Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Listen to the Wind

Listen to the Wind
The story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson & Susan L. Roth
Collages by
Susan L. Roth

Ages : 5-8

As ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, we may not ever venture to climb the K-2, lose our way and accidentally discover a village that will change our lives forever, but through this book, we certainly can, and hold our children's hands while we do it.

This book is a story about Three Cups of Tea, of how an ordinary man like Greg Mortensen, had a vision to climb K2, the second highest, and even more dangerous peak of the world, to leave a necklace of his deceased sister there. And how he loses his way, and walks off the trail and instead meets his destiny. But it is at a level that children in the ages of 5-8 can read and experience for themselves. I have never come across a children's book before, which is written after an adult version of the same book, and that in itself, makes it exciting. For here is a way to share what moved me, with my own son.

But let's plunge right in...! As soon as you open the book, you meet the children of Korphe, one of the last villages of the Karakoram mountain range, before the landscape is totally taken over by the rugged peaks. The people here are some of the poorest in the world, and the school the children go to, is the outdoors, writing with sticks on the dust of the ground. And this is how things would have continued, had not Dr. Greg, as he is fondly called by the villagers, stumbled into their village one day, noticed the extreme conditions, and vowed to build a proper school for them. He is a man of meager means, and the way he sets about gathering funds, buying materials, and getting into the actual logistics of building a school in that high altitude zone, is what forms the crux of the book.

After all the hurdles are crossed, the school indeed gets built, and every person in that village has lent a hand in its rising. While the men lay the stones for the classroom walls, the women carry the water to mix the cement, and the children wedge tiny slivers of stones into the cement to make it stronger. The way that school comes up, gives the term 'community' a whole new dimension.

Listen to the Wind is a curious title for this story. When Dr. Greg was about to leave Korphe that first time, he asked the headman Haji Ali, to help him think of a something special he could do for Korphe. And Haji Ali tells him to ....listen to the wind. Dr. Greg closes his eyes, and from the distance hears the voices of the children reading their lessons, the sounds carried by the wind. And he realises what he must now do. The story ends with the same phrase, but not before the children of Korphe tell you that they can now read, and add and subtract, and explore maps....they now have a better way of life, thanks to one man.

I love the enterprise of sharing the work of a noble crusader through the means of a children's book. In addition to the pretty picture books and the rich fantasy escapes, our children also benefit from something that is so rooted in reality. The book ends with a lot of real life pictures of the school, Dr. Greg, the children of Korphe, and a wonderful note from the artist, whose work simply has to be mentioned. All the illustrations are done through the use of the collage medium. Susan Roth was very inspired by the way the people of Balti (the region to which Korphe belonged) never let a thing go to waste and found a way to use even the most discarded of things into everything else. So her collage makes use of all kinds of paper lying around her studio, in an effort to honour this deliberate, aesthetic use of things.

On a personal note, Winkie really enjoyed this book. He was fascinated by K2, and that sparked off a whole different discussion of geography and general knowledge, and by the idea that these kids studied in a school which they had helped to build. He now knows the name of at least one little village in the far flung mountains of North Pakistan, and that if you stay quiet long enough, you too will hear the voices of the children trailing down, as you...listen to the wind.


[This book is also available for young readers as Three Cups of Tea.]


utbtkids said...

We are reading this book currently. The girls liked it because they are aware of PfP. The fact that all materials for constructing the school had been bought, but still they had to fist construct a rope bridge to even get the materials to the village touched me. For these people to realize the importance of education and to fight against nature to get things done....wow!

Sheela said...

Wow, T! Three Cups of Tea gripped me for months... and now, "...here is a way to share what moved me, with my own son." Thanks for sharing!

d said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
d said...

i had the book with me for weeks and read it only after i read your review T! i loved it and now want this one for my girls - anyone knows if it is available in bangalore?

Choxbox said...

Wow wow wow. What a pick T.

Thanks so much, am putting this on my wish list right away.

@d: Will let you know if/when I dig it out, you do the same!

d said...

sure thing chox.
i also asked the people at pratham for handmade in india when they get a copy.
you have read 'chuskit goes to school'? also by pratham, also nice. written by an amazing person, a cousin -in-law.

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