When I moved to the United States from India almost 2 decades ago, the science geek in me thought I would be a lab rat for the rest of my life. Even though I earned my Master of Science degree and started out in that career, life had other plans.
Becoming a mom motivated me to create my own business, Little Patakha.
During the pandemic when I was home with my two-year-old daughter, I noticed that she understood everything I said to her in my native south Indian language of Konkani, but she would respond only in English, our default language at home. Since she was an avid reader, I thought a book could help introduce her to this language in a simple way.
Until recently, Konkani had no official script of its own and was passed down mostly orally from one generation to another. If I wanted my daughter to experience my language, I had to create something I never had growing up – a book in Konkani.
To begin with, I used the Roman script to create a key to write the Konkani alphabet. I designed the book with phonetics so that my husband, who does not know the language, could also read and learn it along with my daughter. I thought these basic ideas could be applied to make Indian languages accessible to everyone. But what really helped Little Patakha evolve was the rise of the racial justice movement following the horrific murder of Geroge Floyd and the opposition to the steady spread of an us-versus-them ideology across the world.
I reflected on how my journey as an Indian immigrant in the U.S. had been so different during the last few years as compared to my earlier ones. I thought about my biracial daughter’s life and how it compares to both my own experience as well that of her white American friends. I wondered how she would find confidence in her Indian heritage when so much around her might make her want to hide it out of fear.
People are often scared of things they don’t know much about. This made me wonder about what resources are available to teach children about other races and cultures, in order to help them understand and celebrate differences.
I decided to research this topic, and what I found stunned me!
- Five years. That is the age by which biases about race, gender, and culture set in.
- But inclusive messaging during these early years can change attitudes in just a few weeks.
Yet, a survey of children’s media found more books with animal main characters than main characters belonging to any number of various minority groups combined. Additionally, male characters were twice as likely to be heroes while female characters were twice as likely to use magic to solve problems rather than knowledge.
Characters, storylines, and illustrations are clearly vital to how kids develop perspectives about different aspects of their own identity as well as that of others.
Combining this research and my own experiences pushed me to develop Little Patakha in 2021. Patakha is the Hindi word for firecracker and I can’t think of a better way to describe children – full of potential needing just a spark of encouragement. At Little Patakha, we believe that representation matters not only to those who see themselves reflected in diverse imagery but to everyone. Diversity in representation encourages all of us to be more accepting of others.
Little Patakha sparks curiosity in young minds by introducing them to people, ideas, and sounds they normally wouldn’t come across. In this way, they can see that our differences make us vibrant and innovative.
Little Patakha promotes inclusion and shatters stereotypes through books, games, puzzles, and other interactive media that fall under 3 themes:
- Teaching about foreign languages, foods, and celebrations
- Collaborating with marginalized communities to create stories and resources from their authentic experiences
- Developing stories around science, technology, engineering, and math-based subjects that are inclusive of all communities
Last year, I launched two Indian language learning books making Hindi and Konkani accessible to everyone. I also just wrapped up a second successful crowdfunding campaign launching our mix and match jigsaw puzzles and affirmation cards.
I am thrilled about this opportunity to share my journey with all of you and I hope you will join us at Little Patakha as we spark curiosity, celebrate differences and shatter stereotypes!
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Guest Author: Akshata Nayak, Founder, Little Patakha
Akshata was born and brought up in Bangalore, India. She moved to the U.S. in 2003 and earned two Master of Science degrees, in Biochemistry and Applied Clinical Nutrition. Presently, she spends her time being a mom, a nutritionist at Alternative Roots Wellness Center which she started with her husband, and Chief Product Officer at Little Patakha.