Friday, June 25, 2010

My Brother Tootoo

Author Urmila Mahajan writes that Tulika's latest My Brother Tootoo is "...all about expecting the unexpected. Tootoo is a late talker but once he begins, there’s no stopping him. Secrets are shared and shielded as he and his elder sister, Rini, meet cheeky Murli, the local presswalla’s son. Despite Rini's disapproval of Murli's wayward and sometimes dishonest disposition, she and Tootoo befriend him, and the three of them end up having a fascinating and terrifying adventure."

What inspired you to write the story?
There’s more than one answer to this question.
In a sense, the story was born when I had to pass time in the car, every day outside my daughter’s tuition. There was this picturesque house on the one side and a park on the other. I started drawing the house one day, and as I sketched, I wondered about the people who lived there. The house, the lane carpeted with crunchy gulmohur pods, the shimmering hot summer air and the park came together in my mind and I started writing.
From another angle, I have shown the possible consequences of ‘breaking the rules’, but more than anything else, I wanted to draw attention to the mystery and wonder of the natural world.

Is it based on true incidents?
The story is a work of fiction but there are certain elements of truth. I knew a child who fell out of a window on the first floor and started talking after that. Only he was younger than Tootoo. By the way, Albert Einstein too was a late talker.
I feel connected to the natural world, just as Rini does and I still love trampling dry leaves when I walk.

Did you set out to write an adventure story? Did it change while you were writing it?
Yes, I did, but I wanted it to be a journey through children’s minds as much as an adventure in the external world.

What were the easiest and hardest parts to write?
The first chapter was the hardest. I started and scrapped many ideas. It got easier as the novel advanced.

Why do you use some of Rini’s diary entries alongside the main narrative?
The story is stretched across a time frame of three years. Rini writes the main story, which is a recollection of the past, while her diary entries wind up the story in the present. I found it interesting to fit the narrative over two distinct time frames. It gave me the freedom to alternate between past and present events to establish connections.

Were Tootoo, Rini and Murli sketched in your mind before you started or did they come to life as the story evolved?
To begin with, I’m afraid they were stilted and wooden. As I spent time with them and wrote and re-wrote chapters, they started moving and talking in my mind. The story took up a life of its own.

Rini is intrigued by the natural world around her. Did you choose to create her like this because these days many of us seem distant from what surrounds us?
It’s a shame how little most of us know about the natural world around us. I think we ought to look at trees and notice the season in which they flower, if and when they shed their leaves, when new leaves are born and what colour they are - more so as trees dwindle in big cities. In a changing world, it’s not too late to turn away from computer screens and look out of the window. Rini evolved out of my intention to draw on the magical quality of the world.

How do you think readers are likely to react to the book? What do you hope they will take away?
It is difficult for me to gauge readers’ reactions. Though the story revolves around children, it is meant for readers of all ages. I hope reading My Brother Tootoo is a positive experience for them and I will be genuinely curious to know their impression of it.

You can find the book on the Tulika site.

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