Kahani – Once upon a time

By Vidya Pradhan

“Hey, here is a story about a girl who would rather read comic books than practice piano,” I said, hiding a grin. “Let me see, let me see,” said my 11-year old son, who is definitely guilty of the same behavior. He grabbed the magazine out of my hands. By the end of the evening the glossy pages were sticky with jam and milk and decorated in curry colors. Such is the power of Kahani .

A few years ago, Monica Jain faced a dilemma that all South Asian mothers do – her daughter was stuck in a literary rut between Nancy Drew and Indian books and neither really spoke to her about her life and experiences as a second generation Indian American. So Monica, who has a background in both print and broadcast journalism, decided to take the plunge and start a children’s magazine that bridged the divide. The first issue of Kahani was published in 2004, a trial issue to gauge interest. When the beautifully produced magazine got rave reviews, Monica and a group of friends decided to make a go of it.

Kahani is a magazine for kids in the ages of 6-11 though many of its subscribers buy it to read aloud to younger kids. Each issue has three original short stories, a profile of a successful Indian American, science facts, book reviews and lots of features wrapped around a theme. For instance, the winter issue from early this year was themed around music with excellent articles on the correlation between math and music, information on ragas and talas, a spotlight on an Indian opera singer, apart from the short stories, all of which revolve around music. The language is simple and readable and the entire magazine is structured around the shorter attention spans of children. The stories are as likely to feature American characters as they are to refer to Indian customs and traditions. One memorable story had a little girl’s American friend fascinated by her collection of chania cholis. Another explains Raksha Bandhan in an entertaining way. Kahani’s content and production values have been so exceptional that the magazine has won several awards, including the prestigious Parent’s Choice Approved Award for 2007. “The volunteer spirit in the South Asian community is alive and well,” says Monica of her numerous writers and illustrators, who contribute purely out of love for children and a desire to give them literature that is reflective of their multicultural identity. The piano story mentioned earlier was written by Narinder Dhami , author of Bend It Like Beckham and illustrated by Ambreen Butt, who recently won the Maud Morgan prize given by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston. Stories by other prestigious authors are in the wings. “Our issues are like limited editions of these artists’ work!” says Monica. And indeed, some parents of very young children have already begun collecting the issues to keep. The team went through some upheaval early on when some members left for personal reasons. New members joined right away and the transition was so smooth that “it was as if Kahani was meant to be,” says Monica. Sunitha Das is the Business Director for Kahani . She explains that it has been a conscious decision not to put ads in the magazine. “Why should young kids be exposed to ads?” is her philosophy. “We want to keep reading time pure,” echoes Monica. This means that the magazine is, at this time, entirely dependent on subscriptions. At $20 a year, it may never be a multi-million dollar business. But the team has the passion and drive to make it self-sustaining. The goal is to make the magazine accessible to every South Asian child in the country, whether through direct subscription or at the local library. The high production quality sustains the magazine through several hundred eager pairs of hands. Kahani has a unique appeal to our children’s plural identities and deserves to take its place among the Highlights™ and National Geographic™ magazines that currently occupy our kids’ bookshelves. “I only read fantasy stories,” says my picky son, “ but this is pretty good.” ‘Nuff said. To subscribe, contribute stories, or to just check out Kahani, go here .

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