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City Lights
New chapter for junior zone

Over 1,500 books, hundreds of interactive CDs, online resources. All that and a splash of colour have opened British Council Library’s (BCL) doors once again to children. The Young Learner’s Zone is back by popular demand, purely for kids. It has been around 25 years since the BCL dismantled its children’s section. “But there has been a very big demand from users and non-users to bring it back,” said Sujata Sen, director, British Council, east India.

The collection has been put together after extensive research into titles, CDs and websites. The print collection also includes the top names in illustration as well as writing. From cherished favourites Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton to contemporary classics by J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman, the selection, which is to grow to 4,000 titles, caters to readers between the ages of six and 14.

On offer is the best of modern British literature. Apart from the popular fantasy and adventure tales, there is also a representation from the “social realism” genre, in the form of Jacqueline Wilson’s works, like The Worry Website, “contemporary books which cater to the children’s contemporary imagination”, explained Sen.

P. Jayarajan, head of the Council’s Indian library network, attended the Calcutta launch of the kid’s corner on Friday, which coincided with the first anniversary of BCL’s Camac Street premises and Teachers’ Day. Jayarajan has frequently received complaints from members that while the library offers wonderful material for adults, they have to return home empty-handed to their kids. Now, of the 11 British Council Libraries in India, nine have children’s sections, all “heavily used”. Parents frequently bring kids in on Saturdays, leaving their wards to read or check out CDs, while they head for their own shelves.

Most of the tools aim to help kids learn. Some of the CDs can be taken home and may come in useful for homework assignments. Others have to be accessed at the library itself and require Internet back-up. There is also a selection meant for teachers’ use in classrooms.

Events for kids will now also be regular features, like a wildlife quiz, slated for October. But first, Joan Tinker, a designer, will conduct workshops on September 22 and 23 for students and teachers at Manovikas Kendra and at the library. At other centres around the country, interactive sessions like writing, Internet usage and even clay-modelling workshops have become regular fixtures on the BCL calendar.

There are a number of membership plans, including those specifically for kids, family packages and institutional schemes for schools. Sadly, adults have to steer clear, as only those with a Young Learner’s Zone card can take the books home.

But to appease parents, a useful service has been recently launched for adults. An extensive database, Ebsco, “the world’s largest scholarly, multi-disciplinary, full-text database”, is now available to members.


Film fest

It’s a feast of films for the Calcutta connoisseur this month. The American Center is presenting a package of nine award-winning short films from September 5 to 10. The British Council’s festival of films comprises stories written by women, for women and with central female characters, from September 8 to 12.

The short films will be screened at Gorky Sadan, during Calcutta’s maiden International Short Fiction Film Festival, organised by Kalpanirjhar Foundation, headed by director Goutam Ghose. The director in focus is Ron Lazaretti, and three of his films, Flowers, Last Day and Wedding Night, will be shown.

Also on the menu are Kalman Apple’s Oscar-nominated Speed for Thespians, Tom Putnam’s Tom Hits His Head, nominated for the 2004 Academy Awards, Anna Dudley’s Jacob’s Sound, Seth Wiley’s The Good Things, Mark L. Feinsod’s A Sense of Entitlement and David Kittridge’s Target Audience.

It’s girl power all the way at the British Council, with five films being screened at Nandan II. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, directed by Marleen Goris, is a romantic drama, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha McHolne. Hideous Kinky stars Kate Winslet, and is directed by Gillies MacKinnon. In A.S. Byatt’s story, Julia takes her two daughters to Morocco in search of adventure. Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams star in The Heart of Me, directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan and written by Rosamund Lehmann.

British-Asian writer Meera Syal, of Bombay Dreams fame, portrays the life of Meena, 12, growing up in an English Midlands village, in Anita and Me. The bittersweet comedy is directed by Metin Hüseyin and stars Anna Brewster, Chandeep Uppal, Max Beesley and Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Persuasion, based on Jane Austen’s novel, is set in 1814 England. Amanda Roots stars as a naïve, young girl persuaded to go against her will in this Roger Michell film.

Staying with women and films, British Council hosts the launch of Sangeeta Dutta’s book on Shyam Benegal, World Directors, on September 10, 7 pm.


Centenary sights

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai was in the headlines just a few days ago for all the wrong reasons, with a blast at its doorstep. Now it is time to revisit the legendary hotel in all its grandeur. Monday will see the centenary celebrations of the Taj hotels kick off in Calcutta, and the accent is naturally on the oldest star in its portfolio.

Taj Bengal will host a photography exhibition featuring vintage snapshots of the group’s various establishments. A recital by Nishat Khan will be followed by the premiere of The Taj of Apollo Bunder, a film about the Mumbai landmark directed by Zafar Hai.


River to river

When he began his career as a photographer Dev Nayak used to consider Kumartuli a cliché. Ultimately, it was because of the image-makers of this north Calcutta neighbourhood that he was called upon to exhibit his photographs at the National Museum of Denmark. In spite of his initial reservation he realised later that a comprehensive project has never been done on Kumartuli. The 29-year-old took the pictures over a period of time and a grant from the Indian Foundation for Arts encouraged him.

A Danish film-maker had seen his works first and subsequently, a small exhibition was held at Cardiff. The theme was Kali. Last September, the curator of the Denmark museum came to Calcutta and finalised Nayak’s exhibition. The exhibition titled Shakti — God is a woman, opened on August 22 and in spite of having to pay a rather steep entry fee, it was well attended, says Nayak. The photos traced the journey of the goddess from the river as clay used to make the image, and ended in the river with the immersion. Apart from the 72 photographs, 21 images were taken from Calcutta and exhibited for the first time in Denmark. The sounds and music associated with Durga puja were played as the background score. Visitors were interested in the rituals of the puja, particularly the custom of kalabau. The clay images will form part of the permanent collection of the museum. The exhibition continues till December 14.

Nayak is now looking for a publisher. He is not interested in bringing out a coffee table book. He wants his photographs to be part of a reference book so that one can go back to them again and again.


Fresh paint

K.G. Subramanyan is widely acknowledged as one of India’s leading contemporary artists, a scholar and an influential teacher. As an artist he has the ability to constantly renew himself and to experiment with different media, modulating his language to suit the demands of a particular medium. K.G. will hold an exhibition of his recent works at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre from September 6 to 25.

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