Journeying with Jamlo
Updated: Jul 21
The one in which I share our journey with the book Jamlo Walks by Samina Mishra, illustrated by Tariq Aziz and published by Penguin, India (Puffin)
I reviewed Jamlo Walks by Samina Mishra a few weeks ago, yet it was only when I took it to my students that I realised that I hadn’t fully understood its scope on my first read.
Jamlo Walks is a story about what the lockdown did to India, especially its youngest citizens. It documents a true story...the walk of one young migrant worker, Jamlo Makdam, cleverly interwoven into the lives of children across India.
Although I admired Samina Mishra’s crisp, sharp text and the clever movement of her storyline and was drawn into the narration by Tarique Aziz’s vivid and detailed illustrations, I was nervous to take this book to my students.
My nervousness probably stems from my own lack of exposure and sensitisation to those whose experiences are so different from mine, my own political views and the storyline itself. Will my sharing do this book justice? Why do I feel the need to do this book justice more than any before? How can this sharing be meaningful to the children as against didactic? Will it be too tough on my largely upper-middle class, cocooned students...who in many ways are a reflection of myself.
Filled with questions and doubts, I did what I tend to do often...I decided to trust the children, keeping myself open to their responses and trusting the process of our sharing.
But it isn’t easy to do so. Especially with books like this one, I do not want to be doling out information or standard responses, but rather prompt responses from the children. As always it was imperative to keep my own views in check, maintaining a neutral stance while allowing conversations to flow within the group.
I took this book to 3 groups of children. Grade 7 and 8 and a small group of Grade 6.
(Jamlo Walks is a must for older children too, however I have been working online with children upto grade 8 only, which limited my sharing of this book.)
I started out by casually chatting about the lockdown. How did it feel to be locked down?
We had explored a few books about appreciating the good that had come to us personally during the lockdown over the course of last year. ( https://www.mythaunty.com/post/sometimes-misfortune-can-indeed-be-a-blessing )
The children's sharing was very much about themselves and their families...natural given that our worlds had shrunk to those who inhabited the four walls of our homes.
How boring it was with nothing to do.
How they missed meeting friends.
How the excitement of no school quickly changed to a feeling of the ‘holiday’ dragging on way too long.
"One day Aunty said, there is new soap in the bathroom, please wash your hands, and from the next day we didn't come to school. I wondered what happened to that soap.”
Setting the context:
I wondered aloud if any of them knew what was happening outside their houses.
Many replied that while they did look outside their window, it was too quite and boring as no one passed by.
Others understood what I meant and replied that only the adults watched the news or as a family they had decided not to watch because of all the deaths.
With some nudging the children recalled the migrant workers and discussions began to spring up across the group, little inputs from classmates helped most of the group begin to understand why the migrant workers walked.
I felt it was important to set the context and was conscious of not teaching the context but rather drawing out responses from the children...so I nudged their answers by asking a few leading questions. Some children needed help understanding why the migrant workers couldn't just stock food like we all had. Why they lost their jobs, why would they go back to their villages. Once the penny dropped, the understanding began to gush in.
(The author has explained much of this in the afterword...but we still had to begin the book and so hadn't come to that part yet.)
The Interactive Read-Aloud
We went over the book page by page...each page sparking off a discussion that it took us four sessions to complete reading and responding to the book.
Starting with the cover of the book, the children were quite certain that Jamlo and the people behind her were ‘garbage pickers’ because who else was out during the lockdown?
When they did notice the chillies, they were sure that she had rushed out to buy some on her way back from school, before the shops could shut.
They spun tales about Jamlo...a child who lives alone and picks dried leaves to sell and many more versions of who she could be.
A few argued that such young children are not allowed to live alone and they would be sent to an orphanage,
They were very concerned that while the newspaper on the road read ‘lockdown’, Jamlo was without her mask...why would her parents not insist she wear a mask?
We stopped on the first spread to talk about the sky. What is it normally like? Did you notice blue skies during the lockdown? Why were they blue?
The second and third spread drew much confusion.
The questions flew fast and a bit furious.
Why is this child who seemed about as old as them, be walking alone for what seemed a very long journey?
Why is Jamlo working? Isn’t it illegal, Aunty?
Why would her parents not go to work themselves?
What kind of parents send a child to work?
Can’t the government arrest the people who make children work?
Shouldn’t she have been in school?
The image is making me feel like I’m walking on the same street. It is very hot.
There was much debate about whether Jamlo was in school...but schools were shut.
She is returning from an after school job.
Why is she walking alone? She could get kidnapped.
A wild animal could eat her, or she could have an accident.
Many parents don’t send girls out alone...why did her parents send her to work?
I felt hopeful with all their questions, as their words told me that they felt for Jamlo.
The fourth spread with Tara and her mother probably drew the most discussion.
Why was Tara peeping?
Why did Amma close the laptop when she noticed Tara?
Oh my parents also do that! They think I am not old enough to understand...but I understand.
Parents do that to protect us da!!! They don’t want to scare us. They do not want us to worry.
"So what would you rather parents do?", I asked.
I’d like them to talk to me.
I want them to answer my questions.
I’m not dumb...if they explain, I can understand.
When my parents behave like this, I get very angry.
I like that my parents protect me, Aunty.
They are keeping us on the right track.
No way!! I’d prefer them explaining things to me.
They make me feel like I don’t belong. It's like I'm excluded.
They gushed over the dosawala’s kindness, in the next spread and the authors seamless weaving of the tale.
They identified with Rahul looking out of the window.
Again worried about why the children from the jhuggi did not have masks.
I was wondering if my parents made the lockdown up Aunty...like Rahul, I would stand at the window and stare to see what was happening outside.
Did the people in the jhuggi do something wrong? Why is the car there?
The children are running home because they are scared of the police.
Aunty, this book is making me upset.
"Why?", I asked.
I feel like I’m a spoilt child.
The Aamir spread drew a lot of knowing nods.
It’s frustrating when the connection is bad, Aunty.
I am unable to concentrate.
It’s nice to be at home, but boring in front of the screen.
I regret that I ever said that I hate school.
I miss school...I miss the library.
The next spread of Jamlo sleeping under a tree, had views flying.
Discussions about who are considered citizens of a country were initiated.
Do some citizens have more rights than others?
Were all citizens taken into account when the lockdown was announced?
In response to the last line on the page…”They say corona kills...but, bhai, so does hunger.”, one child said that what the men meant was...
"You (the government) are trying to protect me from death (by enforcing the lockdown), but you are throwing me right into the arms of death.”
The next 3 pages garnered sombre reactions and the wordless spread drew silence.
No one responded and I just let it sit for a while.
Then slowly, the doubtful questions were raised...slivers of hope that Jamlo had reached home. Some, quicker at connecting the dots hesitatingly questioned me...others just wept. Quite sobs and a gut wrenching loud cry.
Others sat stunned.
I allowed this book to meander and lead us over 4 sessions/4 weeks...and all I can hope for is that it has left behind...a need to raise questions, of being able to look beyond ourselves, of an understanding that every person who shares this world with us matters and a good dose of empathy.
The children were highly appreciative of the author's writing and the quite power of the illustrations. So I asked them to think about their lockdown and that of Jamlo’s before they returned for the next class.
A class in which I had planned for the children to write themselves into the book.
The brief was very simple, think of your own lock down experience, imagine what Jamlo's was like. Is there any connection?
They were free to create a new scenario for Jamlo, but their own story needed to be true.
At the end of the exercise, without any prompting one child reflected...
I've never thought about this before but now I'm thinking that we all have a connection, don't we? Everyone has something in common with others, even if they are not like us.
Slide to read a few of the responses the students shared:
(I drew inspiration for my sharing of this book from a resource shared by Bookworm, Goa www.bookwormgoa.com and discussions with author Timira Gupta who helped me understand that whatever my students were feeling or reacting, was valid. )
Social Awareness: Appreciate Diversity/ Perspective taking/ Kindness and empathy/ Respect for other/ Social and ethical norms
Responsible decision making: Problem solving/ Critical thinking/ Appreciate interdependence/ Ethical responsibility