A piece of our Indian childhood

logo.jpgLet’s admit it – most of our knowledge of Indian mythology comes from Amar Chitra Kathas. And even here, 7000 miles away from home, most of us have a couple of those comics stashed away in our bookshelves. Indian books are our link to our childhood, a sometimes tenuous link with our culture that we would like to hold on to and pass on to our kids. Desi Knowledge, the brainchild of Monica Khosla, is one such company which aims to help us do just that. Monica, who worked as a graphic designer, was almost relieved when she was laid off from her job a few years ago in the dot-com bust. She looked around at the Bay Area Indian community filled with young couples with babies and realized that there was a crying need for an organization that could help parents share their Indian experiences with their kids. Desi Knowledge was started as a non-profit in 2003. At first, Monica and her husband made several trips to India sourcing the books and meeting up with publishers. Apart from the fact that all the material had to be vetted for content and grammar, she also had to convey the unique perspective that was required for customers outside India. Since those early days, the company has grown exponentially to include media other than books,thumb_ack such as CDs and DVDs. She has access to publishers of Indian books based out of England and Singapore as well. “Our products start at birth and go up to 12-13 years of age,” explains Monica. “When kids are young, they are such sponges, and need to be exposed to religion, culture and language.” For the youngest ones, there are the audio C’s featuring songs and rhymes. Now the mother of a 14 thumb_dvdmonth old daughter, she is her own best customer, playing Hindi CDs in the car. She is thrilled about the fact that her daughter has picked up several phrases. Initially started as a retail establishment, Desi Knowledge has since branched out to Monica’s real love, imparting Indian culture to kids directly. She has held book readings at ICC and various public libraries and Desi Knowledge’s book fairs are becoming common around the Bay. The company has also sponsored a kid’s marathon at the Vibha fundraiser event and a kid’s program at the film festival in L.A. “Surprisingly, our clientele is not limited to Indian moms,” says Monica. “Grandparents have a vested interest in making sure kids brought up here don’t grow up knowing only the culture they are surrounded by.” Indians are also making their presence felt in their local communities which have responded by including a large sampling of Indian and themed books in the libraries. Karin Bricker is supervising librarian at the Mountain View public library. Monica approached her two years ago with materials in Indian language. “At that point our other language books were mostly in Spanish but there was a growing demand from the Indian community in the area," says Karin. "Unlikethumb_books our Spanish readers, Indians are fluent in English and use the Hindi material as a tool to teach their kids the language. We started off with board books and DVDs and have a much more varied collection now.” Karin is also thrilled with the successful book reading program Monica conducted in the library recently. Another is scheduled in the fall. Why would Indian parents chose to buy locally instead of picking up books on regular trips to India? “People don’t have the time to search in their limited time in India,” says Monica. “Besides, there is no one place in India where you can find all the 500 products we stock. Also, why keep your child from the culture for the whole year to save a couple of dollars? Culture is something that has to be inculcated in our day to day living. You can’t buy a book once a year and expect to instill culture.” To make things easier, she provides free shipping for orders over $25. “Desi Knowledge is just a start of the whole grand idea,” adds Monica. “Our intention is to be able to be a platform for parents bringing their children up away from India. We have developed focus groups from our customer base for a variety of ideas. For instance, it was the focus group that came up with the idea of Indian themed goodie bags. They help us review our products and suggest new ideas. Eventually we want to be a forum for parents to share their experiences.” Desi Knowledge thrives on customer input. Do give them feedback on their products and your experience at their site. Idea for the article contributed by reader Amit.

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