Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Journeys that shaped a nation

Foreward from Devika Cariapa's India Through People: 25 Game Changers 
India as a country is something of a wonder. Think about it. So many ethnic groups, religions and cultures, and hundreds of languages. One-sixth of humanity squeezed into an area best described as a subcontinent! In recent history, this vast nation has been buffeted by revolutionary change – shaking off 200 years of colonial rule, examining and shedding age-old social customs, absorbing influences from a fast changing and more connected world, to emerge as an independent, modern nation. Shaping all of this have been some extraordinary people.

We call them the gamechangers. Men and women who, with their ideas and actions, left a radical imprint on the course of the country. They broke taboos, set trends and forged new paths, often at personal cost and against impossible odds. Any time of transformation typically brings to the fore outstanding achievers, and to pick some over others is naturally difficult. Twenty-five of them are in this book. They were all born after 1850, and represent diverse fields and parts of the country. You will recognise some of them at once, some may be unfamiliar. Names of other great contemporaries appear along the way, giving a wider picture 
of the age.

It is useful to remember that many of these people lived in very different times, with different kinds of issues to deal with. They should be seen through that viewpoint, and not from our present outlook. For their time, they were bold and visionary. They were iconic achievers, not perfect human beings as we often expect our idols to be. They made mistakes and changed their minds. Some are criticised today for things they said or did, their ideas challenged – but we can thank them for creating the space that makes it possible for us to do that!


Click here to buy your copy of the book!

Devika Cariapa is a Delhi based author with a lifelong passion for archaeology, travel and unearthing stories from the past. She graduated from the Deccan College, Pune, and was a research fellow studying prehistoric art at IGNCA, Delhi. Her earlier book with Tulika, India Through Archaeology: Excavating History has been awarded The Hindu Young World–Goodbooks Award 2018 and the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar 2019.

Authors of 'The Tenth Son' interact with young readers

 "What is fiction?"

The fourth graders had insisted on joining the conversation meant for the fifth and sixth graders at Redwood Montessori School. As Ashish tried to explain the word fiction to a child, Ayan shrugged his shoulders and said, “It's make believe. It did not actually happen, except in my head.” The curious child had understood it perfectly. His fellow fourth graders nodded their heads too.

“So you made up this story with demons from the Mahabharata with imaginary fights and they printed it?” another fourth grader asked as the older kids groaned. They knew how books were made and thought it was not cool to ask such obvious questions. “Yes,” Ayan responded. As the implications of this hit the fourth graders collectively, you could almost feel the possibilities pinging around their heads. The jaded fifth and sixth graders also took notice. They had encountered yet another genre of books and got a glimpse into the multitudes that good stories carry.

The Tenth Son written by 
eleven-year-old Ayan and his father Ashish Malpani is filled with adventures, asuras and enough thrills to satisfy any ten-year-old’s heart. The middle grade fiction was introduced to the fifth and sixth graders at two schools namely Abacus Montessori and Redwood Montessori in Chennai.

From experiences of watching peeing cows on the Indian streets to discussing their writing styles, Ashish and Ayan thrilled the tiny tots with their stories at the launch. A writing exercise conducted by the authors was the major attraction at this interaction. 

In this high-speed chase The Tenth Son, the protagonist Advik lives in the USA. He comes to India on a vacation and encounters a thrilling adventure through three worlds, in which myth and reality come together. Many experiences were sourced from Ayan's visits to India during his summer breaks and his exposure to mythological tales.

'Not all Transformers. Only Optimus Prime!'

During one of the writing exercises post the reading, when asked about their favourite characters, children listed out everything from the usual Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Magnus Chase to the unusual 'Mr. Shark' (From Bad Boys Series by Aaron Blabey). The list also included Superman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman. In an admirable instance in the course of the three part writing exercise that Ashish conducted – an actual, live one legged crow that has become the class's de facto pet was also nominated for the list!

As the next step, children were asked to throw these characters into terrifying situations that would put many an experienced adventure writer to shame. A few snippets from this were crocodiles in Thailand, terror on the Burj Khalifa, and even a fracas in a local mall that was so hair-raising that we were told could not be read aloud! (A peek revealed some pretty good potty humour though.)

Ayan, an avid fan of the Percy Jackson series, wanted a similar pacy adventure story rooted in his culture. Not finding many, he went ahead to wrote The Tenth Son with his father. Similarly, these nuggets of information from the writing exercises held at both schools revealed that little writers are confident and clear about what they like to read and write.

Experiencing the ease with which imagination runs wild among children and their positive reassurance towards books are the highlights of our author interactions. Such sessions makes us expect great things – both from the eleven-year-old Ayan and his audience.

A big thanks to Joanne Saldanhas (@mythaunty) for arranging these special author interactions.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Guthli Has Wings: Q & A with author-illustrator Kanak Shashi

“Why do you keep saying I’m a boy when I’m a girl?” Guthli asks her mother. 

Tulika's latest picture book, Guthli Has Wings by Kanak Shashi, is a compelling story about gender identity. Framed by vibrant cut-out illustrations it explores, simply but boldly, the confusion and acceptance that Guthli and her loving family go through. We spoke to the author about her book, the process and the challenges that she faced. 

What prompted you to write Guthli?

I have always been interested in gender. In how the world seems too neatly divided into two genders – almost like a black and white strip, where grey spaces are taken into account reluctantly, if at all, while violently ‘othered’ most of the time. I have been exploring these themes for a long time. One thing that has always drawn my attention particularly is the performative aspect of gender – the way we are, our whole existence is, gendered. And that is not only about the ‘choice’ of clothes. It’s a long, long list of dos and don’ts of acceptable roles.

So, when I was working for  FICA (Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art) on a magazine project with a group of children in Delhi, I observed that sometimes they used to tease each other – “Ye ladki ke jaise mehndi lagake aaya hai... ye ladkon ki tarah football khelti hai... (He’s come wearing mehendi like a girl… She’s playing football like a boy…) etc. So we discussed what they understood about gender, what the differences were between boys and girls, and we did a fun activity where we changed gender roles. Some of them were shy, but most of them copied all the available stereotypes. The point is that those children actually enacted the performance of gender, and in that way also thought about the whole process. 

This exercise was a learning experience for me. And it gave me the idea for another Guthli story. Guthli was not a new character at that time. I had already written a couple of stories with Guthli as a girl. But that activity with children added a new dimension – it opened for me the possibilities to explore the fluidity of gender through this character.

When was the story first published? 

In 2015, in Being Boys (Tulika).

I had written Guthali Toh Pari Hai in Hindi – yes, I write in Hindi! – in 2010, which my friend Rinchin translated into English as Guthli Has Wings, and this was suggested as a story for the anthology Being Boys. Recently, a Bhopal-based NGO Muskaan published it as part of their English reader set. And now this picture book!

Why did you decide to write a picture book addressing very young children in the 5 to 7 age group? Aren't they too young to understand issues of gender identity?

As seen in the children’s activity I just spoke about, I think the sooner you start talking to children the better it is. I have seen children aged 3-6 years trying on each other’s clothes – girls wearing boys’ clothes and vice-versa. Boys speak like girls (main nahi jaoongi-aaoongi) and girls like boys (khaoonga-pioonga). This is all before the standard gender roles are firmly cemented in their minds. For them it’s a fun thing, they can be anything they want... a girl, a boy, or something entirely different.
Children are intelligent beings incessantly exploring the world around them and getting amazed by it. Biases and prejudices are not in their nature – they learn these at a very young stage from us, the adult world. The point is that we are teaching these to them from a very, very early stage. Now, if we want to cultivate a different sensibility about gender, the time to start that too is at a much younger stage than we usually concede.

What were the challenges when writing a picture book on a theme that is seen widely as a ‘taboo’ in children's books?

There was nothing especially challenging about writing the book! Of course, every work is challenging, as in you try to explore new ways and perspectives of seeing, creating and experiencing things. In that way, given the ‘taboo’, that is, talking about gender, the challenge is now for the readers – teachers, parents, etc. Somehow, I have a feeling that it won’t be as confusing for the children as it might be for the adults.

Interestingly, many contemporary writers are exploring so-called ‘taboo’ subjects – death, poverty, human rights struggles etc. – in children’s books. For example, Rinchin. 

Have you interacted with this age group using the story?

Not with this story in particular, but I have interacted with children on these themes.

Would you agree that such books are needed to sensitise adults more than children as it is their attitudes that influence children the most?

Lots of material is already available for adults, but do they read it? Maybe they don’t feel the need to read, and even if they do, how many of them talk about gender with their children? I think discussions – asking questions – are important, and children are better at that. What parents need to do is to be honest if they don’t know the answers to the questions raised by children. Then they should find out about them, rather than brushing aside the children’s questions.

You have also illustrated the book. Was there any reason to choose this particular style of art using paper cut-outs?

In art practice, you always try to experiment and explore things. That is the fun of doing art. And since I was also the writer in this case, it gave me more freedom to play around with the medium.


Kanak Shashi loves walking amidst nature collecting twigs, leaves, seeds and feathers, and wondering what stories they may hold within. An artist, she has studied painting at MS University, Vadodara, and been illustrating, writing and designing children’s books for over a decade.