A for 'Abba', B for ‘Billi’, C for ‘Captain’… The same alphabet, but a different way of teaching it. The Gully Dictionary is exactly as the name suggests—a picture dictionary, created for kids growing up in the ‘gullies’ of India.
This initiative by The Voice Company—a Gurugram-based advertising agency—was created for non-profit Junoon, a foundation that feeds, clothes and teaches street kids in Mumbai. "When I started The Voice Company, I wanted to do work that made a difference and enriched human lives.
That’s exactly what The Gully Dictionary stands for," says founder and creator Bodhisatwa Dasgupta. A lot of the words in the dictionary have a slight Bollywood touch to it. This was done because the creators realised it would be a fun way to engage the kids through some words they’re already familiar with. So, one has words such as 'entry', or 'hero', or even 'picture'.
The idea was to do the imagery in such a way that the kids respond to the familiarity of it. "When Dasgupta told me about his idea for The Gully Dictionary, I was immediately excited because I knew the kids I teach would absolutely love it," says Haimanti Sen, founder of Junoon. For example, the word ‘hero’ has a character that looks a bit like Salman Khan.
This way, the creators felt that kids would take an actual interest in learning how the word is spelled and the phonetics. "Having these words in a book makes the process of education less daunting for kids, and more fun for teachers," adds Sen.
The idea took birth when Sen took Dasgupta through some of the materials she uses to teach the kids from the street. He asked her if there was a dictionary she uses, and she said no. That was the starting point. Arpita Ganesh, co-founder of The Voice Company, says, "Kids have evolved and so has their vocabulary, but we’re still teaching from the same old books. The Gully Dictionary was created to break that monotony, by offering a well-designed dictionary for street kids using words that were more fun."
The book is print-ready, but due to the pandemic it is yet to reach its intended beneficiaries. In another first, the book also uses Gond art for its illustrations. Dasgupta elaborates, "When I was researching the kind of art I wanted for the book, I came across the forgotten texture of Gond. For me, the art form represented childlike freedom in the way the colours flowed, in how raw the drawings were. And I wanted this book to have that element of rawness. Because that’s who the children are."
The Gully Dictionary is the second book Dasgupta has worked on aimed at kids. The first book he did was for kids with learning disabilities. Called The Dolch Project, it invited writers from all over the world to write stories for kids using just 220 words.