CHENNAI: Welcome to my Jungle, I am Karadi the bear. Stories and adventures, with you I will share...’ sings a brown bear with a scarf, greyish goatee, and a Gandhi cap — The Karadi Tales theme evokes a sense of nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the 90s. The award-winning independent children’s book publishing house has been shortlisted for the International Excellence Award London Book Fair, under the Audiobook Publisher of the Year Award category.
“Almost every year, we come across the LBF Excellence Award, but it never struck us that we should apply for it. This year, we did, and we were shortlisted on the basis of our high-quality content, and partnership with the Karadi Path Education Company,” says an excited Shobha Viswanath, co-founder of Karadi Tales.
The publishing house, established in 1996, was a pioneer in the children’s audiobook industry in India. “Back then, audiobooks were unheard of in India. We wanted to fill the gap in the market. So, we established Karadi Tales, and began creating audio books that were different — stories were narrated by acclaimed character actors, background scores and situational songs were added and the stories were set to professionally performed music, like Bollywood,” she recalls.
The publishing house began its journey with retellings of classic fables from the Panchatantra and the Jataka Tales. “We couldn’t think of anyone but Naseeruddin Shah for the narration. We sourced his associate’s number and faxed a letter to them. We were invited to his house in Bandra in Mumbai; we met him and told him about the idea. He was convinced and there were no negotiations. He agreed to be the voice to the first set of stories,” she shares. Actors including Javed Jaffrey, Ratna Pathak, Sanjay Dutt, and Soha Ali Khan have also narrated stories for Karadi Tales.
Back then audio recordings were not digital but analog. “We had to get it right in one take; otherwise, the entire recording had to be redone. There were no pitch corrections, auto-corrections-tuning or anything of that sort. We just used to rehearse the story before going to the studio. The recording used to look like a live radio-play,” she recalls. The audiobooks have been on prestigious lists including The New York Public Library’s Best Children’s Books, and IBBY.
From cassettes, audio C Ds, DVDs to e-video books, Karadi Tales has adapted to the rampant changes in technology. “Today, visually there’s an overload. So, people want to step back and just listen to stories. That’s the reason audiobooks and podcasts are seeing a boom, they are becoming more popular. I can see it becoming a big thing,” she says.
Karadi Path, a partner company of Karadi Tales has also been taking the audiobooks to remote parts of the country — to first-generation English learners. “We did about 12 years of R&D to deconstruct the way we learn language naturally from our environment. About seven years ago, we established the company and began reconstructing a rich language environment in the classrooms through various approaches — we use a methodology known as immersive learning,” shares CP Viswanath, co-founder of Karadi Tales and Director of Karadi Path.
It is now part of the curriculum in over 3,000-odd schools, benefiting over half a million students, many of whom are at the bottom of the income pyramid. “A language can be learned through self-learning and self-discovery, but I need to build an environment that stimulates, and gives that opportunity. In this journey, audiobooks have become a beautiful staple of the process,” he says. They have also partnered with the Indian Government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, The State Council of Educational Research and Training, and several social welfare schools.
The LBF Excellence Awards will take place on March 12 in Olympia, London. “There’s no telling if we will win the award, but with the work we have done, there is a good chance. We are so glad to be shortlisted in the category,” shares Shobha.