Geeta Dharmarajan was charged up about doing something in the education sector – for underprivileged children. She wanted to build an equitable India. She had a vision. In 1988, she was faced with two questions : 1. How can we culturelink the wealth of India’s linguistic diversity to strengthen nation-building? 2. How can we reduce nonliteracy in children, in our many languages and bring the joy of reading to them?
The answer was story! The child was at the centre of their many efforts, across the many divides of poverty, social invisibility and special needs.
Proposal for a Magazine for rural children
Geeta was passionate about starting a magazine for rural children, which will convey through stories, how to improve health. She wanted to do something about children’s fantasies, dreams, hopes through the medium of story. She believed that where story is a medium of communication in a community, children become leaders of change. If they read a story, then relate the story to their parents, they can become agents of change.
Sometime in 1987, one day, she walked into UNICEF. She was shocked to find out that children were dying of diarrhoea at an alarming rate. She felt UNICEF was not doing anything for the mental health of a child.
She went to UNICEF with a proposal to start a magazine – met an official there, Mr. Augustine Vilayat. He was discouraging at first (pointed out at the heaps of proposals he had received and were yet to be read) but as soon as he found out that an article he had really liked that had appeared in a magazine recently, was by Geeta, she got support for 5-6 years.
In 1988, Katha’s work started with Tamasha magazine. Their mascot was a she-elephant. Tamasha was full of colorful illustrations and engaging text, teaching children, through stories, about health, sanitation, family well-being, environment, empowerment of the girl child. It was the beginning of Katha’s step towards holistic education. The children were encouraged to write. They used to write to Tamasha. Tamasha was translated to regional languages and went all over the country. Tamasha struck a chord with the rural children, she was their voice. Over a span of ten years, there were 17 issues of Tamasha, with readership of rural children, across 25-30,000 schools, with 30 children per unit.
Tamasha was a first of its kind magazine for rural children. It created an interest in the diverse languages and cultures of India, amongst rural children. That just set the ball rolling for Katha. There was no looking back since then.
Written by Lakshmi Nijhawan (with excerpt from Geeta Dharmarajan’s letter in the Katha Executive Director’s Report, 2014-15)