At the turn of the 20th century there was a heightened interest in the children’s Hindi journals in India. The tradition of print was emerging, and prominent leading figures felt that is was important to instill in children a sense of national pride. Thus emerged the children’s Hindi journals that functioned as pedagogical literary instruments steeped in morals, that prodded the readers to love their country. In the early 1900s, when the murmurings of nationalist activism had metamorphosed into a loud echo, many leaders felt that children of the country should recognise that their identity is inextricably linked to their nation – a sense of pride and patriotism therefore, needed to be ingrained in them.
Hindi – a language that was projected to bind India
Children’s journals began to gain prominence as a new enterprise. Around this period, Hindi was also being positioned as a national language which would bring the country together. In her paper titled, ‘Hindi Children’s Journals and Nationalist Discourse (1910-1030)’ Shobna Nijhawan wrote, “Like other periodicals, [children’s books] projected Hindi as the common language of the people of India.” She cites a children’s journal, Khilauna as an example, which explains in one issue: “In Punjab one speaks Punjabi and one speaks Hindi in the United Provinces, Central Provinces and Bihar, Bengali in Bengal, Tamil and Telugu in Madras and Marathi and Gujarati in Bombay. Hindi is a language that can be understood by everyone…Today Hindi is Bharat’s national language. The language that can be understood and spoken in all parts of the country is called the national language. Through the national language all brothers and sisters of a country are united.”
Girls must be virtuous, modest and must have “sweet speech”
Homemaking and child-rearing was important to the agenda of the nationalist mission. Therefore, when it came to delineating and demarcating the social roles, children’s journals functioned as the the didactic instruments that informed children how to grow into responsible, socially attuned adults.
One journal for example, underlined the ideal characteristics young Indian girls should have. Kanya Manoranjan was first published in 1913 in Allahabad by Omkar Press. Though it was positioned as a playful journal where young girls could read a gamut of stories, they were in fact guiding manuals training girls how to behave in society.
Interestingly, the editor of Kanya Manoranjan was Pandit Omkarnath Vajpeyi. In its first issue he wrote with a paternalistic tone, “[Kanya Manoranjan] has a unique purpose. It is true that many good periodicals for women’s education exist. But whoever knows life will agree that small children, unmarried girls and school children cannot read articles that are designed for the entertainment and instruction of women. This is why a periodical that contains articles and poems for girls is required…Besides being instructive, we intend to provide entertainment for girls.”
The stories Kanya Manoranjan featured were steeped in morals. It once published a story of two sisters, Gunavati and Rupvati. While Rupvati was beautiful, it was Gunavati who embodied all the virtues – she was studious, she dressed modestly, she was soft spoken and she was virtuous. Due to her physical beauty, Rupvati married into an affluent family, but did not serve as a virtuous wife; she did not complete her household chores and therefore, eventually had to separate from her husband. On the other hand, since Gunavati lacked beauty and therefore married into a relatively poor family. However, since she was hospitable, devoted and had a good moral character, she was a devoted wife and brought up children who were successful in life.
At the end, the story ends with advice: “Dear daughters and sisters! From the story above you learn that good character, knowledge, domestic skill, sweet speech, and compassion are the real jewels for girls, not gold, silver and precious clothes. If you intend to be loved and happy, then come, eat the delicious fruits of the tree of wisdom, and be endowed with good character, satisfaction, modesty, hospitality, skillfulness, devotion and sweet speech.”
Kam ke Khel (Work Games) and Larkiya ke Khel (Girls’ Games)
In journals such as Kanya Manoranjan, cooking was likened to a recreational skill. Girls were led to believe that cooking was not a household chore, but something they could learn to love and enjoy. The majority of articles written in the journal were by men, while only two to three were written by women.
Nijhawan writes that in this account cooking is introduced to the children as an enjoyable activity. “Cooking becomes a game and not (yet) and future household duty…Cooking would make a girl happy and satisfy the family. The emphasis on playful learning and learning by doing is central to the children’s journals.”
In addition, there was also a poem called Larkiyo ke khel (Girls’ Games), which functions as a lesson on how to sew and stitch clothes. The reader is also taught how to cook meals for the house and how to decorate the house with flowers. The poem ends with: “All work requires patience and endurance. Whoever is impatient will fail.”
The Fervor of Patriotism
Then there were journals like Kumari Darpan (Mirror of the Maiden), published in 1916, Allahabad, whose editors were Roop Kumari Nehru and Rameshwari Nehru. The journal accompanied the main women’s journal, Stri Darpan (Women’s Mirror) as a supplement. Articles echoed a nationalist ideology.
Prior to 1910, journals rarely questioned or challenged the ruling British empire. They never voiced anything against the colonial rule. However, following Mahatma Gandhi’s cry for Satyagraha, the tables turned. In 1917, Svarup Kumari Nehru wrote an article titled, Deshbakti in Kumari Darpan that prodded the readers to work for the nation. It read: “Patriotism is to be practiced with the body, the mind and one’s possessions. As for economic wealth, there is nothing left in Bharatvarsh, which is why not everyone can serve Bharat by the means of material belongings…Whether the person is old, young, or a child, rich or poor, it is the dharma of every person to serve the country.”
Khilauna (Toy) was another children’s journal that was first published 1927 by the Hindi Press in Allahabad, which regularly featured a column dedicated to voicing anti-colonial ideology called, Desh ki Baat. It also carried poems that glorified and valorised battles and fighting for one’s nation.
“We are heroes, rebels, brave and powerful
We will be wounded, die in battle and be sacrificed.
We will dedicate our lives, leave behind all wealth and abandon everything
For the welfare of our own country, our own belief, our own people and pride.”
Courage and valour were thematically interwoven into the fabric of journals for boys, while homemaking – serving the family – was linked to the idea of serving the nation. Books and journals were considered to be crucial instruments that would sculpt the minds of a new generation of Indians who would go on to fight for their country.