Last week, Himani, a friend from school, currently the principal of NPS Yelahanka, invited me to do a reading for the senior classes. Did anyone know there was something called ‘World Reading Day’? So ‘No 9 ….’ was given a good airing. I read and chatted with classes 7, 8 and 9, and enjoyed how responsive, confident and participative this bunch of kids were. It’s a brand new school, but what felt really good was how well-stocked the library was. Way to go, NPS Yelahanka!

I realised that I’d missed posting the reviews of the book. Here are some. The first to appear was in the Deccan Herald School Edition.First review of No 9

Here’s a link to the review that also appears in Valsala’s blog ‘kidswanttoread’:

Here’s another one in The Hindu:


From Caddie to Champion

c muniyappa hindu sports page

From Caddie to Champion

A few years back when a publisher of text books asked me for a short story on a sports hero, I picked on Chikka Muniyappa. His is the classic heart-warming tale of a poor boy whose parents were daily wage earners. He begins working as a caddie at the KGA golf course in Bangalore. Soon he discovers he’s good at the game. With help from many club members, he masters golf, becomes an amateur and then turns professional, travelling across India and even abroad. I’d forgotten about the story since the publisher hadn’t mentioned it after the first print run. Till someone spotted this in the Hindu’s sports page. Apparently, the textbook publishers’ accounts dept had lost track of the story since editorial had changed the headline and not informed them about it!

Muniyappa looks so happy to be in a text book. I’m thrilled he got to see it.

P.S. For the record, the illustrations aren’t mine.

The page is posing with

The page Muniyappa is posing with

Pity The Hindu didn't mentioned the author of the story!

Pity The Hindu didn’t mentioned the author of the story!

A time-traveller’s ticket to Akbar’s art studio


Rama cover

The nice part about reviewing kids’ books, is that you get to keep the copy. Which is fun for a while….for as long as that book is relevant to the kid in the house. But sometimes you get sent a timeless classic. Mapin Publishing’s glossy, hard-bound ‘The Story of Rama’ (for kids) is one such gem.

This book is as much about Rama as about life during Akbar’s rule. The illustrations are from an actual 16th century manuscript that’s now in the Freer Gallery of Art (part of the Smithsonian Institution), in Washington DC. This is a 21st century English translation of a 16th century Persian translation of a Sanskrit ‘Ramayana’. Phew! Emperor Akbar himself had ordered the Persian translation, to gift to his Chief of Staff, Abdur Rahim.

As king, Akbar, who never learnt to read, had officials read out important books to him from his vast library of 24,000 manuscripts!

Akbar had set up a huge Department of Translations. A lot of Sanskrit books were translated into Persian, the court language and Akbar gifted these books to his cabinet members and other noblemen so that those ruling Hindustan were more aware of the local culture. Similarly, Greek and Arabic classics were translated into Persian and Sanskrit; Portuguese science and Christian books into Sanskrit and Persian, and so on.

No Mughal manuscript was complete without illustrations. Akbar’s vast studio or kharkhana, had 100s of artists training under 18 master artists. Only the latter were allowed to sign their names in the margins of the paintings. This copy of the Ramayana shows the signatures of  Mughal artists Govardhan, Nadim, Mushfiq, Mohan, Fazl, Qasim and a few others. You’ll find them at the end of the book.

Quite a handsome Ravana

Akbar had a piquant relationship with the person he gifted this manuscript to – Abdur Rahim. When Humayun died, Akbar was only 13, under the care of Bairam Khan, Humayun’s Chief of Staff or Khan-i-khanan. Bairam Khan’s fierce loyalty to Babur and his descendents ensured that 13 year old Akbar grew up protected from all those who wished to grab the throne. Sadly, as Akbar grew older (and stronger) his relationship with Bairam Khan turned sour and the older man was exiled from Hindustan. On his way to Mecca, he was ambushed and killed, and a bitterly repentant Akbar adopted his infant son –Abdur Rahim.

This boy grew up to be as smart as his father and also became Akbar’s trusted Khan-i-khanan! He himself was a linguist and translator, reading and writing in Persian, Arabic, Turki (the language spoken by Babur’s family in Central Asia, present day Khyrgistan), Sanskrit and Hindi. Abdur Rahim is known today for his excellent translation of Babur’s autobiography from Turki into Persian.

This illustrated  Ramayana is a retelling by Milo Cleveland Beach, a renowned expert on Mughal art, and earlier director of the Freer Gallery. If you wonder why the characters looks so Central Asian’, it’s because in Akbar’s studios, artists brought back from Persia by Humayun, were training Indians in the Miniature style — the Persians themselves having been heavily influenced by Chinese painting.

‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’, the book that became an Oscar-winning movie



Here’s a review of a book that was made into a movie that most of you have probably seen — ‘Hugo’. There are zillions of black and white illustrations in the book, even though its a novel for young adults. And I loved it so much, I haven’t had the courage to go see the movie! It’s like the picture book ‘Polar Express’ by one of my favourite illustrators, Chris Van Alsburg…the book had this gentle, haunting and very quiet bed-time story quality to it. So I happily trotted off to the movie expecting to come out full of warm cosy feelings. Instead I was rocked off my seat and taken on such a frightening roller coaster of a ride, it almost felt like a horror movie to me.

It all began with another book. When well-known American illustrator Brian Selznick read a book called ‘Edison’s Eve’ by Gaby Wood, it got his creative juices flowing. Wood’s well-researched story about ‘automata’ began with a report on Thomas Edison’s attempt to make a wind-up doll that could talk. In this day of micro-chips and cheap talking-dolls, you’d probably laugh that the brain who invented the incandescent lamp, wasted his time with a wind up doll. But back in the late 1800s, the silicon chip hadn’t been invented and everything that moved on its own had to be wound up first, so clock-makers (or horologists) were considered the most high-tech dudes.

This book about well-known automata that survived in museums, had an entire chapter on George Melies, a French film-maker who’d made the first science fiction movie called ‘A Trip to the Moon’ in 1902. He also had a collection of wind-up ‘dolls’ made by a famous French magician called Houdin. A bulb went off in Brian Selznick brain. He remembered seeing Melies’ film when he was a kid. He decided he wanted to write a story about George Melies, his collection of automata AND the history of film, before Hollywood. And he did. By January 2007, he’d completed ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’.

Hugo is a young orphan. His mother died when he was an infant, but his loving father, a clock-maker, took care of him well – teaching him all that he knew about horology. When Hugo’s father dies in an accidental fire at the museum he worked in, Hugo is taken in by his drunk uncle, who’s in charge of winding up the clocks at Paris’ central railway station.

Soon Hugo’s uncle disappears. Petrified that he’ll be turned out of the room he lives in deep in the bowels of the station, Hugo meticulously winds all the clocks, hoping the authorities won’t realise his uncle is missing. But apart from this boring job, Hugo is fired by a dream — to somehow make the wind-up ‘writing man’ that he salvaged from the charred ruins of the burned down museum to work. Since his father too had been trying to repair this automata before his death, poor Hugo decides that whatever the ‘writing man’ eventually does write, is bound to be a message from his dead father.

So in pursuit of this dream, Hugo takes to stealing little wind-up toys from the toy shop in the station, recycling their parts into the insides of the ‘writing man’. He gets caught of course. But read about how he befriends Isabelle, the shop owner’s ‘niece’. The shock he receives when he realises who the owner really is. And the mysteries both Isabelle and he unravel when they finally get the wind-up ‘writing man’ to pen down his message.

This is a fat, fat book but 284 pages of it are beautiful black and white illustrations. Apart from Hugo, this book is also about the history of cinema; and a reminder that though Hollywood seems the Mecca of the film world … it all started in France! It was the Lumiere brothers who invented the ‘cinematograph’ — the first projector throwing moving pictures onto a screen for an audience to watch.

Martin Scorsese bought the movie rights in 2008. His film ‘Hugo’ came out in 2011 and went on to win a record 11 nominations for the Academy Awards, eventually winning 5 Oscars.

The book is hard to find and bloody expensive to own, so if your school/local library doesn’t have it, borrow ‘Hugo’ the movie from your local VCD/DVD library.