Asian Festival of Children’s Content

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It was quite exciting getting to launch my book ‘Trapped’ at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content’ (AFCC) at Singapore this May. Among books from all over Asia, three  by Indian writers were launched at the fest, so it was great meeting Srividya Venkat (launching her book ‘Pickle Mania’) and Varsha Seshan (for the launch of ‘Bholu and the Smart Card’) — two writers who resemble each other so much, that many mistook them for sisters.

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Book launch apart, the event was fabulously packed with workshops, lectures, opportunities to meet writers from all over Asia, see their work, buy their books…the illustrator’s gallery was stunning. The country of focus was Indonesia and some of the talks by writers from there — discussing the challenges and solutions – seemed very relevant to India.

I might have missed Lily Kong’s adorable series on Dad, except for the fact that we were both in the cross-platform sessions together. The festival book store ‘Closetful of Books’ was packed, with people and books. I also spotted the Children’s Book Trust stall in the main courtyard.

Dads for sale

The other mega bonus was the library’s coffee shop — the best eclairs I’ve eaten in decades. With good college friends Shanthi and Subu, also in S’pore at the same time, food played a somewhat greater role than literature, over the course of the fest.

Was super impressed by the number of local publishers in a tiny city-state like S’pore. They’ve also got their language publishing programme going at full steam — Malay, Tamil and Chinese books filled the stalls.

I tend to think of libraries as cozy, warm, period buildings and the Singapore National Library, the venue for the fest, just turned all those images on their head. It’s very modern, all-glass and high rise, open and welcoming, with access from two busy roads. And seemed massive enough to absorb the crowds at the fest without feeling cramped.

At the cross-platform sessions, a short chat with Luke Sanoop of YouTube.

Image courtesy – The AFCC Facebook Page

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A new cover to celebrate the 10th edition

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This book came out in 2006…my first novel with Puffin. Now 10 years later, it’s into its 10th edition and its 3rd redesigned cover. I’ve loved all three covers. This one, illustrated  by Harshad Marathe has a completely different flavour. I’m thrilled he chose to illustrate one of my favourite episodes from the book.

 

 

Discovering that Akbar hated studying

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History had never been my favourite subject in school. So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed researching the Vijayanagar Empire, while writing about Tenali Raman. So when Puffin commissioned a set of historical biographies, I was quite happy to write about Akbar. I loved discovering the non textbook facts about him. We might have all admired him in school, if they’d only told us how much he bunked his lessons! I might have remembered the names of his innumerable sons, if I’d only known that they were all drunkards! So if you like the interesting parts of history, maybe you’ll like ‘Akbar, the Mighty Emperor’. The biggest surprise for me was how many interesting, intelligent and powerful women there were in Akbar’s life.

Here’re a couple of links to reviews of the book:
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20100822/spectrum/book4.htm
http://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/tale-of-mystery-and-intrigue/article628871.ece

Bando — My lucky break

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Sometimes stories behave really badly. You might have a clear picture in your head about what kind of tale you want to tell, but after hours and hours of typing on the keyboard, what stares back at you from the screen is a disjointed, irritating set of paragraphs that somehow don’t add up to a half-way decent story. Now THAT’s what I call a bug, the story virus, the Keyboard Kleptomaniac who steals away your thoughts and ideas, and mis-represents them on screen. And sadly, there’s no ‘anti-virus’ software that can tackle this creature. Backspacing and brutal deleting is all you can do. Maybe taking days or weeks just to get a 1000 word story to sound good.

But there are times when Keyboard Klepto (let’s call him KK) goes to sleep, or maybe trots off over the internet to harass someone else on your address book. And then those stories behave themselves. So I was lucky that when I decided I wanted to write kids stories, KK was away. ‘Bando: The Dog Who Led A Double Life’  got written out fairly fast. And after I’d illustrated it, I sent it off to Open Sesame (Deccan Herald’s kid supplement). Daksha Hathi, who was editing Open Sesame back then, liked it, and promptly began serialising it. I couldn’t believe my luck. Even better, though I hadn’t yet gathered up the courage to think of myself as an illustrator, Daksha did…she soon began sending me stories by other writers for me to illustrate!

So in case you missed Bando all those years back, here’s a short introduction to him…

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CHAPTER 1

Bando was not the kind of dog you’d enter for a dog show. Not that he was ill-mannered or ferocious; it was just that he didn’t have the drawing-room manners that win prizes at such shows. At the time when the poor dogs are expected to walk up and down in front of a large crowd, holding their heads high and looking posh and dignified, Bando would be sure to catch the eye of some friendly person in the audience and wag his tail furiously. This, of course, would earn him a series of minus points from the two or three stern-looking judges.
Then there was the problem about his appearance. His birth certificate had ‘LABRADOR’ written very boldly against ‘BREED’. But that was either a terrible mistake or an outright lie. A Labrador, as everybody knows, has ears that flop down on either side of its friendly face. Now Bando had only one Labrador ear, the left one. The right ear stood up cockily at an angle that made you wonder where on earth Bando’s father came from. Similarly, he had a rich, black, Labrador coat all over, except for a white patch over his right eye!

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So if Bando trotted past you on his way to the market and you saw only the left side of him, you’d probably be very impressed and raising your eyebrows appreciatively, would say to yourself, “Now, there’s a handsome Lab!” On the other hand, if you caught sight of him on his way back from the market, you’d only see his right profile. Then you’d wonder, “Isn’t that a strange-looking dog… and what, in God’s name, is it doing with a bag full of vegetables?!”
Well, the strange-looking animal would be Bando, on his way home after doing the weekly shopping. If you happened to be close enough, you’d also hear a strange jingle-jangle that sounded like Bando was wearing a pair of anklets. That would be the change left over from shopping. Bando carried it in a yellow pouch around his neck.

All this added up to make dear Bando look rather odd, but he couldn’t have cared less. He was far too busy being old Mrs Murbando-bedthy’s dog and had no time to be fashionable and well-groomed.
…over the last couple of years, Mrs Murthy had been gradually losing her sight. And the only one in the whole world who could look after her properly was Bando… He had decided long ago that it was his duty to make up for the family Mrs Murthy didn’t have.

So in the mornings Bando brought in the milk. Then on Mondays, the weekly shopping was done. Sometimes, if his work led him by the park, and if nobody was looking, he’d pluck a flower for Mrs Murthy. He knew well enough that she could see it only very fuzzily. So he’d first place it in her hands for her to feel it. Then he’d wait for her face to break into a smile before she turned to Bando to say, “What a lovely rose, Bando! Thank you so much.” Bando was very proud that even though Mrs Murthy was almost blind, she never, ever got the name of a flower wrong. “Bando!” she’d exclaim, “This sunflower would look lovely by the kitchen window.” Or after gently feeling the long stalk and thick petals of his latest gift, she’d say, “I’m going to put this precious lily in a tall glass on the dining table.”
Inside her own home Mrs Murthy was quite capable of looking after herself.

 

…End of excerpt from Chapter 1…

A few funny stories

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When you have to spend precious pocket money on a book, it’s best to know what exactly you’re buying. Short story collections let you check out a whole bunch of authors for the price of one book. So you then know which writers’ work to look for when you’re next in a book store.

Puffin’s anthology of ‘Funny Stories’ came out in 2005 and was pretty popular. I think if you have ‘Funny’ written on a cover with a zany illustration on it, more people will reach out for the book. My story in it is ‘Confessions of a Lion’. It’s of course a made up story, but some facts about the lions are the pure truth…like how lazy the males of the species are; and what useless hunters the males are, compared to the females …yes, quite a few myths about the ‘kings of the forest’ get busted here.

 

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‘Let’s Play’ is Puffin’s collection of sports stories, edited by Harsha Bhogle. Somehow, my story in it turned out to be more in the ‘funny’ category than the ‘sports’ one. It’s called ‘Easily Distracted’.Image

Wisdom Tree brought out a fat, fat anthology of school stories in 2012 called ‘Whispers in the Classroom, Voices on the Field’. Edited by Richa Jha, it’s also super -loaded with brilliant illustrations by Priya Kuriyan. The book has everything that’s ever happened in school…sports, friendships, midnight feasts, bullying, trying to fit in, feeling left out…My story is called ‘The Flag Fiasco’ and pretty much sums up a number of my disastrous stage appearances when I was in school.

 

 

It Started With The Man With A Large Moustache

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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
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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

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-youngworld/mysteries-of-hampi/article3229668.ece