Friday, July 31, 2009

We've been read!

By the good people at Timeout, Mumbai
Amazing India – A State-By-State Guide Ages 8+
"This is no ordinary geography atlas. Kids can read about subjects as wide-ranging as wazwan, the 36-course meal in Jammu and Kashmir, “scraptures” in Chandigarh and filmstar Rajnikanth in Tamil Nadu. Amazing India celebrates the diversity of our 28 states and seven union territories not just with facts and figures, but through cultural anecdotes, legends and trivia. Most of the factoids are accompanied by striking illustrations, and will have children spouting sentences starting with “did you know...” for weeks after."

And the good people at The Deccan Herald
Amazing India – A State-By-State Guide By Anita and Amit Vachharajani, Scholastic, Pp 72.
"This book does a good job of condensing the essence of the natural, cultural and historical wonders of our homeland into simple, brief capsules. Each state has two pages of devoted fact files, and brief notes on history, natural beauty and cultural heritage. These tantalising snippets of information will encourage young readers to read more books, watch films and actually travel to learn more about the places and facts that they find most interesting. Did you know that a "Chaitya is a large prayer hall made of rock and teak wood, with an apse or a half-dome-shaped gap at one end? Karla and Bhaja caves, in Maharashtra, have large and elaborate chaityas." Read this book to learn the difference between the terms Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic.

"Learn about wetlands, biosphere reserves, the Bhavai folk theatre of Gujarat, the rare and endangered red panda of Sikkim, and more. There are pages for young readers to stick their own personal photographs and notes about interesting places they have visited. The colourful illustrations on each page are instructive and lively. Handy and easy to read and remember, books such as these can also be a great guide for impromptu quizzes and other activities."

And there was a tiny review in the DNA as wel, but can't seem to find it online...
If this doesn't inspire you to run out and grab yerself a copy...

An interview with us by a student.

Here's more about what it was for us to work on the book, if you like to read that sort of thing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yes, Virginia, dreams do come true! Or, YAAAYYYY!

There are healthy ambitions, and then there are those you should worry about. Like my old, old, old one of writing picture books for children in India and hoping to have them published. About 10 years back when I first began taking my manuscripts around, editors would smile indulgently when we mentioned the words 'picture books'. It wouldn't work, their marketting guys would invariably say, and that would be the end of it. (Of course it didn’t help matters that my stories themselves weren’t so great!)

Over the years though, more and more Indian picture books have begun peeking out of shelves in stores. About a year and a half back, I was directed by a friend (thanks, Arthy!) to Saraswathy Rajagopalan, the editor at Tumbi Books, Kerala, who was coming out with original, Indian picture books. Luckily for me, she liked this long story-poem of mine, and felt it would make a nice read. They got one of my favourite children's illustrators, Anitha Balachandran, to draw it. The book – which was expected to come out in September – suddenly turned up today!

We opened it excitedly, and as usual, Anitha's done a wonderful job. She's captured the spirit - the fun, the mischief - of the poem so well, it's amazing. It's like she was sitting next to me while I was writing the poem, chortling with me and planning what all she could draw in. Which never happened of course - we've never met or even mailed - so well, hats off to her! She's drawn in details I’d never thought of, adding a whole new layer to the text. I also personally like the way she brings in real things - tiny details, like a stamp or a bit of a newspaper - to give the page a lovely, slightly scratchy and tactile quality.

The story itself was inspired by N, who becomes Nonie in the poem. Nonie refuses to sleep - she plays, runs and generally never tires. But her parents are exhausted. So mum sends for a magical cousin, who arrives in a swish of beads, colours and baggage which leaps and moves with life. She hints at flying on a broom, and whips out a snake - Somu - to measure Nonie for a magical quilt. As a poem it's great fun, and thanks to Anitha, it's now visually magical too!

Sorry if I sound a bit breathless - apart from the fact that the book's looking lovely, for me the fact that my mad dream of doing a picture book has come true is a bit overwhelming.

Tumbi Books are available in most bookstores, I think, and if you don't find the book the first time, do make a request for it with the sales staff. It might make them want to procure the books!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Gimme hope, Liberhan, gimme hope!

It’s strange that my memories of the years leading up to Dec 6, 1992 and the bloodbath that followed have sort of frozen into one sharp image which in itself isn’t particularly remarkable. We lived in a primarily upper class unstatedly Hindu locality, but of course, had secular thoughts and beliefs, which were slowly, slowly being questioned on a daily basis in the papers and in the news.

One day, waiting at the dhobi’s – Kismet Laundry – staring up at the stickers of devis, ‘good luck’ and ‘sceneries’ or strange posters of a park in Thailand as he tied up our clothes, my friend and I were startled to see a new sticker, orange in colour, full of swastiks and trishuls stuck on the beam above the shop. It said, ‘Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai’. We were embarrassed and a bit angry. My friend got into a conversation with him, her voice starting to get shrill and both our faces tight with disapproval. Recognizing hysterics when he saw them, the dhobi smiled laconically and sniggered and gave our anger a cold shoulder. Politic and measured, he just kept smiling at our annoying yapping. Finally, swallowing some paan spittle, he snarled, “Aage aage dekho kya hoga...”

Those years were full of these conversations where fissures appeared even as people spoke. It was like every second person had a personal stake in the Ram Janmabhoomi non-issue. Malayalee expat relatives from the Gulf, who by all rights should resent a daft Aryan agenda, suddenly turned belligerently and militantly Hidnu in their words. They were full of anti-Arab feeling, I guess, and every time they landed here, exuding an air of poshness, they would pronounce that it was time to ‘teach the fellows a lesson’, coolly forgetting that it’s one thing to hate your rich Arab boss, and totally another to want to unleash genocide on a large part of this country’s citizens.

Then suddenly one morning – on the 6th December – the unimaginable happened. The hate that Advani and gang had been steadily pushing us towards sort of erupted in the destruction of a heritage structure. I couldn’t believe they had done it, I couldn’t believe they had gotten away with it, and I couldn’t believe the spiral of hatred that we descended into.

One of our neighbours – a wealthy Marathi lady whose daughter had sung Catholic hymns and secular songs with the rest of us in school – made a little moue as she said, “Good ya, high time someone showed these Muslims good.” It distressed me that she was a school teacher, someone with access to kids on whom she could inflict her hatred.

I feel the whole progressiveness of the ’70s and the ’80s was carefully demolished by that single party and its determination to make a non-issue into something it could win an election with. It’s taken the Indian polity what, 30 years, to give the BJP the kind of trouncing it deserved? I’m not a great one for karma, but for every innocent’s death, I hope Advani, Joshi, Bal Thackeray and that gang of wretched fundamentalists writhes in a hell fire made specially for them. Or as my mother put it one day – wish someone would chop off their family jewels and put them in the sun to rot and die.

The thing with this sot of fissuring of a populace is that it serves your immediate goal of winning an election. It creates a need out of nothing – the standard practice of good advertising – and then where that need takes you, into what sort of despair and grief and trauma, it doesn’t care. But coming back to the fissuring – it doesn’t just end with religion, does it? I mean after you’ve take the whole Muslims-are-bad thing to its logical conclusion, you start needing more enemies. Marathis, then? Or maybe as we’ve seen in Mumbai, non-Marathis? Bhaiyyas, perhaps? Madrasis, maybe? Or how about Gujjus? Sindhis? Parsis? Catholics?

The MNS worked with a Marathi theatre group on a play called Bhaiyya haath-pair pasare about a dhobi who began by ironing in the landing of a building and went on to own the building one day, thanks to his industry and his native cunning. I’d like to meet the dhobi from Kismet all those years back. He’s a father of three now, managing a paan shop next to the laundry and a middle-aged paunch. I’d like to ask him if he had any stickers about how proud he was to be an Uttar Pradeshi Hindu in a city which was suddenly finding his kind uncomfortably competitive.

But that’s really asking the wrong guy for answers. I mean, all he did was put up a sticker. If a mob attacks tomorrow, chances are this poor guy will lose his life’s savings and his limbs. Safe in their homes, spouting hate, thinking votes will be the idiot ideologues, the Advanis, the Sudheendra Kulkarnis, the Manmohan Joshis, the Raj Thackerays, the Balasahebs.

Thank god the Liberhan Commission has blamed them squarely – the hate-spewing BJP morons and the dozing fiddlers like Narasimha Rao and Kalyan Singh. But more than the Commission’s finding, the trouncing of the BJP at the elections gives me hope. It means the sort of slap in the face that seasoned politicians like Advani and Modi and Jaitley can sort of begin to feel!

Oh, and all those who plan to leave nasty, anonymous, pro-Hindutva comments? You can be quite sure I won't be publishing them, especially if they contain the word 'pseudo-secular'. If anything, I think the secular agenda is the only one that isn't pseudo. I mean, in a country of such staggering poverty and so much social injustice, what can be more pseudo than raking up a mythological figure who may or may not have lived and fighting over his birthplace? It doesn't get any more false!