One of the debates happening around children's literature is about the degree of adult involvement and interference in the writing, publishing and selection of a text for the child reader. One end of the debate posits children's literary texts as an easy approach to imposing adult values on children where the child is seen as a powerless and voiceless addressee. Taking advantage of the vaguely defined criteria of being an adult, the literature written for children generally takes up a didactic and pedagogical tone while addressing the child reader. The voice of the child is either silenced or created by the adult. On the other hand, there is also an understanding that children’s literature lies in the gap between the ‘constructed’ and the ‘constructive’ child,[i] where the power relation between the child and the adult is seen as a two-way process. While children can be constructed as the powerless objects of adult discourse, they also have subjective positions available to them that resist such a move.[ii] Unlike other literary texts, which are also prone to ideological influences, the addressee of children’s literature is, in almost all cases, made to stand outside the making process of the text.
Eureka, a children’s science magazine, is the first and probably the only children’s magazine in Kerala that initiated the publishing of an issue each year, which was written and edited by children. The magazine is also one of the pioneers in reserving a section in the magazine for publishing the creative works of children. Although the magazine attempted to ensure creative freedom and participation of children, I point out how Eureka, published by the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (hereafter Parishad), has played a major role in the propagation of Parishad’s ideologies and in the construction of a childhood which it envisaged. In the context of existing debates over the influence of adult ideologies in literary texts for children, this paper discusses some of my observations on Eureka and its engagements with children in Kerala.
Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad started publishing the children’s science magazine Eureka in 1970. Parishad, a Keralite forum for science literature, is a people’s science movement founded in 1962. It publishes books in the genre ‘sasthra sahithyam’ (scientific literature) as an initiative to popularize Western science in the state. Adopting ‘Science for Social Revolution’ as its motto, the Parishad, apart from publishing, has organized street plays and puppet shows and conducted talks and public awareness programmes to disseminate science as a means to deal with social issues and to uproot superstition. Eureka was started as an initiative to create scientific awareness among primary school children. (Fig. 1)
Eureka features informative articles which elucidate the application of Western science in everyday life. It includes guidelines for scientific experiments or science activities that children can try at home or school. Theoretical aspects of science, biographies of renowned scientists, interviews, recent discoveries in the field of science and technology, etc. are also featured in the magazine. These scientific and informative pieces are narrated in the form of stories, engaging dialogues, illustrated articles using a language familiar to children. The magazine addresses itself as ‘Eureka Uncle’ and the implied readers as ‘friends’. Apart from these informative pieces, Eureka also features excerpts from Malayalam novels, translations of ‘classics’ in children’s literature, folktales, etc. The magazine keeps children up-to-date about contemporary social issues concerning the environment and natural resources. (Fig. 2) Priyappetta Eureke (Dear Eureka) is the Letters-to-the-Editor column where ‘Eureka Uncle’ responds to letters from the readers. The columns Chithra Kalari (drawing exercises) and Balavadi (Nursery) publish creative works of children and the column School Anubhavam (School Experiences) is for teachers to share their teaching experiences.
Unlike other popular children’s magazines, Eureka is circulated mainly through schools. It features tips for learning science, encourages children to form science clubs in schools and suggests activities which they can organize. It almost acts as a continuation of school textbooks. Eureka, in collaboration with the ministry of education in Kerala, conducts ‘Eureka Vigyanolsavam’, a science quiz competition in the government-run schools. Consequently, Eureka has gained a certain amount of credibility compared to other children’s magazines. However, the circulation rate of Eureka is 30,000 and is much lesser compared to the circulation rates of other popular magazines such as Balarama and Balabhumi. When popular magazines among children feature illustrated super-hero cartoons, fairy tales and attractive puzzles, Eureka chooses to avoid them. In the Letters to Editor Column, Eureka receives requests from children asking for such changes.[iii] Even after receiving such requests from children, the magazine was not ready to change its content. It claims that this difference makes Eureka unique. It can be observed that Eureka tries to stick to its ideological position even when there are demands from children for certain changes.
Eureka and Its Views on Education
While the professed aim of the magazine is to develop scientific consciousness in children, intellectual instincts including rational thinking, objective analysis and scepticism are also promoted by the magazine as values, which it believes is important for the growing citizens. The editorials of Eureka, from its earliest issues in the 1970s, clearly state the importance of learning science to develop a rational and sceptical thought process in children and to make them capable of questioning conventions and established notions in society.[iv] The titles of certain columns, such as ‘Eurekayodu Chodikkam’ (Let’s Ask Eureka), ‘Chodyotharappetti’ (Question Box), ‘Vayanakkarude Samshayangal’ (Reader’s Doubts) etc., which Eureka featured over the years indicate the space it reserves for receiving questions from readers about its content or anything related to science that they encounter in their daily life. K. Pappootty, the author of the series Mashodu Chodikkam (Let’s Ask Our Teacher), states that the series was started when the magazine started receiving several questions related to science from the readers and the series was an initiative to answer those.[v] In the Letters to the Editor Column, there is constant encouragement to those letters which pose a question or share an observation.[vi] The editor also suggests to children to state in their letters, why they like a feature/column instead of just saying, ‘I liked it’.[vii] Here, the magazine tries to develop/suggest a learning process in which children become capable of questioning anyone or anything without blindly following what is given.
Apart from circulating their ideas on education, the Parishad has also publicized their campaigns through their publications. An example for this would be the editorial of Eureka published on May 1, 2003. It was an appeal, in the backdrop of the Iraq war, to boycott the usage of foreign products as a measure to prevent inadvertent contributions to the war fund of capitalist countries like the USA. The same issue had a column on the matter with lists of products which should be rejected and of alternative Indian products to replace them. In the next issue, two children asked the editor to clarify why the magazine had in its previous issue asked children to give up the use of better quality foreign products and how boycotting of these products helped to stop the war. To this, the editor provided a long reply stating the ideology of the Parishad and its stand against capitalism and globalisation. Clearly this was part of the Parishad’s campaign against globalisation, which they were actively part of in the 2000s. Parishad's campaigns including those for the revitalisation of universal education and implementation of the Gadgil Report were also featured in Eureka. I suggest that, although the magazine provides space for children to engage with the discussions happening in it, its content is influenced by the Parishad's ideologies. Eureka, while encouraging children's creative freedom, tries to structure their creativity by envisaging a childhood capable of critically and objectively analysing any form of power / establishment so as to develop a modern, future citizen.
Ashish Nandy observes that in the modern perspective, the conception of a child is split into two: ‘his child-likeness as an aspect of childhood which is approved by the society and his childishness as an aspect of childhood which is disapproved by the society’.[viii] Eureka, although provides ample space in the magazine for publishing creative work by children, tries to structure the childishness of children using its pedagogical address while encouraging the child-likeness of their creativity. Eureka not only encouraged children to ask questions, it also structured their questions by explaining how to ask them.
Parishad and the Left in Kerala
Most of the members of the Parishad are politically inclined to the Left in Kerala and many a time the ideology of the Parishad is Leftist. In the early twentieth century, the Left had played a crucial role in popularizing realism, rationality and atheism in the Kerala cultural sphere.[ix] Parishad, established in 1962, also followed a similar ideology through their motto ‘Science for social revolution’. Objective analysis, rational thinking, keen observation and an out-of-the-box thinking are skills that the Parishad envisaged to develop through their method of education. The DPEP model implemented by the Left government in Kerala in 1994 encompassed such methods and the Parishad was in support of this model when there were protests against its implementation.[x] Through their publications and activities, Parishad disseminated science and reasoning as a means for social progression. Eventually these ideas were promulgated through their publications including Eureka.
Gopu Pattithara’s illustrated cartoon series, Appoonte School started in 2010 can be taken as an example to illustrate the ideological similarities that the magazine shares with the Left. This series comments on the functioning of schools, teacher–student relationships, participation of students in classrooms, and the functioning of youth festivals through illustrated conversations between Appu and his mother. In the December 2010 issue, Appu narrates an incident to his mother. He begins the conversation by saying that his friend Gautham is a brilliant boy. Gautham opted to learn Arabic language and joined Arabic class where his name was not called in the first two days while attendance was being marked. Gautham told his teacher that his name was not called in the two previous days. When the teacher asks his name to add to the register, he tells his name as ‘Muhammed Gautham’ since his classmates had told him that he, not being a Muslim, could not learn Arabic. The illustration of the teacher calling attendance in the classroom shows that almost all the students’ names start with ‘Muhammed’. Gautham thinks that adding ‘Muhammed’ to his name would make him ‘fit’ to sit in the Arabic class.
This cartoon is not only the narration of a child’s ‘innocent’ understanding of religion but also a method of expressing the magazine’s secular liberal notions of religious identities. As mentioned above, Appu begins the conversation with the statement that Gautham is a brilliant boy. The conversation that follows is structured in a way in which this first statement becomes the concluding remark of the entire narration. Gautham’s attempt to change his identity by prefixing ‘Muhammed’ to his name is understood as his brilliance here. ‘Muhammed Gautham’ connotes an over-simplified understanding of religious identities and secular values. It reduces the understanding of the existence of religious identities to mere prefixes which is portrayed as something that one can easily adopt and discard.
A similar view is expressed in the editorial of the October 2010 issue of Eureka. The editorial, titled ‘Oppanaye Parddah Ideekkaruth’, begins with a narration of a group of Oppana performers wearing colourful silk dresses and performing on stage. In a dramatic turn of events, the power goes off and the stage becomes dark. When the power is restored, the Oppana dancers are seen wearing black burqas and the narrative goes on to state that the Oppana became a performance of a group of ugly-looking dancers. Then a girl sitting in front of the stage who has covered her head with her shawl runs from there in fear and a group of religious authorities come in. The editorial also comments on how sindoor is becoming a religious symbol among the Hindus. After narrating these disconnected and overtly dramatic sequences, it makes a remark that these religious symbols are used as a means of power to control one’s individual freedom. The editorial ends by saying that religion and related authorities should focus more on general issues that concern us as human beings rather than focusing on our religious identities.
This editorial posits several debatable notions about religious freedom, women and religion, and humanism which are beyond the scope of this paper. Hence, I focus on how the magazine introduces religion and provides an over-simplified understanding of religious identities to its readers. The editorial is focusing on a humanistic perspective where one is understood as an individual whose identity as a human being is prioritized over all other identities. Religious identities are understood as prefixes, ornaments or clothes which one can easily choose and discard. Religious scepticism and individualism are values which the magazine tries to impart to its readers.
Critical discourse, on reform movements such as the abolition of superstition in Kerala, accuses the Left for not taking the differences in identities into consideration. From the features published in Eureka, it is to be understood that both the Parishad and the Left in Kerala address religion from a liberal humanist and rational perspective. In 2008, the Left government in Kerala was accused by the Congress-led opposition of spreading messages against the practice of religion by including a chapter ‘Mathamillatha Jeevan’ (Jeevan, One Without Religion)—in the SCERT social science textbook of the seventh standard. In the chapter, Jeevan’s parents who belong to two different religions suggest that their son has no caste or religion and can choose one when he grows up. Since the meaning of the word Jeevan is 'life', the title of the chapter can also mean ‘Life Without Religion’. In this controversy, the Parishad was also accused of being the mastermind behind the formation of such a curriculum.
Every children’s text, since it is produced by adults for children, is prone to ideological influences. Hence, my attempt was not to focus on the influence of adult ideologies in Eureka, instead, it was an attempt to understand what kind of ideas were being imparted to children through Eureka and what was the idea of a child that the magazine envisaged. Eureka envisages a child who is capable of having an objective and rational perspective towards any form of establishment in society. It addresses children as individuals devoid of religious and community identities. It is an attempt to imagine a modern citizen child with scientific temper and humanist perspective. The status of credibility that Eureka has gained, as a science magazine having its own perspectives on methods of education helps the magazine, unlike other children’s magazines, to take an authoritative position while imparting its ideology to children and fashioning them as modern citizens.
[i] Rudd, ‘Theorising and Theories: The Conditions of Possibility of Children's Literature’, 29–43.
[ii] Ibid, 30.
[iii] For example, the Letters to the Editor column of Eureka published in March 2002 and August 15, 2004.
[iv] See issues of Eureka, from November 1972.
[v] Pappootty, ‘Mukhakkurippu’.
[vi] There is also a prize for the best letter.
[vii] Letters to the Editor column, Eureka, May 2002.
[viii] Nandy, ‘Reconstructing Childhood', 56.
[ix] This is through organisations such as Purogamana Kalasahithya Sangham, Kerala People's Arts Club (KPAC), etc.
[x] Ravi, Development, Democracy and the State: Critiquing the Kerala Model of Development, 110.
Balakrishnan, Kavumbai. ‘Malayala Shasthra Sahithya Prasthanam: Oru Padanam’. Thrissur: Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, 2007.
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Eureka. Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, 2000–15.
Nandy, Ashish. ‘Reconstructing Childhood’. In Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Pappootty, K. ‘Mukhakkurippu’. Mashodu Chodikkam. Calicut: Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, 2000.
Ravi, Raman K. Development, Democracy and the State: Critiquing the Kerala Model of Development. New York: Routledge, 2010.
Rudd, David. ‘Theorising and Theories: The Conditions of Possibility of Children's Literature’. In International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, edited by Peter Hunt, 29–43. London: Routledge, 1996.
Venugopal, P.N. ‘School Textbook Issue Spirals into Political Row’. India Together, July 15, 2008. Accessed July 28, 2018. http://www.indiatogether.org/textbook-education--3.