Here's a neat little introduction to Radhika before we move on to the interview.
Radhika's first picture book "I'm So Sleepy” , published by Tulika, went on to become a series - Baby Bahadur Books - with four more stories: “Snoring Shanmugam”, “Colour Colour Kamini”, “Mallipoo Where Are You”, and “Yes Hutoxi”. Tulika also published her story “Basava and the Dots of Fire” and her poem “A Well is Born” is a part of Tulika’s anthology “Water Stories”.
Radhika Chadha is a strategy consultant with two books and over a hundred articles on various management themes under her belt. She tumbled into children’s writing entirely by accident when she began brewing bedtime tales for her toddler son.
Thank you, Rachna & Radhika for taking the time! Thrilled to host you both on Saffron Tree!
1. Radhika, we all know that you wrote “I’m so sleepy” after telling the story to your son, who was 7 years old, then (information on the jacket of the book). What made you revisit Bahadur’s family?
Actually I had written the story even earlier than that, when my son was a hyperactive toddler who refused to go to sleep. I had had this fond hope that by the end of the bedtime tale, all those repetitions of “I’m so sleepy”, especially with the elongated “sleeeepy” sounds, would hypnotise him into falling sleep, but it never worked. Radhika Menon did tell me right then that she saw a series in the offing, but I hadn’t thought beyond Bahadur at that time, so I do feel a bit bemused sometimes, that there are five in the Baby Bahadur Series already. I guess the bunch became almost like a family – with their own endearing foibles and eccentricities – and they began to murmur their own stories to me. And over time many more characters muscled their way into Bahadur’s jungle - Kamini and her chameleons pals toddled over, along with Anna and Akka, the elephant teenagers. Mallipoo and her siblings were nameless babies in the first story and got starring roles later.
2. How has the “Baby Bahadur" series evolved? In your blog on the Tulika site (http://tulikapublishers.blogspot.com/search/label/Yes%20Hutoxi) you mentioned that children want you to write about Kamalnayan next. Is it happening?
Shanmugam literally popped into my head, complete with surround-sound effects, a few days after Sleepy was published – it was late at night and I felt compelled to get out of bed and write it down before Shanmugam’s snores drove me batty. Kamini is based on a real life incident – I saw this chameleon in shades of bright pink and orange that stood out vividly against the trunk of a tree in the most un-camouflaged manner, and it got me thinking about a chameleon who was unable to control her colours. Mallipoo – well, every mother, including me, has known the problems of finding a good babysitter with whom you can leave your kids and after Anna-Akka made their boisterous appearance in Kamini, I wondered what would happen if they were entrusted with a serious responsibility. Hutoxi’s story came about when I began wondering what a horse was doing in the jungle – where did she come from, what was her back-story?
Kamalnayan – yes, it’s true that many kids have told me that they want a book starring him – perhaps they are intrigued with his name. I’m sure he will let me know when he’s ready to tell his story!
3. Please share with us some of your more memorable experiences with children when you visit schools and libraries for book readings.
I quite enjoy reading in schools – far more than in bookshops or book launches, I must admit. There’s a greater intimacy in schools and I find that the children, perhaps because they are in familiar surroundings, are more open with their views and insights. Quite often I have found that the kids have read one of the books in the series – in some schools a couple of the books have also been used in creative writing classes. When this happens, it’s like chatting with a book club – they have formed views on the characters and want to discuss them. I particularly enjoy it when they tell me how they use Amma’s anti-snoring technique on their own parents. I remember the bloodthirsty little chap who was rather disappointed when Gabbar Singh didn’t eat up all the animals. “Eat them, eat them all” he urged, as I read it out. Then there was the insightful boy who pointed out that “Hutoxi thinks she is always right”. The young critic who asked “Must you write only about animals? You should write about monsters instead.” The confident young artist who told me to go to her for the illustrations the next time because “I am excellent in drawing”.
4. Basava seems like a book for older children. While it involves animals and fireflies, there are also humans in the story. Is there a “mind shift” when the protagonist is a child?
No, I experienced no difference in how I write if I move from animals to children as the main characters. But the questions I get on Basava have shown me that children engage with this book differently as compared to the Bahadur books. I have been asked if Basava has no father, since he doesn’t feature in the story. Whether Basava goes to school (yes, he does), whether it is child labour for him to collect firewood (no, he’s just helping his mother out), how come he doesn’t feel cold (the illustration shows him without a shirt), why he has no electricity at home, why didn’t he use a torch in the jungle – questions that reflected their curiosity about a child in an environment so different from their own.
5. "If you are the kind who thinks that a story should have educative value besides having fun, this one fits the bill. While the endearing little elephant is trying to figure out how it should fall asleep, the children also learn the sleeping habits of various other animals in the jungle...Priya Kuriyan's illustrations...are radiant and so full of life."
– January 2005, The Hindu, Bangalore
ST has interviewed Priya Kuriyan in the past.
what do you have to say about “team work” given that the two of you have never met?
People who are not familiar with children’s books publishing are often surprised that I have never met Priya – but that’s how things work with picture books. Picture books need collaboration between the writer and the editor one on track and on a separate, later track, between the editor and the illustrator. Tulika chooses the illustrator whose work they feel will match a particular story and I’ve been so lucky in both my illustrators. Priya has done the Baby Bahadur series and from the first book, where she had Bahadur looking cross-eyed with sleepiness, I’ve been utterly charmed by her use of zany humour and vibrant designs to make the characters so endearing. Bhakti Pathak did Basava and her brooding watercolour paintings have done such a marvelous job in evoking the mood of lonely darkness and magical dots of fire.
6. Tulika, as a publisher of children’s books, has been instrumental in giving Indian authors and illustrators a unique platform to explore and express. Please comment.
Long before I wrote “I’m so sleepy”, I was familiar with Tulika as a parent who read out aloud every night. We read aloud from a huge bunch of imported kids’ books - Robert the rose horse, Lorax, Henry and Mudge were personal favourites. Yet, I found us returning time and again to the Tulika books – Eecha Poocha, Ekki Dokki – not just for the Indian-ness of story and illustrations but also for the sheer diversity in their range. As a parent, I am grateful to Tulika for giving an entire generation of Indian kids a wide variety of books that are so rooted in Indian reality. And as a writer, I consider myself fortunate to have had this unexpected source of joy - the entire experience of working with Tulika has been a delight - they combine a passion for the language with a willingness to experiment.
I remember, when I contributed “A Well is Born” for the Water Stories anthology, somehow my story decided to rhyme, and I sent them the poem rather tentatively, expecting a double take at receiving 30-odd verses set in iambic pentameter, but though they were a tad startled, they were totally supportive and enthusiastic about the unusual structure for the tale.
Thank you, Radhika!