Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interview with Zai Whitaker

Kali hates school. And school hates him, he thinks, for he has no friends. The children there find him strange. He wishes his father were an ‘ordinary’ bus-conductor or postman instead of a snake-catcher, even if one of the most celebrated in the Irula tribe. He worries that others will see him eating fried termites (his favourite snack!) and laugh. And then one day, a large rat snake creates havoc in the classroom...and Kali becomes a hero!

A simple, sensitive story crafted by a writer deeply involved with environmental issues. Zai Whitaker works closely with the Irulas, and her empathy with them is as evident in this book as it was with the Jarawas in Andamans Boy, also published by Tulika. The watercolour illustrations are evocative and detailed, suffusing the story with many hues of mood.

Anne M. Dayanandan uses Tulika's books to help college students unfamiliar with English learn the language. She uses several strategies - read aloud, social learning, bilingual reading - that she will describe in the next blog post.

Interview with Zai Whitaker, author of Kali and the Rat Snake
By Anne M. Dayanandan

Is Kali based on a real person that you know?
Kali is a real person.  He was a close friend of my son’s.  The two of them would go off catching watersnakes and scorpions in the village where we lived.  He is now a man, and works in a snake venom cooperative.  He catches cobras, kraits, Russell’s vipers and saw-scaled vipers for a living. 

Why did you write this book?
It seemed so natural to write this book, because the issues it talks about were constantly in my mind. And still are.

You wrote this book ten years ago. Would you write it differently now?
Actually, I don’t think so.  I feel just as strongly about Adivasi people and the rough treatment they get wherever they go.

Did you have contact with the illustrator? Are you also an artist and can you illustrate your own books as well as write them?
Me an artist!! That’s something of a joke.  My artistic skills, I mean the lack of them, cause much laughter in my classes.  When I try to draw a fish, the kids think it’s a house.

After publication, what kinds of responses have you received about Kali and the Rat Snake? Who seems to be interested in this book?
Apart from lovely and thoughtful letters from children, teachers, parents and grandparents have written to me.  Also, organizations like yours. A film director wants to make a movie about kali.

Are you a human rights activist?
What is a Human Rights Activist? Aren’t we all?  Shouldn’t all of us thinking people consider ourselves in this category?

Has anyone from the Irula tribe read your book and what do they think about it?
This is an interesting question.  I work with a group of Irulas on Literact and I think I will take the book to some of our literacy centers and encourage Irula children to read it.