The added flavours of an inter-racial wedding



Signing on to a writing project like this was a new experience altogether. The occasion was the upcoming wedding in an Indian family settled in the US. And it was not any ordinary wedding. The bride was Gujarati and the groom an American. And the family thought this marrige  would make a good kids story about acceptance and integration in multi-racial America.

mena back cover z

mena cover z














The bride and groom decided they wanted their experience to be pitched to kids aged 8 to 12. So my brief was to turn this real life love story into a book that would interest young readers.

In the process I got to know two families via e-mail as siblings and parents shared their stories with me. I enjoyed the writing and illustrating process thoroughly because the family were completely open to experimenting, giving me total freedom to choose how to tell their story.

So the wedding was on the 28th of April. And this book was shared with guests, somewhat as the ‘return gift’. And now, it is available on Kindle, and soon on Amazon USA. Since the family has been a long-term supporter of Pratham, all proceeds from the sale of this book will go to this NGO working with disadvantaged kids across India.

mena barbeque

mena dance




Doodle Walls at ‘Bookaroo in Mumbai’


There’s nothing like being given a blank canvas to fool around on — for someone who loves doodling. And when that ‘blank canvas’ is an ENTIRE WALL that I get to invite about 70 kids to scribble on, it sounds like a delicious mess! Just hope that’s a sturdy wall… it’s not often that kids are told, ‘Go ahead, sweetie, write on the wall! I will clean up after you…’ It’s usually the other way around.

Thinking about whaeyebrowst quick little tricks I could teach kids, that they could try out immediately, I remembered a comic strip I’d done some years back for a newspaper… it featured an eye-brow-less pair of characters… a tiger and a rat. The speech bubbles were also empty. So kids were invited to write their own dialogues, based on which animals they cast as the hero and villain.  And to add on the eyebrows in ways that matched the character’s mood or what it had said.

I thought I could combine ‘eyebrows’, that are a super-easy way to add expressions to a face, with something tougher — kids often struggle with drawing the limbs of animals. They tend to visualise those four legs like human legs, straight and long. So I thought I’d add a few tips on ‘joints’. My two sessions ‘Eyebrows afriends or enemiesnd Elbows’ on the 22nd of February will start off with a reading from my short story ‘Friends or Enemies’ illustrated by Lavanya Naidu, in the ‘Prankenstein’ (Speaking Tiger) anthology.

Really looking forward to some craziness from the kids.

Check out the action-packed schedule Bookaroo has planned for Mumbai kids at:


A potential Manual for Mischief-makers?



Prankenstein_Book of Mischief_Front CoverSpeaking Tiger, a fairly new

publishing house, has just launched

their children’s imprint, Talking

Cub. And they’ve announcing their

arrival, quite fittingly on Childrens’

Day, along with an anthology of

stories picked by Ruskin Bond and

Jerry Pinto. Kids will be pleased that

the theme of the book is pranks!

And the blurb promises a wide

variety of  pranksters.


The prankster in my short story  ‘Friends or Enemies?’ is a cat! There she is… above the book title, guarding a big bone.

Asian Festival of Children’s Content


Books launched at AFCCIt 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. That’s Varsha on the right, beside the AFCC book launch poster, and I must thank her for sharing this shot.


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

A new cover to celebrate the 10th edition


tenali cover 3

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



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.

The stunning cover painting is by Harshvardhan Kadam.

Here’re a couple of links to reviews of the book:

Bando — My lucky break


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…

bando cover copy copy


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!

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…