Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In the moment. . .

Sometimes we find stories in the things that we see and experience. At other times stories find us. In the case of The Tamarind Tree, both were true! I had just put down the phone after rashly promising to write a story for my 5 year old nephew. As I turned to look out of the window, I heard the happy shrieks of young boys climbing the tamarind tree outside.  It was something I had witnessed each fruit bearing season. I could not resist sharing it with a little boy who is growing up in a time when the joy and adventure of life are rarely sought in the infinite possibilities of the everyday and the commonplace. 
- Lata Mani, Author 
Lata talks a little more about the pleasures of experiencing stillness and savouring little things that very often lead to discoveries about self and the world, in the following excerpts from articles that appeared in The Hindu...

 ... The last thing she expected to do was write for children. “I did not read much as a child. My stories were oral. I imagined telling a story, not writing it…” All that changed when her nephew Gautam asked her to write a story for him. “When you promise a child something, you have to fulfil it. I bravely ventured into new territory, and enjoyed doing it. That’s because I love children’s books. Take A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Earnest H. Shepard’s line drawings of Winnie are still alive – and the discovery of innocent relationships among species… That is so important at a time when the world of Nature is often shown as uncertain and dangerous,” says Lata…  

So did she follow a plan to capture kids’ attention? “No, but I realised that my nephew and his friends had very little time to do nothing. As a child, I spent a lot of time looking at the clouds, apparently aimlessly. Now everything is so activity and plot driven…movies, television, books. I wanted to give them (children) a chance to make a discovery that was not didactic.”

That is probably why her books are about slice-of-life moments – four boys’ outing under and atop a tamarind tree, a kid and his father marvelling at a spider’s web – and blissful languor. “A lot can happen when apparently nothing is going on,” she says. Strangely for someone who so evocatively describes the act of plucking a ripe tamarind and eating it that you whiz past to your childhood on a magical cloud. Lata has never climbed a tamarind tree or tasted its intense sweet-sour fruit. “I grew up in Bombay,” she laughs. “I now live in Koramangala (Bangalore) and saw some boys climbing a tamarind tree. I discovered nature late in life. But I have learnt the joys of paying attention to it. And, I want kids to enter a world and discover things.”
- February 2009, The Hindu, Metro Plus 

Her newest venture is in the realm of children's books, brought on by a promise to her four-year-old nephew. These stories are "not plot-driven," she says. "Children are so driven by activity. My most cherished memories of my childhood are doing nothing, looking at the sky, tracing some shapes in the mud, throwing a ball up and down, lots of time for my mind to breathe and float like a kite in the Bangalore sky. 

Children these days are so programmed, taken from one activity to the next and I thought "Is there a way in which one can write stories that built in a sense of ... contemplation in a very simple way that invites children to do nothing? And yet there is so much richness in allowing your mind to wander and see your relationship with Nature."

That is what she has tried to do with The Tamarind Tree and her latest The Spider's Web, about a boy learning the difference between looking and seeing, through his father's camera.
- February 2009, The Hindu, Literary Review