By Evarisha M. Syiem
The Mystery of the Cave
Ka Krem Pubon Ba Phylla
In English and Khasi
Glenn C. Kharkongor, author
Patricia Mukhim, translator
Careen J. Langstieh, illustrator
MLCU Press 2023
The book was released on Children’s Day, November 14, 2023, at the Shillong Literary Festival. In a departure from convention, the first book was unwrapped on stage by a six-year old boy, Chozen, Other children joined in and four more copies were unpacked onstage with great excitement.
Patricia Mukhim said that the idea for the book grew out of a caving expedition to Mawmluh Cave, famous for being the source of the stalagmite from which the onset of the Meghalayan Age was calculated. Glenn Kharkongor explained that children’s story books are in a larger sense, an advocacy for children’s right to dream and learn. Children have no voice, and the means to grow and develop must be supplied by adults. Careen Langstieh spoke about the importance of visual learning as opposed to the dominant pedagogy of learning from text. Perhaps, more than the text, a child admires the illustrations with more wonder and curiosity.
The well-timed release of this book on Children’s Day, was a wonderful event that celebrated a treasure trove of imagination and wonder – the beauty of children’s books. Children’s books are not mere collections of words and illustrations. For those of us who grew up reading or have read to our children, we know that books are portals to magical realms. They are architects of dreams that take children to places that they have never been before.
What is one of the most distinct features of children’s books is the ability to instill lifelong values. Through the whimsical adventures of the characters in the book, children learn the values of kindness, friendship, courage and of love and these are values that will hold them in good stead as they navigate through life. I feel that many a time, children’s books act as moral compasses that guide a child through the wisdom of ageless tales.
In a world that is now dominated by screens, there is nothing like the tangible experience of holding a children’s book, or any book for that matter, but especially a children’s book. The smell of the pages, the weight of the book in a child’s hands, the sound of the pages as they turn- all these create an unforgettable multisensory experience in a child’s mind.
This is a book born out of a passion for culture as well as children. I feel that there is no better way to preserve nature, or to instill knowledge and awareness about nature than to look at nature through the lens of culture and of children. To this end, it is our responsibility to provide for and to equip the younger generation with a sense of awareness and respect for what still exists in nature around them. We can then hope that they will grow up with a deep sense of oneness with their natural surroundings. Valuing and preserving nature will hopefully then become a natural instinct to them.
This is the first of its kind, a bilingual book with Khasi and English voices. Having a dual language book will go a long way in aiding comprehension as a child reads the book or is being read to. Besides comprehending the story in the stronger language, the child will learn vocabulary and sentence structures from the second language. The book will offer a learning experience of a different kind for a child. The illustrations are like visual symphonies.
As we embrace the enchantment in the pages of this book, let us not forget in our own homes to ensure that every child has the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful journey that reading offers – a journey that begins simply with the turning of a page.