Mera joota hai japani, yeh patloon engistani, sar pe lal topi roosi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani,” this immortal song of Raj Kapoor I have heard, loved and enjoyed hundreds of times. But I never, ever expected that I would get to hear this melody in the presentation hall of an international conference in Copenhagen, that too in the resonant voice of a Mongolian writer and story teller from Ulaanbaatar!
But yes it’s true. The enduring song was rendered by Dashdondog Jamba, the greatest living children’s writer from the land of Genghis Khan.
Dashdondog has been weaving yarns, telling tales and above all nurturing and nourishing the story telling culture in Mongolia for nearly two decades. He published his first book when he was barely 17 and is now the author of 72 children’s books. 24 of his books have been translated into other languages and published in various countries. He has translated into Mongolian fifty titles written by famous writers. He is also known worldwide for his efforts to make available books to Mongolian children at their door step.
In early 90s when Mongolia’s new democratic system came into force and the nation was coming to grip with the economic changes, children’s book publishing houses and libraries were on the edge of collapse in Mongolia. Distressed by this situation I embarked on a mission to enhance the involvement of children in literature and thereby catalyze their intellectual development and growth. I realized that there were no books for children anywhere in the country that were free of Communist propaganda. Also, there were no schools or libraries that possessed good children’s literature. So I published as many of my books as I could afford, bought an ox cart and began taking my books out into the country where most of the children lived. Since the books were short, the children could read them quickly. I couldn’t leave the books behind because I had only a limited supply, so I would spend a few days where there were a lot of children.”
Over the years Dashdondog has been involved in several path breaking initiatives. The launch of the first newspaper written by children in 1991, the Uran Jirgee (Bird’s Sound) State reading competition organized in 1994, establishment of a “Children’s Cultural Foundation” to save children from intellectual poverty in 1998 and “The Legend of Stone” - a horse cart excursion organized three times so far since 2000, as well as a library on the humps of a Camel are some of the writer’s brilliant initiatives.
Besides, Dashdondog’s mobile library, which is managed by his family, has traveled more than 75,000 kms through the Mongolian desert since 2001. His book fund which started with 108 books now has over 10,000 books. He has also built “Uncle Dondog’s Poem Palace” in Bulgan province’s Buregkhangai unit in 2003, which is now a famous tourist attraction.
Meeting Dashdondog was a real delight. With his cherubic smile, bright sparkling eyes and an endearing countenance he inspires trust. No wonder wherever he has gone in Mongolia he has succeeded in winning the love, affection and confidence of children. On being questioned whether it is difficult to write for children, he answers: “Why should it be difficult? The writer is not me but a frolicsome boy who is hiding inside me.”
The writer’s mission is not restricted to merely entertaining children – he wants to help them imbibe the time cherished values of love, peace, truth and camaraderie through reading books and listening to tales.
“If children of the world can grow up understanding each other and believe in unity then mankind will forever forget the word ‘WAR’,” he says.
He has won several awards and accolades for his initiatives. These include the IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Award – 2006 for his Mobile Library project. Many of his stories and poems have been put to song and even made into movies and plays that have been staged in the main theaters of Mongolia. He is at present the Founder and Chairman of the Mongolian Section of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People).
With his magical ability to mesmerize, entertain and elevate the young ones, Dashdondog Jamba is clearly the Hans Christian Anderson as well as the Pied Piper of Mongolia rolled into one.
And here is the final word from the Pied Piper, “Candy will melt in your mouth but books will stay forever in your mind.” Touché!