Illustrations Posts

“The Line Tender” by Kate Allen

This is an extraordinary novel. Beautifully told by debut writer Kate Allen. It is about a young girl Lucy whose mother was a marine scientist specialising in the study of the Great White Shark. They live in Cape Cod where sightings of the sharks have been spotted and Helen had anticipated their arrival in a few years time as the local seal population grew. Unfortunately Lucy’s mum, Helen, passed away unexpectedly when Lucy was a seven years old. Her father, a rescue diver for the police, brought up Lucy with the support of his kind and warmhearted neighbours. Lucy is particularly close to her neighbour Maggie’s son, Fred. The youngsters did everything together including spending every moment of their waking hour in each other’s company. They also worked on a school projects together like the field guide on sharks that involved Lucy drawing and Fred providing the scientific explanations. Sadly, tragedy strikes. It devastates Lucy for whom it is a double blow. “The Line Tender” is an extraordinary glimpse into the world of adolescents as well as how adults around them help form a community and provide support whether in times of sadness, learning or navigating their way through the beauty this world can provide. It is not an us vs them kind of yalit but calm look at how everyone is managing their griefs too and they can reach out to each other for support. It is a way of looking outwards and the manner in which it helps heal Lucy. Read it.

29 October 2019

Interview with Neha J. Hiranandani on “Girl Power!”

Ever since the phenomenal success of Rebel Girls some years ago there has been a proliferation of books tom-tomming about the achievement of girls/ women, many of whom whose contribution to their respective sectors has been silenced for an extremely long time —an unforgivable act. Yet with the popularisation of movements like #MeToo and the visibility of such girl-centric literature in popular culture has made a remarkable case for many more such books to appear. The danger lies falling into the trap of emulating a successful formula and creating a damp squib or creating a triumphant collection such former journalist Neha J. Hiranandani’s feisty Girl Power!

It is a challenging task to visually and succinctly represent a core idea, more so an idea that seemingly goes against the “norm”. And this is why Girl Power! is so magnificent. It stands out from much else that in this space for it puts together beautifully a profile that has charmed the author. It is as if the woman whom Neha Hiranandani is writing about has really moved her in some way. Otherwise the absence of living legends such as activists Aruna Roy & Medha Patkar, writer Arundhati Roy, historian Romila Thapar, wrestler Vinesh Phogat etc remains inexplicable. For there seems to be no other explanation, save Neha’s subjectivity, for this very disparate collection of women profiled in Girl Power!

Neha Hiranandani’s fascination for her project manifests itself in the funky descriptor she offers after every name. It is super cool, so in keeping with the loud, assertive and sparkly book cover as if to say, “We women are proud of our achievement and are here to stay!” It effectively communicates her passion with younger readers.

****

Neha J Hiranandani is a writer whose columns have appeared in The Indian Express, Huffington Post, NDTV, and Vogue among others. She holds degrees in Literature and Education from Wellesley College and Harvard University.

Here are lightly edited excerpts of an interview conducted via email:

1.How did the idea of doing Girl Power! come to you?

My 7-year-old daughter, Zoya absolutely loved Rebel Girls. As a mother, I was so happy to see her being inspired by incredible women from around the world. But then one day she came to me clutching her beloved copy of Rebel Girls and asked sadly “Does India only have two rebels?” pointing to Mary Kom and Rani Laxmibai. Of course I immediately wanted to tell her all about the phenomenal women that India has had – our rule breakers, our mavericks, our smashers of ceilings. We spent the next few months discovering these women together. It was magnificent! I quickly realized that these were stories that all our girls – and even our boys – should hear.

2. There is a deluge of women-centric profiles in the market. Why is Girl Power! special?

I was very lucky to work with an incredible artist – Niloufer Wadia – whose illustrations have brought these stories to life. Unlike other books which follow a standard ‘one-page text + one-page illustration’ format, Niloufer and I wanted the text and the illustrations to work together. And so, every page of Girl Power! has the story and the artwork talking to one another which makes for an incredible reading experience.  That, and I think the selection of women is very special!

3. How did you identify the women profiled in the book? Whom did you have to drop from your original list and why?

This was easily my favourite part of the project! I was clear that this wasn’t going to be just a list of accomplished Indian women – the women in this book had to be mavericks, ceiling smashers! And so I set about finding the stories and really, what stories they are! Every story made me feel me proud to be Indian all over again. You will meet a spy princess who parachuted into France, a warrior queen who defended India from the Portugese six times! There’s Subhasini Mistry who worked as a maid before winning a Padma Bhushan for healthcare, and Chandro Tomar, the octogenarian sharpshooter, popularly known as Revolver Dadi. Of course, there are some household names as well including PV Sindhu and Priyanka Chopra.  But personally, I am very proud of the untold stories. They were so exciting to discover!

I have tried to be as inclusive as possible. Girl Power! includes stories from across the country, across industries and across time periods. I also tried to pick stories that had an identifiable ‘Kodak moment’ that could be written coherently in 300 words or less. This is easier said than done, especially given that all of these women have led very layered and nuanced lives!

With that said, I am the first to admit that this is not an exhaustive list – that would run into volumes and is well beyond the scope of this project.

4. The descriptor used as a subtitle in every chapter encapsulates the spirit of the woman profiled vividly. For example, “Raga Rockstar” for M S Subbulakshmi, “Accidental Entrepreneur” for Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, “Rule Breaker” for Dakshayani Velayudhan, “Inspirational Archer” for Deepika Kumari, or “Daredevil Doctor” for Anandibai Joshee. How did you come up with these fascinating descriptions?

These women have led such interesting lives, it would be a failing on my part to not give them interesting descriptors!

5. Girl Power! comes across as a broad sweep of profiling women across socio-economic classes giving the impression as if popular stories were incorporated. What kind of research methodology did you employ particularly what were the oral histories that you accessed?

This book will always be special to me for so many reasons. And perhaps, the most important one is that it connected me to many incredible people – men and women – who I’m grateful to have met. Apart from the internet research and the scouting in libraries, I knew that many of the stories were going to come from conversations. And so they did! Over cups of tea in the most unlikely of places – from railway stations to parks – I have spoken to people about the women who have moved them, inspired them. Some of the stories didn’t work out because I couldn’t confirm their factual accuracy but others did. For many parts of the book, I wanted to move beyond the well-known women and tell stories of ordinary women who have done extraordinary things. It was in that quest – of finding the ordinary-extraordinary woman – that our unmatched recounting of oral histories became important. Sometimes, it’s just about having the conversation!

6. Every chapter consists of a sprinkling of quotes by the women profiled. Such as ‘As long as I moved around with Mankeshaw [her husband], people did not take me seriously,” said Homai Vyarawalla, the photographer or “No field of work belongs to any gender”, says Harshini, the firefighter or actress Priyanka Chopra attributes her success to following the three Fs – “by being fierce, by being fearless and by being flawed”. Where are these quotes from as there are no bibliographical details provided?

Along with the team at Scholastic India, I was meticulous in making sure that every fact was double-checked. Many times this meant watching several documentaries for a 5 word-quote or finding obscure books and articles in dusty libraries. While there is no bibliography in the book, we have maintained an exhaustive back-of-house bibliography! So for instance, the quote by Homai Vyarwalla is from an article in the Hindu, the one from Harshini Kanhekar is from an interview with Jovita Aranha, and the one by Priyanka Chopra is from a lecture she gave on ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Chasing a Dream’ at a Penguin event back in 2017.

7. Some profiles make passing references such as to Amrita Shergill’s “South Indian trilogy” or Dipa Karmakar’s “new book” or to a “rifle club” in Chandro Tomar’s neighbourhood which her granddaughter was attending – all very intriguing and remains unexplained? Was it a deliberate intent on your part to leave these as is to encourage inquisitive readers to delve into some research of their own?

Absolutely! This book gives a quick insight into the lives of these incredible women. It provides the ‘hook’ of an interesting time in that woman’s life to lure the reader in. The ultimate idea is that a child finds that ‘Kodak moment’ interesting and says “Hey, that’s cool I didn’t know that but now I want to find out more.”

8. How important is the picture book format to communicate with young readers particularly when it is a critical idea such as challenging rules, mostly patriarchal, to pursue your dreams?

I think it’s critical! Visuals go a long way in keeping a young reader interested and this is especially so in a format like Girl Power!’s where the text and illustration talk to each other on every page.

9. With this book are you addressing both boys and girls? What impact do you hope to create?

One might assume that this book is only addressed to young girls. That would be a terrible mistake. In fact, if anything, I think this book is critical for our young boys. For far too long, our boys have seen us in certain roles – as a mother, as a wife etc. It’s time for them to see Indian women succeeding in places that were traditionally demarcated as ‘men only zones’ – as wrestlers, as scientists, as entrepreneurs! If nothing else, it will help them understand what’s coming down the pike in the future!

10. Were these stories tested on younger readers before publication? If so what was their reaction? Did you incorporate any of their suggestions in the manuscript?

My daughter and her friends were invaluable as I wrote Girl Power! Those kids were my first editors! During play dates, I would read out entire stories and meticulously comb through their suggestions. Many profiles – such as Rani Abbakka – were rewritten on the basis of these editorial inputs! Several times, the kids wanted more details on an event or character that they found interesting. So for instance, in the Rani Abbakka profile, they wanted to know exactly how she defeated the Portuguese armada. That’s when I knew I had to include the part about how Abbakka secretly gathered her best soldiers in the middle of the night. The kids were fascinated when I told them that Abbakka instructed her soldiers to attack with hundreds of coconut torches and agnivaan– flaming arrows dipped in oil – all at the same time. The arrows lit up the night sky setting the Portuguese ships ablaze. These inputs brought so much colour and detail to the profiles and I’m so grateful to the kids! I think it was those inputs that have sharpened the profiles and created the final product.

11. Did you work closely with the illustrator? Did you help the illustrator select an image upon which to build the illustration?

Niloufer Wadia is a wonderful, prolific illustrator who can handle many different artistic styles with ease. I did make suggestions for some profiles; for example, Bula Chowdhury is an ace swimmer who once said “I should have been born a fish.” And so for Bula, I asked Niloufer if we could create something dream-like with Bula in the waves, half-woman and half-fish, almost a mermaid. That is easily one of my favourite illustrations in the book. For other profiles, Niloufer created something breathtaking on her own; Priyanka Chopra’s illustration is half from an iconic Hindi movie in traditional Indian attire and half FBI agent, a character from her show Quantico. That was all Niloufer!

12. Would you describe yourself as a feminist or as someone who feels strongly about women’s issues?

To my mind, there is no other way to be!

To buy on Amazon India: https://amzn.to/2MI0zN9

14 October 2019

Ken Spillman “The Great Storyteller”

Creatures of the forest gathered to hear The Great Storyteller for the last time. 

‘My life has been full of wonder,’ he tells them. ‘The greatest gifts are stories, pictures, songs and play. Remember this! We can ALL imagine the world as wild and wonderful as this forest.’

Ken Spillman’s The Great Storyteller is a picture book about the grief at the passing of a wise and great storyteller, the elephant, which leaves his friends in the forest devastated. For a while they are incapable of doing anything except to mourn his passing by sharing memories and participating in what can be considered one long wake.

‘When we lost The Great Storyteller, we lost his stories. Every story gives us a new beginning. Each story took us on a fantastic journey. Our imagination made them real.’ 

Slowly with time they realise they can make their own stories and “imagine colourful worlds”. It works! Laughter and cheer returns to the forest.

Ken Spillman‘s The Great Storyteller is a hauntingly moving tale about stories, loss and new beginnings. Incredibly sensitively the concept of death is introduced to little children but also how crucial it is to grieve, to come to terms with the loss of a dear friend, and yet life goes on. It is not as if the memory of the beloved friend is ever forgotten. It exists. It remains in one’s heart as a circle of grief, if you like, with life’s experiences creating layers around it, encompassing it and couching it. The illustrations by Manjari Chakravarti accompanying the story are absolutely stupendous! The effect of using watercolours and pastels create a warm feeling. Beginning with the fabulously tactile book cover which has the elephant and the monkey illustration in matt finish; it is an excellent introduction to young readers to immerse themselves into this story. It is the only way to experience it. Something shifts inside for an adult reader, it can only have a more powerful effect on young impressionable minds.

Magnificent story!

Ken Spillman The Great Storyteller ( illustrations by Manjari Chakravarti) Scholastic India, Gurgaon, Delhi, 2018. Pb. Rs 250

6 May 2018 

There’s no GST on books. And yet books will become more expensive: Suppliers will have to pay GST, and that will raise the cost of producing books

On 1 July 2017  the Government of India replaced the existing tax system with Goods and Services Tax or GST. I wrote in Scroll the impact this new tax will have on the publishing industry. My article was published on 8 July 2017. The text is c&p below. 

Update ( 8 July 2017): At the time of writing the GST for author’s royalties was 18% and that of printing was 5%. Subsequently after the article was published reliable sources said these figures had been revised. The GST on author’s royalties had been reduced to 12% and that of printing increased to 12%. This is a situation which is in flux and the numbers have to be constantly monitored on Government of India notifications before the new taxation system stabilizes. 

On the face of it, the fact that no Goods and Services Tax has been imposed on books – there was no excise either earlier – should have been good news for publishers and readers alike. The new tax system, which replaces the older, multi-layered version, envisages zero GST on books of all kinds. However, there’s a catch.

While books attract no GST, many of the components of a book do. All along the value chain, from paper to printing to author royalties, GST payments have kicked in from July 1 onwards, which means that the cost of putting together a book will now be higher. Ananth Padmanabhan, CEO, HarperCollins India said, “GST does have an impact on input costs.”

And, to maintain their margins – which have already been under pressure – publishers may have no choice but to increase prices. With most individual titles – barring textbooks and mass market bestsellers – already seeing dwindling sales, higher prices are not welcome right now.

Why prices will rise
What goes into a book? The intellectual property comes from the writer, in the form of the manuscript. The physical components include paper, ink, glue, etc., required for printing and binding a book. And the services are in the form of printing and delivery to the publisher’s warehouse. Now, with GST slapped on each of these components, the paper-supplies and the printer, for instance, will add this tax to their cost. In other words, it will be the publisher, who buys the products or the service from them, who will have to foot this additional expense.

The publishing industry uses the services of freelance experts for many aspects of editing and production – copy-editing, proofreading, type-setting, cover design, illustrations, and so on – all of whom will now have to pay 18% GST instead of 15% service tax. Since they will pass this cost on to the publisher, the expenses will rise further.

Explained Manas Saikia, co-founder, Speaking Tiger Books, “There is an 18% GST on all service providers. If they are registered under GST then they will charge it with their bills. If they are not registered, then there will be a reverse tax charge so the publisher will pay. The exact cost increase will vary and I would say production, pre-press, and royalty costs will go up by 5% to 6% in total.”

But why will publishers not get the same benefit that other industries will get? As with the older Value Added Tax, the GST also includes the concept of Input Tax Credits (ITC). Put simply, this means that the seller of the final product has to pay GST at the prevailing rate, but can claim credits on all the GST already paid by his suppliers. In this scenario, the publisher would have been able to claim ITC on the GST paid its suppliers – had there been a GST on the books it’s selling.

However, since there is no GST on books, the question of claiming such credits does not arise. So, the publisher will find their costs increasing because of the GST paid by its suppliers, which range from 12% on paper to 18% on printing. Said Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette India: “Printers have told us that there is a 5% plus increase in material cost due to GST.”

The impact on royalties
Royalties are the payment that a publisher makes to the writer of a book. It is usually calculated as a percentage of the cover price of the book – usually between 7.5% and 15%, depending on the stature of the writer, the format of the book, and the number of copies sold. This form of payment means that the author’s earnings are proportionate to the number of copies sold. However, some royalties are usually paid as an advance, to be adjusted against actual earnings later. But since publishers do no ask writers to return their advance even if they have not sold enough copies to justify that advance in the first place, this first tranche is thus a sunken cost.

Now, for the first, royalties have come under the indirect tax ambit, attracting a GST of 18%, versus zero earlier. So, an advance royalty to an author of, say, Rs 1 lakh, will now mean a tax payment of Rs 18,000. Who will pay this? As things stand, publishers are preparing to foot this cost as well, using a mechanism called reverse tax, paying the tax on the writer’s behalf as the writer may not have registered for GST.

Another option for publishers as they struggle to contain costs might be to reduce royalty payments to offset the 18% additional tax. That would be bad news for writers – but it may not be a strategy that any publisher will adopt willingly.

Summed up Abraham, “As it appears now, books are poised to become more expensive. Ironic for a category that has been kept ‘GST exempt’, but all the raw materials that make up books have gone up. So publishers may be left with no choice, but to pass on the inflationary increase from GST. Something the government may need to look into, if it kept books exempted so that prices could be held.” Added Neeraj Jain, Managing Director, Scholastic India, echoing a more optimistic view, “It’s difficult to measure the impact of GST on the publishing industry immediately. It is best to wait and watch.”

7 July 2017

“Mohanaswamy” by Vasudhendra: a First Collection of Gay Stories Translated from Kannada

( My review article on Vasudhendra’s fantastic short story collection, Mohanaswamy, was published in Bookwitty.) 

Recently translated into English, Mohanaswamy, by the Kannada-language author Vasudhendra, is a collection of short stories that revolve around the central character, Mohanaswamy, who is gay.

Vasudhendra, who has published more than 12 books on a variety of subjects with impressive print runs of 12-18,000, had never before written openly about homosexuality. Mohanaswamy is his first collection of gay stories, which, he admits, was a courageous act that he undertook while tackling depression. It took him more than three years to write, but turned out to be therapeutic. He said, “I am very happy these days that I wrote Mohanaswamy. It was a kind of liberation for me. No other book has given me such joy.”

Over five years ago, Desha Kala, the Kannada literary magazine edited by noted writer Vivek Shanbhag, ran a 6,500-word story titled “Mohanaswamy” by an author whose pseudonym was ‘Shanmukha S’. In an article that appeared in the Hindustan Times, Shanbhag says the story was fascinating, and not because it spoke of gay love. “The central aspect of ‘love and longing’ was well beyond the social and anatomical construct in the story. Its emotional energy was very high because it was deeply autobiographical,” he said. Several years later Shanmukha S revealed himself to be Vasudhendra.

Vasudhendra quit working as a software professional to become a full time writer. He also founded a publishing house called Chanda Pustaka which has developed a formidable reputation for encouraging new writing in Kannada. So far, Chanda Pustaka has published more than 70 books garnering more than 100 literary prizes, including the National Academy of Letters Sahitya Akademi award, in the process.

Mohanaswamy is a young man from a village in Karanataka who has been considered a misfit since his childhood when he preferred playing with his sister and her friends than with boys his age. The stories are not arranged chronologically but roughly cover the lifespan of Mohanswamy from early adolescence to middle age.

The collection opens with a heartrending story, ‘The Gordian Knot’. Mohanswamy has been living with Karthik for five years when he discovers unexpectedly that Karthik is getting married to a woman and moving to another city. Another powerful story is, “Bed Bug” which explores the challenges of being gender fluid and the devastating consequences of trying to live one’s true identity in a firmly patriarchal world. When the protagonist, Shankar Gowda, a childhood friend of Mohanaswamy’s, disappears from his village, it transpires that Shankar was a victim of an honor killing carried out by his father and brothers. The title does not hint at the tragedy to come but when the story ends it’s easy to draw a parallel with the discomfort a bed bug causes and the similar effect Shankar’s presence has on his family. The story is even more powerful when one discovers that the character is based on a real-life classmate of Vasudhendra’s. The anguish a gay Indian male lives is once again illustrated when Mohanaswamy, while struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality in college, hardly ever discusses homosexuality with other students. He chooses not to reveal his true self, fearing “that would give rise to unnecessary doubts in his friends’ minds. So when gay sex did come up in their conversations, he would pass a snide remark as a defence mechanism.”

Story after story addresses a different challenge of being gay while living in a conservative, patriarchal society such as India. It is worthwhile to note that the Delhi High Court, in 2009, decriminalized homosexuality between consenting adults, to the joy of the LGBTQ community. Ironically, on December 11, 2013, the day the original Kannada edition of Mohanaswamy was published, the Supreme Court overturned the previous judgement of the Delhi High Court, leaving the matter of amending or repealing the Act to the Parliament. It has yet to be resolved.

Mohanaswamy is a remarkably bold debut collection not only for writing explicit scenes of gay sex in India but also for a wise commentary via fiction of how homosexuals are perceived and treated in India. There is a quiet dignity in the tenor without a shrill activist voice. The arrangement of the stories with the carefully selected titles is admirable in marking the life of Mohanaswamy from adolescence to middle age, repeatedly facing social ostracization, his exploration for love, and coming to terms with the transition from lust to companionship. Mohanaswamy is an extraordinary collection of fiction which will hopefully travel far especially if it helps speak to parents of the LGBTQ community and farther.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s “The Girl Who Chose”

img_20161007_222947

Incredible dedication in the book

img_20161007_222930

Popular mythologist and storyteller Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Girl Who Chose is about the five choices Sita makes in the Ramayana. These choices have consequences. The beauty of Devdutt Pattanaik being so familiar with the Hindu img_20161007_223036epics is that he is able to play with the material which exists making apparent that has always been in the stories but largely ignored. This book is about one such aspect — the choices a woman can make and has the right to do so. In this case it is Sita no less who is otherwise in an overtly patriarchal interpretation of the epic is made out to be demure and obedient wife. Whereas Devdutt Pattanaik with his vast knowledge of the various versions of the Ramayana and the local interpretations is able to create an image of a strong and independent woman who knows how to negotiate and exist. In fact she is considered to have taught her twin sons — Luv and Kush — the art of warfare.

This slim text has been illustrated in the characteristic style by Devdutt Pattanaik. This is a must have text and should be circulated widely to counter many of the wrong and inevitably patriarchal interpretations of the epic. It would be interesting to see if even a small fraction of the strong Sita that comes through the evidence collated by the mythologist will ever makes its presence felt in the interpretation of Sita enacted in the Ramlila during navratri.

img_20161007_223959img_20161007_224011
Devdutt Pattanaik The Girl Who Chose:  A New Way of Narrating the Ramayana Puffin Books, Delhi, India. Pb.pp. 112 Rs 199 

 

7 Oct 2016 

 

 

 

 

Jip and Janneke – two kids from Holland

Yip & Yanka English CoverI received a beautiful book in the post last week. The moment I opened the parcel, my five-year-old Yip & Yanka Hindi Coverdaughter took the book away from me and said triumphantly, “This is mine!” Sarah was charmed by the beautiful illustrations and insisted I read the story out aloud immediately. So I did. Jip and Janneke – Two kids from Holland is about two children introducing Holland to an international audience.

Supported by the embassy of the Netherlands, the book has been made available in India by A&A Book Trust. They are pleased to offer Jip and Janneke – Two kids from Holland by Fiep Westendorp, in English or Hindi, to NGOs promoting literacy through libraries, schools and centers for underprivileged children.

Jip and Janneke (pronounced Yip and Yannaka) are the Netherland’s most famous kids. From 1952 right up to now, generations of Dutch children have grown up with them. Parents read these stories to their children, just as these were read to them by their parents when they were young.

Jip and Janneke - 1In this hardbound book full of colour plates, Fiep Westendorp’s illustrations – among theJip and Janneke - 2 most beautiful that she ever made – are the starting point of a journey through the Netherlands in which Jip and Janneke show children from other countries a number of typical events in the lives of Dutch children.

NGOs promoting literacy amongst children are invited to express their interest in this pictorial introduction to the Netherlands by writing to A&A Book Trust at aabooktrust@gmail.com

9 March 2015 

Citation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books

Citation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books

I was on the jury for the Crossword Book Prize for children’s and young adult literature in 2013. We read over 90+ books to decide the winner. The award was split between two authors — Payal Kapadia and Uma Krishnaswami. Here is the citation read out at the ceremony on 6 Dec 2013 in Mumbai.) 

Wisha WozzariterCitation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books
7 December 2013 at 07:46
The Crossword Book Award 2013 for Children’s Books goes to:

Wisha Wozzawriter by Payal Kapadia

And

Book Uncle & Me by Uma KrishnaswamiBookUncle and Me
As seasoned readers who pore through books on a routine basis, it isn’t often that we sit up and gasp and exclaim, WOW! This year while perusing the collection submitted to us by the Crossword team it was the books ‘Wisha Wozzariter‘ & ‘Book Uncle and Me’ that triggered this rare flash of exuberant surprise.

Wisha Wozzawriter

The drudgery, complexity and rigour of creative writing are not exactly the ingredients of a story. Rather than the basis of a storybook, and a children’s book at that, this material belongs squarely in the realm of textbooks. The genius of author Payal Kapadia and her pocket-sized creative writing storybook, Wisha Wozzariter, is the manner in which she has transformed such a drab subject into a wonderful, colourful, absorbing book.

Payal’s book is imaginative, creative and witty. It is one of those uncommon books that work at multiple levels. Unfolding as it does at a captivating pace, it weaves in sentences and references that open up myriad worlds of books and ideas. It is a book that a young reader can enjoy for its wackiness and inventiveness, and constantly return to over the years, growing old with it. Not only is it technically sound but above all it is a good, enjoyable read.

Book Uncle & Me

One of the continuing struggles in Indian writing in English is the quest for a self-confident voice writing in a language given to us by colonialism. Indian children’s books are still finding a voice that reflects our particularities and yet transcends those to speak of universal ideas, a voice that is neither didactic nor exotic, a voice that can both spark the child’s imagination and lead it towards action. Book Uncle and Me is that rare book.

It weaves a simple story in a voice that is strongly rooted in an Indian context and yet speaks of childhood experiences that cross cultural borders. A broken pavement, a library and a girl who has decided to read one book a day come together in an inspirational story about forging a community to create change. Uma Krishnaswami’s skill in experimenting with form by telling the story entirely in free verse is matched with her nuanced understanding of the child’s world. She recognises that children are capable of negotiating complexity in their everyday lives and refuses to talk down to them. Priya Kurien’s illustrations add another layer of resonance, making Book Uncle and Me a truly unforgettable book.

 Samina Mishra, Deepak Dalal, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

 12 Feb 2014

UPDATE

I uploaded this note on my Facebook page last week. Since then the authors and other jury members have also commented on the post.I am reproducing their comments below.

Uma Krishnaswami I was unable to make it for the awards ceremony last year, so I missed the reading of the citation. Jaya, I’m getting misty-eyed reading it now. So much of a writer’s life and heart goes into a book, and sometimes (OK, I’ll say it–often) it can seem as if no one is paying any attention at all. I’ll treasure what you had to say about my book. It will bolster me when the writing on the next book gets tough (which it will) or the reviews and sales iffy (things I have no control over). Thank you again to Samina Mishra, Deepak Dalal, and you, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, for your perfect and instinctive understanding of both intention and craft in Book Uncle and Me.

Samina Mishra Uma, I’m delighted that you think the citation reflects a “perfect and instinctive understanding of both intention and craft in Book Uncle and Me

Deepak Dalal Speaking about misty eyes, that’s what happens to me when I read great books. ‘Book Uncle & me’ did all kinds of things to my eyes. It was a pleasure and a privilege selecting your book, Uma.

Payal Kapadia Dear Jaya, Deepak and Samina: Wisha had something weighty and worthwhile to say in the face of such a generous tribute! Does a thank-you sufficiently express the gratitude I feel for the warm welcome I’ve received when I’m just the new kid on the block? I was at the awards and I don’t remember the citation being read out — probably because my heart was thumping so fast I could barely think (and still is). Haven’t gotten over the flush of the award, and I’m sure that “the drudgery, complexity and rigor of creative writing” will not appear to be so with your kind words ringing in my ears. I wrote “Wisha Wozzariter” to see if I had it in me to be a writer. Thank you for believing in me — and for showing me that I can take life one book at a time.

Deepak Dalal What a wonderful book, Payal! Deserves all its plaudits and more. Now you have to keep those creative juices flowing…

20 Feb 2014 

Adil Jussawalla, “The Right Kind of Dog”

Adil Jussawalla, “The Right Kind of Dog”

DB 1

Slim hardback volume of poems by Adil Jussawalla. Written over many years, some previously published in Nabina Das’s The Four Quarters Magazine . DB 2Publishers rarely deign to publish poetry, but the editors of Duckbill were spot on in publishing this collection of poetry. Poems, if well crafted, are exquisitely designed pieces. With every reading, you discover something new. I was fascinated with The Right Kind of Dog, for its range of ideas explored, for the experimentation of form, metre and rhythm. The poems can be read in solitude, they can be shouted out aloud or simply read out to a group of friends. The poems tend to trickle into the reader’s consciousness and stay there, commenting upon the mundane ( “Visiting Relatives”) or plucking an idea from mythology ( “A Song for Eklavya”) or simply reflecting ( “Christmas card”).

DB 5It may seem like a steep price to pay at Rs 200 for a slim volume like this, but it is money well spent. In the few pages of poems, there is so much to read, assimilate, revisit and appreciate. Most importantly, if this is targeted at young adults, then it is well suited. The gentleness and kindness that seeps through the poetry, reaches out to readers who are testing their wings, asserting their identities, slightly confused/overawed by the world, these poems speak well to them, without talking down. ( “the Good-for-Nothing”, “Imagination” and “My Fold-Up Poem”) DB 6 These poems need to be accessed by many. Maybe have sessions in schools, libraries, colleges etc. Otherwise this volume will languish in warehouses.

The illustrations by Ahlawat Gunjan are beautiful. The art work complements the poems well.
DB 4

Here is a link to Adil Jussawalla reading his poems: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN1JNFAu6e4&feature=player_embedded
Adil Jussawalla The Right Kind of Dog Duckbill Books, Chenna, 2013. Hb. pp.30. Rs. 200

hOle Books, Duckbill Books

hOle Books, Duckbill Books

hOle books, off Facebook page

In April 2013, Duckbill Books launched a new chapter book series in India called hOle books. ( Duckbill books was launched in 2012. It has been established by Anushka Ravishankar and Sayoni Basu. Two names that are very well known in children and YA literature in India and worldwide.) There are four inaugural titles, with one seasoned author, Asha Nehemiah, and three new authors. Each book has a balance between text and illustration. Short chapters, with text laid out well enough for a new reader to understand the text. These books work well for reading out aloud or for a little child to trace their fingers on the text and read slowly and clearly. At the same time, without being tied down to too many technicalities, the stories do have a zany imaginative aspect to them. My particular favourite is Asha Nehemiah’s Trouble with Magic. It has magic, imagination, taking off from an extremely ordinary situation at home. Plus a lot of colourful descriptions in the text. I read out some of the stories to my three-year-old daughter, Sarah. She loved them. The black and white illustrations are simple with bold strokes. Easy to match with the text. In 99% of the cases it works well, except for p.36 of Meera Nair’s Maya Saves the Day. I would not have noticed the discrepancy in the illustration, if it were not for the fuss being made in the story about Maya throwing a tantrum and her mother remarking upon the cost of the t-shirt that she was wearing. In the illustration though she is wearing a frock. Minor detail, but literal minded tiddlers can get quite annoying with their questions about these lapses.

The branding of hOle Books is delightful with a big fat hole punched straight through the top right hand corner of every book. The moment Sarah spotted it, she was ecstatic. She immediately poked her finger through it and danced around the house singing, “its mine, its mine”. Hmm! Not sure if that is what meant to be done to books, but if it helps inculcate a love for books, for reading, beginning with the tactile sense, then I am all for it!

hOle Books, published by Duckbill Books, India. Distributed by Westland books. Here is their Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/hOlebooks?fref=ts