Writing is like having a good scratch. You do it to get rid of this nagging itch. The difference is that you mostly tend to scratch when no one else is looking. Whereas, with writing, you can happily do it in public, and people will think you’re ‘working’!
So I’ve been scratching, sorry writing, for the longest time…ads, TV commercials, radio jingles, funny stories about my family. I began writing and illustrating for kids about 15 years ago. Most of my work has appeared in the kids’ supplement of the Deccan Herald — Open Sesame. Short stories, cartoons, games, book reviews, and even a book or two that got serialised.
About 7 years ago, suddenly an old maali who had worked with us popped up in my head. His name was Marimuthu. I remember him vividly because he once ‘borrowed’ a pair of my father’s party shoes when he went for a wedding. They were way too small for Marimuthu. But he not only wore them but danced the night away in those 2-sizes-too-small shiny shoes. And then couldn’t walk for days because his feet were so badly swollen. My dad’s poor shoes, of course, were not fit to be returned!
The Marimuthu that popped up in my head, had given up gardening, but kept many other aspects of his comic personality intact. A funny moustache, a batty sense of humour and a habit of ‘borrowing’. But his new career was in art. Somehow, Marimuthu, our old maali, had morphed into Marimuthu, an art thief! And suddenly, this Meesaykaara (which means ‘moustachioed’ in Tamil) Marimuthu was clamouring to be written about. I ‘reported’ the case of the Maharaja’s painting he stole. Then his sudden interest in abstract art and his escapade in the Nizam’s palace. That was followed by the clever stunts he tried to pull with a set of ‘Mughal miniatures’. MM became quite popular with Open Sesame readers so I introduced him to an editor or two. One editor at Puffin remembered him when she was commissioning a series of books of ‘jesters and kings’ for 10-year-olds. So that’s how I abandoned Marimuthu and wrote ‘Tenali Raman’.
Since the book was going to be a part of a series that included Birbal, I figured I needed to make sure that the Tenali-Krishnadevaraya stories didn’t sound similar to the Akbar-Birbal stories. So I let loose this girl called Sulekha to discover Tenali Raman in his own hometown, Hampi. It was supposed to be a project that she
had to submit to her school principal, no less.
The purple cover was how the 1st edition of the book came out in 2006. I loved it. And then, by the 8th edition, Puffin got illustrator Priya Kurien to design a new set of covers for a couple of the books in the series. I love this 2012 edition even better.
Here’s the link to a review that appeared in the Hindu, when the book first came out in 2006