Pratham Books is a not-for-profit publisher based in India, a spin-off of one of the largest non-governmental organizations in the country, whose mission is to put ‘a book into every child’s hand’. The StoryWeaver platform is part of their efforts to achieve this by publishing multilingual stories on a great variety of topics, from fantasy to science and nature, life skills, history and folktales. The platform features some 9,060 stories in 118 languages from India and beyond. These can be used in classrooms as educational material (including for translation exercises) or read at home; they can also be saved to an offline library for those who do not have constant access to the internet.
My collaboration with StoryWeaver began around 2016, when I volunteered to translate some of the stories on the platform into her mother tongue, Romanian. I was soon inspired to write my own story, which is loosely based on my first monograph about the history of telegraphy and journalism in colonial India. The Magic Mango is the story of two siblings, Tara and Arun, who discover an old newspaper in their grandmother’s attic. They open it and embark on a historical adventure about a magic mango seed and a little boy who tried to telegraph it from India to London at the end of the nineteenth century. The story was illustrated by Ioan Balcosi and translated into eight other languages: Bengali, French, Hindi, Kannada, Kora, Marathi, Romanian and Tamil. You can read my short essays on the translation process and my own linguistic journey here and here.
In 2018, I ran a workshop for children at the local library in my hometown Satu Mare in Romania. I used this opportunity to read the story, but also to talk about what historians do–thank you Anya Andreeva, Arvind Das, Shi-lin Loh, Barend Noordam and Tania Woloshyn for providing pictures of your work. This was also a good opportunity to put on display the only telegram I have ever received: a birthday message from my uncle, sent way back in 1989, about three months before the Romanian Revolution. The children then learned to send telegrams in Morse code, a skill they put to good use by sending messages to their family members, pets and various imaginary friends! You can see some of the pictures from that event below.
*Illustration credit: Ioan Balcosi; Images: author’s archive