Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When Baby Bahadur came into this world…

When I told my then five-year old a bedtime story about a sleepy little elephant (in the vain hope that it would induce him to go to sleep early), I had no idea that Baby Bahadur and his friends would sneak in and settle down so decisively in my life. I remember, when the first of the series —  I’m So Sleepy — was published, Radhika Menon did tell me right then that she saw a series in the offing, but I didn’t quite believe her, so it feels slightly surreal that Yes, Hutoxi!, the fifth in the series is coming out this month. Shanmugam popped into my head a few days after I’m So Sleepy was published — I remember getting up from bed and writing out the story in the silence of the night (rather appropriate, for a tale about snoring). And over the years, Kamini and Mallipoo came along to keep Bahadur — and me — steady company.

Writing the Baby Bahadur series has been an unexpected source of joy for me — thanks to Deeya for being such a wonderful editor and bouncing board for my ideas, Radhika and Sandhya for their suggestions and encouragement, and Priya for her amazing illustrations. I remember toddling over to Tulika to see the illustrations for I’m So Sleepy and laughing out loud at how she had Bahadur almost cross-eyed with sleepiness — and with each successive book I have been freshly captivated by the vibrance and zany humour with which Priya’s visualization has captured the stories.
Indian names are so very evocative… and Indian nicknames can be so very amusing — for me, part of the fun is in wondering what to call a character. Authors are supposed to have a disclaimer that none of their characters are derived from real life — but here I have to admit that while the characters and their personas are, of course, fictitious, almost all the names are taken from people whom I’ve known personally, or are derived from experiences in my life, or are inside jokes in the family. Except — or is it, including? — Gabbar — we all know where he came from! I must hasten to add, however, that I have no idea whether the original Shanmugam snores loudly or whether the original Hutoxi snorts in exasperation, so any resemblance is purely coincidental.

Book readings delight me with the kind of comments and questions kids come up with. Only once did a mother complain to me that she found “all the names so confusing” — I think that is an outlier — I generally find children enjoying the different names  — and remembering the entire cast — right down to all the little chameleons whose names begin with “K” and all Paytu’s babies that end in an “oo”. Though a disapproving young reader once ticked me off sternly for using a “bad word” (Kamini) and looked unconvinced at my explanation that it is pronounced Kaaamini — such are the perils of transliteration.
Snoring Shanmugam  is usually the favourite — the last time I read this out, I sat with one hand poised like a conductor (orchestra, not bus) and told them to yell ‘khorhrhrh…’ when my hand was raised high, and to whisper ‘phsheew’ when I brought my hand down — the sound effects resulted in gales of laughter, with some of them confidentially whispering to me that “my papa also snores like that”. To such sufferers I have strongly recommended Amma’s technique to stop the khorhrhrhible sounds. Even Gabbar seems to have his own subversive fan following — I encountered one bloodthirsty little fellow who stood at my knee and whispered, “Yes, yes, eat all of them” when Gabbar made his appearance.
A little while back someone told me her family called her a “Snoring Shanmugam”; once a gentleman told me that his son was “such a forgetful Bahadur”; recently a blog post talked of a person in a multicoloured outfit being called a “colour colour Kamini” while another said her daughter insists on being called Mallipoosundari. It is a delightful and moving  feeling to hear of readers taking my characters so warmly into their lives.
“So, what’s the next one about?” is something I often get asked. Well, I have no idea just now, but I am sure Bahadur and his pals will let me know soon enough.

- Radhika Chadha, Author