Toffee TV: A delicious way to reappraise Urdu

Published: September 30, 2011
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An online learning portal has been launched to revive the love for Urdu in the hearts of young children. GRAPHIC: ESSA MALIK

An online learning portal has been launched to revive the love for Urdu in the hearts of young children. GRAPHIC: ESSA MALIK

LAHORE: 

For quite a while, one would lament the lack of quality programming for children. Sure, we had our “Ainak Wala Jin” and “Uncle Sargam” days, but there has never really been anything catering to the incredibly young in recent times, and more so, in Urdu.

With a significant section of the literary population now opting for an English medium education for their children, an inadvertent lack of our own literary tradition is being witnessed within the urban populace that, at best, has a distant, almost colonial fascination with Urdu and, at worst, shuns the language. An upcoming initiative titled Toffee TV, an online enterprise, started by Rabia Gharib and Talea Zafar takes up the issue seriously in a fun and ingenious way to revive Urdu’s lost glory with little children.

The Express Tribune sat down with Rabia Gharib to learn more about this venture.

 What was the inspiration behind Toffee TV?

I grew up with the popular Cassette Kahani series and have unknowingly been planning a concept of Toffee TV since then. A few years ago when my brothers’ children were born, I began singing songs and reading stories to them, primarily in Urdu or in a mix of both English and Urdu. While there is a lot of content for children online, I couldn’t find one resource that had this kind of ‘programming’ in a child-friendly website. Hence, I started putting Toffee TV together.

How did the name Toffee TV come about?

We were looking for a name that kids were familiar with and something that evoked strong values. Toffees are a delicious treasure that can be unwrapped — that’s what we feel about the songs, stories and activities which we publish, and encourage parents and children to visit the website and ‘unwrap the fun’!

What is the nature of the programming on Toffee TV?

There are three main categories: songs, stories and activities. Songs are primarily in Urdu, though we have some that are in English. Popular nursery rhymes in English are being translated into Urdu. In addition to my own voice and music, musicians Zeb and Haniya lent us a song which Talea illustrated and published over the Eid holidays. We have storytellers who lend their voices to on-screen illustrations on the website. The activities include a ‘How Do I Make This’ programme, where Talea, the chief illustrator at Toffee TV, does a series of time-lapse recordings to showcase how the song and story illustrations are created. There is also a children’s cooking show hosted by Chef Poppy Agha called “Poppy’s Kitchen”.

What do you hope to achieve from this initiative?

We want families to spend time with their children at the earliest ages possible and start this ‘brainwashing’ process of sharing stories and singing songs in Urdu. There is just so much influence of other languages that it is easy for children to quickly move far away from their roots. It’s time to bring them back.

How would you defend yourself from critics who question the impact on children when many people don’t have online access?

We’ve made the content of Toffee TV available in the Nokia OVI store, as well as the iTunes store for any device with an Apple iOS. By making content available on mobile devices, we’ve already seen a spike in the number of people who have access to the content. Secondly, we also hosted an event (hopefully now a series) called Kahaani Time at T2F where we invited television actor Sania Saeed to narrate or read out a story to a group of children. The main objective behind this was to show that storytelling isn’t confined to a screen or a device — it’s so much more alive than that!

What issues do you think are currently hindering
primary education in
Pakistan?

Education doesn’t seem to be fun for children. What they can absorb through songs and activities will never be replicated through rote learning. Stories and fables are an integral part of any culture when it comes to teaching morals and values but we seem to be pushing out very warped messages through very heavy textbooks. Education begins at home and is supplemented in the classroom. Teachers and parents are both at fault because they treat ‘learning’ as an incident that only occurs in one location at one time.

What message do you want children to take from Toffee TV?

Stories and songs are fun and Urdu is something they must learn and enjoy!

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st,  2011.

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