When was the last time you heard a child ask their parents and grandparents to share stories of their childhood? Lovely children stories such as “lakdhri ki katti katti par godhra godhray kee duum par jo maara hotora” ringing a tune in my head so vividly, and all those stories of “chirya and kawa” being narrated on Radio Pakistan. It feels our childhood days were unique, and our innocence has been lost in the wired up digital world of today.
But, even in these digitally bound wired up lifestyle we have two simply inspirational personalities who have taken on themselves to become the storytellers of our future generation like we had our grandparents, parents and Radio Pakistan during our childhood years. Talea Zafar and Rabia Gharib, both are such an inspiration to our country and our youth. They have taken it upon themselves to bring the stories, poems, and songs to our future generation in our national language “Urdu” through “Toffee TV” a sustainable business venture that kicked off on July 4, 2011.
They too like myself feel that our language is not given the importance that it should receive, and children right at the start ‘Go’ in school are hammered down with English which nowadays does not seem like our second language at all. Parents are ashamed to speak with their children in Urdu and prefer conversations even in their homes in English. However, I too feel like Talea and Rabia, that it was more a fault of publishers and content creators who never moved along with changing times. English content is available on the internet by thousands of varied publishers, but producing interesting and fun based content in Urdu was and is our country’s responsibility. Our educationists who need to pull themselves out from traditionally written books to digital books, and colorful, visually appealing content, using new technology for today’s digital age.
Toffee TV is a digital library of Urdu poems and stories for children who are born with digital tablets and Android phones in their hands, and digital education is the new era of learning. Homeschooling in certain parts of the world is gaining popularity as well simply due to the ease of educational content available on the web. Talea Zafar the founder and CEO of Toffee TV reiterates that the poems and stories in our textbooks are quite monotonous for children of today with very short attention span; therefore, she wanted to create a medium through which Pakistan’s children get familiarised with their national language in a fun way. Toffee TV took the responsibility of churning out known content into Urdu with the help of colorful, vibrant animations and catchy tunes. Talea is the chief illustrator giving it the color and shape, along with her business acumen making it into a sustainable and growing business. While Rabia is the co-founder or the chief wrapper, the IT guru creating music and adding 100’s of storytelling voices a talent she knew but hardly used to narrate stories and taking children into their own imaginative world. Rabia brings her experience from the digital and social media world.
Rabia started off with using Urdu stories, and is now using English nursery rhymes that do not have an Urdu version, giving them a jingle for children to remember. Most of the content produced is very Pakistani, and is easily related to the Pakistani culture and traditions. The Urdu version of ‘Wheels on the Bus’, “Bus Kay Payyay” shows a conductor in a waistcoat hanging by the bus, and a burqa-clad women to give the stories a familiar look and feel.
Rabia and Talea, are not only producing digital content but have also given back to the children of Pakistan the art of storytelling through live events. They initiated Toffee TV ‘Kahani’ with none other than Sania Saeed who brought ‘Kahani Corner’ during our childhood days. Children of all ages gather around while Sania and the team tell stories to children opening their little world of imagination and wonder. Now, Toffee TV is even more successful with its brigade of volunteers, student volunteers who not only participate in telling stories, hold storytelling workshops, but new content is created by the children for children. Parents are more than eager to have their children be a part of Toffee TV, and excitedly like to show off their child’s work on the internet to other parents. Not only are children learning the art of storytelling, but also enthusiastic parents who want to learn the art to bring it back in their homes, attend workshops held by Talea and Rabia.
The duo are constantly working to improve and make their Urdu poems and stories accessible to a wider audience. They have now introduced Mobile Apps for Nokia, Android and iPhone applications for users to subscribe and use their content anywhere and everywhere wherever needed. More so, now you can find dozens of ‘How To’ videos as well, making it all the more classroom and teacher friendly as well. Not only is their work inspirational but also exceptionally original and motivating for children, adults and easily accessible and perfect to use in schools and classrooms to add a new flavor to school life.
I am personally in love with what Talea and Rabia have ventured out to do, as this is such a beautiful resource especially that can be used in the low-end community and government schools. This will not only give children a chance to learn and remember more, access to content they would never know existed otherwise, but also gives them the opportunity to tap into their imagination. It takes them away from their regular worried life and who knows this could help in producing storytellers, actors, animators, designers and writers. So next time, you hear a relative or a friend complain that their child lacks interest in Urdu, or does not even know or can relate to Urdu, direct them to Toffee TV.