my sweet tooth burns with desire.
Hope you had a great time with Curious Hounds.
Indeed. It was very refreshing talking in different tone. Curious Hounds is very inquisitive as the name suggests, digging deep to take out the best that one possess with a new perspective, and I admire the way Curious Hounds is always looking for ‘A Face in The Crowd’.