Author Bali Rai visit

Posted on: February 10th 2022School News

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Year 7 pupils at The Manchester Grammar School welcomed author Bali Rai to the school, reading from one of his recent books Now or Never and answering the boys’ questions.

Bali is an award-winning penguin author and talked to pupils about his book which gives an account of a young Muslim soldier in Company 32 of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, during the Second World War.

He spoke about the research required to uncover the stories behind unsung heroes, including the protagonist Private Fazal Khan, whose story reveals the inequalities and often overlooked contribution of foreign soldiers during the bleak times of the war.

Bali spoke about his inspiration behind the story, saying: "Now or Never is inspired by my wish to highlight the shared history of current and former British subjects from across the world. Many of these voices have been unheard for too long. I am passionate about promoting greater empathy between all people, no matter their background. I hope that my writing encourages a better understanding of the diverse group of humans that made up the former Empire, many of whom gave service during the world wars, and helped to shape the history of our nation. To teach our children about where we are now, we must show them how we arrived at this point. Historical fiction, highlighting those who have been left unheard, is hugely important to this aim."

English teacher Elizabeth Appleton said: "We were delighted to welcome celebrated author Bali Rai to MGS on 9th February. Many of the Year 7 boys had pre-ordered signed copies of his book Now or Never, and were excited to have their photo taken with Bali himself, but the real excitement of the day came from the idea that they could challenge the narratives that are offered to them." 

She added: "Bali invited the boys to think about where, how and when people of colour feature in their knowledge of history, and his novels bring those forgotten voices to life. It was lovely to hear the boys chatting about their impressions of the day, and about those who are often left out of accounts like that of the Dunkirk crossing."

Year 7 pupil Ishaan described Bali’s presentation as “quite intriguing and informative”, having not encountered many stories about non-British soldiers during his reading. He added: “Bali clearly explained how many other soldiers from countries outside of Britain helped them in the war. It is important that we get taught this, especially if we do not know the complete history of the volunteering countries.”

Year 7 pupil Sami believed in the importance of finding out about unsung heroes from the world wars, saying: “We need to understand how much the main characters went through during this time period, including the bad conditions and the chance of being killed very swiftly. This important because we know what our ancestors (or people who fought for the country) did”.

Year 7 pupil Stanislav commented on the way in which Bali undertook extensive research and was able to extend his historical understanding, saying: “He has told me things that I never knew”.

Year 7 pupil Kiran felt motivated by the author's words to improve his own writing creations: "He said that if he sees a picture, he can write a whole essay about it. I will always remember that to inspire me about writing."

Senior Librarian Nicola Heath was delighted at the atmosphere surrounding the author visit: "It’s so fantastic to welcome authors MGS again-there was a buzz around school all day, and boys were bobbing in to say hello to Bali and collect their signed books in their break and lunch time.

As we all know, reading for pleasure is key to everything, and to have an author enthuse about the research and history behind his story in the way Bali did helped our students to contextualise the events surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk. Many of the boys were talking about the session as they left, and I am sure they will be sharing this experience with their children in years to come."

She added: "Reading helps us to be more empathetic, and improves and challenges our knowledge of the world around us. It inspires us to think and question events, circumstances and people in a way we may not have done previously. Bali’s session has certainly inspired our students to do all of the above, giving them an insight into the circumstances surrounding the Dunkirk evacuation and Company 32. Many of them have indicated they would like to read the rest of the ‘Voices’ series, a series many were unaware of prior to Bali’s visit.

"We look forward to welcoming more authors to MGS in the near future."

Thank you very much to Bali for visiting the school and taking the time to speak to the pupils and inspiring them with his stories!

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