The Nameless God

As I began reading Savie Karnel‘s The Nameless God, published by Red Panda, I was sucked into the book. Right from the names of the two boys which didn’t quite sound right, to their need for a new God because the old ones didn’t quite listen to their prayers. Ingenious, aren’t they? How many times have we prayed and sighed that God doesn’t hear our prayers? Right from that point, this book won my heart.

The words strode on, bravely page after page, narrating a story set against the backdrop of the demolition of the Babri Masjid...an incident which has polarised the country, splitting friendships with strong fiercely held, beliefs and views.


Noor and Bachchu realise that their Gods don’t seem to be answering their prayers because they guess, far too many people are praying to them. So they create a new God, a smooth river stone, smear it with turmeric and vermilion, adorn it with a garland, a red thread and a cross drawn with chalk. They pray to the God and are ecstatic when what they prayed for...a holiday, is announced on the news. Their God hears them!!


The story narrates the experiences of Bacchu a Hindu, Noor a Muslim, Seema an atheist, all students from a Christian school and their families, as their town erupts in riots. From friendship and loyalty to propaganda and mob violence, from religion and politics, to humanity and secularism, from conniving, self serving politicians to kind hearted common people. This book touches upon a range of issues and characters that the reader will easily identify, while highlighting our underlying humanity.


I have a huge soft corner for books that highlight India’s diversity and secularism and this one, I just couldn’t put down.

This is a must read and couldn’t be a better time than NOW to read it. With altered histories, propaganda and fake news abounding, it is imperative that our children read stories about our own history.

A compelling, fast paced read, written in a language that children will relate to.


A PLAN...

I wanted all my students to read this book, but how would I ensure that we are a small school library which purchases just one copy of each book. How do I ensure children pick up this book to read over the fantasy and other genres that so attract them?


Since we were in online mode, I decided that I would read this book aloud to my 8th graders, during their weekly library sessions. It was an experiment on my part and I told the children so.


So week after week it went on.

Most children enjoyed it, while the 45 minute read aloud made a few restless.

School moved from online to in-person classes, which meant that the library session had to offer scope for browsing and borrowing as well as quiet reading time.


THE MANNER IN WHICH IT WAS READ:

As ever, I was extremely aware of clouding my sessions with my own political views. So this time, I refrained from stopping in the middle to discuss the book. Unless children needed help to understand a word or idea...I read straight through, and hoped to get their reflections at the end of the entire read aloud.

It look us over 2 months and around 10 library sessions to complete the book.


WHAT WORKED:

In a post reading feedback session, children shared:

- That they enjoyed just being read to.

- Since they love fantasy, they wouldn't usually pick up a book like this one and therefore glad that it was read out aloud to them.

- The way the book was read aloud, with feeling…drew emotions.

- Children are enthused to borrow it and read it themselves.

- It was like an adventure, waiting to see what would unfold next week.

- Some children enjoyed the expressions while reading and hoped that we continue with more such read-alouds.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:

- It was too long, given that each session is a week apart.

- It was tough to remember from which point we were restarting the story each week. (despite a brief recap before each session)

- Some admitted that they would lose concentration in the middle.

- A few missed a class, so there was a big gap in the story.

- The time it took to read the book across weeks, made it very confusing to some and boring to others.


However, I think this book being read aloud in a class room, in a serialised manner, by a teacher who meets the children everyday day, will open out deeper responses and interaction.

Despite the pitfalls along our ‘big book’ read aloud journey, I was heartened by the responses the children shared.


Slide to read a few of the children's responses....


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