What books did you read as a child in India? They were likely by Western writers — beautiful stories that you certainly enjoyed, but that might not have represented or reflected much of what went on in your own life. You probably were not familiar with scones and ham sandwiches because you ate samosas and bajjis; you might not have even heard of lacrosse because the sport your country loved was cricket; and you must have wondered why children sang ‘rain, rain, go away’ when your sweltering city longed for some heavy showers.

When the co-founders of Karadi Tales returned to India after having lived in North America, they found a significant lack of English literature for children in India that was written by Indians and represented our culture. They also found that the concept of audiobooks, that were much loved by children around the world, not fully present here yet. And so, in 1996, Karadi Tales was born, founded by Shobha Viswanath, CP Viswanath and Narayan Parasuram — with the aim of creating a space for Indian culture in mainstream children’s literature. The beloved mascot, Karadi the bear, had just begun his storytelling journey.

Twenty three years later, located along a bustling main road in Chennai packed with buses and auto-rickshaws, Karadi Tales continues to pave the way for children’s literature in India, working to bring out beautiful books that celebrate Indian culture, Indian voices, Indian art and aesthetics.

When Karadi Tales audiobooks for children were introduced to the Indian market, they were an instant success. Far more than just stories being read out loud, these audiobooks were narrated by some of the most esteemed personalities in Indian cinema, theatre, and later, even sport. Naseeruddin Shah became the first voice of Karadi the bear. Other narrators included Saeed Jaffery, Javed Jaffery, Girish Karnad, Vidya Balan and Rahul Dravid, to name a few. The narration had exquisite background scores created by professional musicians, often inspired by classical ragas. Soon, Karadi Rhymes was released, sung by the legendary Usha Uthup, with songs that reflected what a diverse, uniquely distinct civilization ours is. The rhymes rejoiced over the monsoon, mangoes, and cricket matches, and embraced India’s diversity and the continuing vibrant march of culture, delighting and enthralling children all over
the country.

Karadi Tales picture books have a presence all over the world, with several international publishing houses buying rights to the books and translating them into many different languages. The beautiful authentic art in the books has received international appreciation, with readers and publishers from other countries admiring the rich, earthy colours, bold lines and distinctive tribal art used in the picture books.

In addition to picture books and audiobooks, Karadi Tales was the first to bring Eric Carle’s internationally renowned book The Very Hungry Caterpillar to India. This magnificent handcrafted tactile book uses everyday materials with 34 different textures so children, visually impaired or otherwise, can visualize the story and feel the caterpillar metamorphose right beneath their fingers. Another tactile book created by Karadi Tales, ABC Touch and See, produced in-house and also accompanied by braille letters, makes learning the alphabet easier for children by using regular objects found in any household. This book is also exquisitely handcrafted, making use of a variety of different materials
and textures.

Over the years, Karadi Tales has had no shortage of national and international accolades. Gentle Farmer Falgu made it to the 2019 USBBY Outstanding International Book List with Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market and to the South Asian Book Awards’ Highly Commended Books List 2019 with Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela. A Pair of Twins, with wide-eyed Sundari, who wanted to be the first girl to lead a Dusshera procession in her city, found itself listed as one of the top ten titles of 2015 by the Amelia Bloomer Project which selects the best of feminist literature for children. For three years running, Karadi Tales titles have won the Jarul Book Award, a children’s choice award which makes it even more special. In addition to all of this, it has won The Hindu Young World Goodbooks Awards, the NAPPA Award, the Dr. Toy Award, and the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award to name a few. Karadi Tales was also shortlisted for the London Book Fair Excellence Award in 2019. Its books have been featured in various prestigious lists such as White Ravens, International Board on Books for Young People, the New York Public Library’s Best Children’s Books, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program, and more. Since its launch, Karadi Tales titles have consistently been one of the largest selling publications in India. Its young readers’ love for its books reflects in impressive sales figures, with some titles having sold more than 1,00,000 copies and many having crossed
20,000 copies.

A whole generation has grown up on Karadi Tales, and a new generation is now discovering it. From 20-year-olds who now, upon entering the Karadi Tales office as interns, remember breathlessly how they screamed when the monkey fell from the tree in The Monkey King, or how shivers were sent down their spine every time Mrs. Jagged Jaws spoke in The Monkey and the Crocodile, to 4-year-olds like Vania Vriksha, a regular attendant at Karadi Tales’ storytelling sessions, who more often than not knows the ending to the stories before the storyteller can complete it.

This June, Karadi Tales turns 23, and Karadi the bear continues to be on the lookout for stories that are magical, meaningful, and memorable, all at once — and as he blows out his candles, his only wish is that his eager young listeners have a wonderful time.

write to us at editor.provoke@paulsons.in