Mumbai Mobile Creches(MMC) is an NGO which works for children of migrant construction workers. I occasionally volunteer for their remote centres in Navi Mumbai. I was approached to conduct book readings at their Jasai and Bluestar centres on the occasion of National Literacy book week. When I reached the centre I found preparations in full swing for a book launch. I was given a gift wrapped book. Imagine my surprise when I opened the package to find Lunch Friends. The same thing repeated at the Bluestar centre. A phone call to the MMC revealed that the Lunch Friends was launched simultaneously in 19 MMC balwadis across Mumbai.
I returned home and phoned Vidya to discover neither she nor her publisher had any clue about the book launch. Vidya’s picture book was quietly released in Singapore a month ago. ( Srividya Venkat is based in Singapore.) Delhi based Tota books is a small publisher who prints limited books every year. They are pretty low key when it comes to promoting their books on social media. They don’t even have a Facebook page. Their books are not sold on Amazon. All their sales are primarily through their independent bookstores.
Vidya was supposed to launch her book at Kahani Tree in India next month. How did the new book by a small publisher and a Singapore based author get chosen for a mega launch at 19 centres?
Every year the MMC library team selects a handful of picture books for the National Literacy book week which is celebrated from 13th November to 19th November. The MMC uses the occasion to encourage children to read English books and introduces them to different types of story books, new authors and new publishers. In the past they have chosen Chacha Chowdhary comics and Champak series. Since buying books for their library is just one of their duties, they rely heavily on book curators and distributors to help them.
The MMC team chooses a different theme every year. This year’s theme was ‘leadership.’ Lunch Friends has nothing to do with leadership. It’s a book about living in harmony with nature, conservation and planting of trees. Kahani Tree and Clearning aid supply books to the MMC library program. Kahani Tree often conducts workshops for the teachers and other support staff of MMC. Since Sangeeta Bhansali( book curator of Kahani Tree) was out of town, the MMC team visited book distributor of contemporary Indian books, Samir Kapadia(proprietor of Clearningaid) and asked for new pictorial books. Samir had recently added Tota Books to his portfolio. Even before the MMC team could mention the chosen theme for 2017, Samir introduced them to Lunch Friends.
The Lunch Friends was not the only book chosen for MMC’S National literacy book week. Fakruddin’s Fridge( Tulika books), Takloo (Pratham Books), Hamari Gai(Eklvaya),Beta Aaj Gaya Jaldi Saal Poora Ho Gaya( I am not sure I got the title right) were some of the other chosen books. The MMC team was hoping the author of any of the chosen books were Mumbai based and available for the book launch. Their choice for book launch could have been Fakruddin’s Fridge.
The book’s author, Meenu Thomas, lives in Mumbai. But Samir had no idea Meenu lived in the city. Meenu Thomas’ loss is Srividya Venkat’s gain.
Every book curator and distributor has a different list of books to recommend. I know the outcome of the book selection exercise would have been entirely different if Sangeeta would have been involved. Her Kahani Tree store stocks a host of new and old, cheap and expensive Indian and International books. With her vast knowledge of children books she would have asked the right questions and guided the MMC team to the right books on leadership. Even if by rare occurrence the short listed books would have been the same, the odds may have tipped towards Fakruddin’s Fridge as not just the author, Meenu Thomas, but also the illustrator of the book, Tanvi Bhat, resides in Mumbai. Sangeeta knows most children authors and illustrators living in Mumbai.
Even though Fakruddin’s fridge is a few years old, it would have been a double whammy for the MMC to have the author and illustrator for the book launch.
But Lunch Friends came with its own destiny. The book evoked a happy feeling in the hearts of balwadi teachers who had accompanied the MMC book buying team. They were so impressed by Vidya’s book that they made an exception and chose it for the book launch. The reading level was just right for their balwadi teachers and children. (The minimum requirement to be a MMC balwadi teacher is 10TH std.) Even though the picture book had too many words, they felt a child would benefit by reading at least one page a day. They had never stocked any of Tota’s books in their library. They also felt the children of migrant labourers would relate to the mango tree in the book as it would remind them of familiar trees and spaces in their villages. The children in the balwadis were also planting saplings every summer at the construction sites as a part of the tree plantation drive.
( This is a picture taken at the MMC Balwadi, Bluestar stone crushing quarry. I have never seen so much reverence for story books. The book was garlanded. A lamp was placed in front of it. A thali with flowers was kept ready for a small puja before the book reading.)
Here’s wishing Lunch Friends and Srividhya Venkat tons of success. The fun has just begun.
To order Lunch friends( Tota Books) by Srividhya Venkat , you can place an order at
1) Clearningaid Samir Kapadia firstname.lastname@example.org or call 098196 77361
2)Kahani Tree Email email@example.com or call 022 24306780 Extn: 230/240
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