'C' for Chatter:
Project Chatterbox Editorial
“I want to stop talking so much”, says 12 year old Aatreyee. “Everyone tells me I talk a lot. My parents, cousins, friends... I sometimes eat their heads off! But I have so much to say…” Mithi, from the other section of grade 7, has something similar to add. “This year, I will try to talk less”, she resolves. It’s the year 2021. We are discussing New Year’s Resolutions in my virtual, middle-school English classroom. Their reflections sound so strongly like the familiar voices in books. Yet there is also a difference.
"My ears are ringing:/ sit still, be quiet/ speak up, wait!// But tell me:/ Why do you always get/ the biggest slice of cake?" (41, Haartjes op mijn arm 1984, The Little Hairs On My Arm)
The child narrator from Haartjes op mijn arm 1984, The Little Hairs On My Arm translated by Vanessa Joosen questions the silencing adult’s authority in much the same rhetorical fashion as the protagonist in the post-partition Bengali song by Annada Sankar Ray.
“Teler shishi bhanglo bole/ Khukur pore raag koro/ Tomra je shob buro khoka/ Bharat bhenge bhaag koro/ taar bela tar bela taar bela
Annada Sankar Ray
When the little girl breaks the vial of oil,/ She incurs your wrath as if it were an act of despoil!/ What about the many ways in which you petty man-children/ have broken up india, so verdant and rich/ What about that?” (Boral)
Child activists and popular icons on television and media are constantly critiquing the facades of power. They question the audacity of a money making machinery stealing their rights, their environment, their childhood, their voices. "How dare you?", Greta yells deep and loud; (Thunberg) And "who did you exploit today/ when the revolution comes, where will you hide?", booms the young girl at Wall Street as she thrusts out her mic.
However, the average chatterbox from my classroom is rarely as outspoken. Clipped between the jaws of institutional discipline and punishment, I see soft sites of subversion or claim at authority – be it through overzealous rectification of classmate’s grammar at class discussion, or subdued confession about a text being boring. They speak to negotiate extra marks, for a little slice of information about whether their new teacher is a Marvel or DC fan or into K-pop or manga, to rally against the atrocities of writing assignments.
Sharing a classroom with them was to constantly tussle with the hooked end of questions such as: how do we end up silencing children’s voices, how are we trivialising their ideas in discussions and narratives, how do we shoulder the authority vested in us without stifling imagination or squandering room for mischief, how do I encourage critical literacy while being open to criticism.
“Most children are amazing critical thinkers before we silence them.” (Bell Hooks)
The silencing project bellowed, fostered, grew thick with the dust of the years. The Chatterbox Project was a call to envision a home, classroom and world, out beyond the ideas of discipline and punish; a conversation born of understanding and not condescension or spite; a safe place; a classroom not docile, but unpoliced, wild. A place where you only needed to be, where no one was the louder, the quieter, the mightier, the lesser, the misfit, the weaker, or too much of anything. A place to come home, to speak and exist.
We had very little to fall back upon owing to the mayhem unleashed by the pandemic. Yet, despite all odds and without any bargain my contributors reciprocated tenfold the love I put into this project. I would like to thank all of them for being such wonderful artists, scholars and indomitable chatterboxes. I am thankful to Upasana Das for her look back on the verbal tussle and transgression in the Bengali comic books of Narayan Debnath titled “A Battle of Wits: Talkative Children in the Nante Fante Comics of Narayan Debnath”.
Special thanks to Professor Annie McCarthy for “An Archive of Prize-Winning Chatterboxes", to Riya N. for her silent comics that made noise, to Gitanjali Joshua for her brilliant compilation of words and art, a memoriam for fictional chatterboxes. Thank you Sethulakshmi Vinayan, Subashini Ravichandran and Sayujya Sankar for the blackout poetry. My heartfelt thanks to my juniors Sampriti and Sneha for taking me up on last minute requests for reading list design and coming up with wonderful pieces like “In between Babbles and বকবক: A Reading List on Bengali Chatterboxes” and “A Chatterbox Reading List” . Thanks to Deepty Victor for her wonderful illustration to go with.
Thank you Talyn for bearing with my antics and for all the help with blog design. Finally, thanks to the wonderful people at CCYSC, to Divya and Anandini and the truly warm and generous performers, read-aloud-ers, artists, blog designers, writers and contributors, what was just a pipe dream could come to fruition. For this and many others, I’ll be forever grateful. Here’s to children who bite dust and speak their minds and those who lift them up.
Assche, Van Armand, and Paul De Becker. Haartjes Op Mijn Arm: poëzie. Altiora, 1984.
Joosen, Vanessa. Adulthood in Children's Literature. Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.
“Remember When One Black Girl Single-Handedly Took Down Wall Street Greed?” Google, Google,
Staff, NPR. “Transcript: Greta Thunberg's Speech At The U.N. Climate Action Summit.” NPR, NPR, 23 Sept.
“Teler Shishi Archives - Daak: Postcards from the Attic.” Daak, 23 Aug. 2018, daak.co.in/tag/teler-shishi/.
Yancy, George, and Bell Hooks. “Bell Hooks: Buddhism, the Beats and Loving Blackness.” The New York
Times, The New York Times, 10 Dec. 2015, opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/bell-hooks-buddhism-the-beats-and-loving-blackness/.
By: Ahona Das
I am an ardent lover of all things fictional and believe after Ursula K Le Guin that fiction is the carrier-bag of life or life-stories. Hailing from Kolkata, I did my Bachelor's in English Literature from Presidency University and recently finished my Masters from The Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. My academic interest lies in the intersection between children's literature and comic studies. For my Masters's dissertation, I worked on the representations of child readers in fiction. There are few things in life that I hold dear: the refuge of books, the resilience of friendships, and anything that makes me feel alive. In my free time, I run an online journal called Birdhouse Poetrywatch documenting stories of lesser-known writers, artists and storytellers.
Published: February 27, 2021