Monday, October 03, 2011

An Interview with Karadi Tales

Here is a peek into the exciting world of Karadi Tales, an independent subsidiary of ACK Media. The makers of the most relevant Indian rhymes in recent times and all those lovely audio and picture books that are a treat to listen to and make a perfect gift for any occasion. A big thank you to Shobha Viswanath, publishing director and co-founder of Karadi Tales for the inside view and to Manasi, the editor at Karadi Tales who helped make it happen.

ST: What is the Karadi story so far? How did it come into being? And why a bear?
Several factors served as an inspiration for Karadi Tales – the fact that my son grew up on a staple diet of audiobooks in the US and there were none to keep his appetite fed when we returned to India, the fact that my husband, Viswanath, and his family were steeped in classical music, and my own background in education.

Even though the bear is such an integral part of the Indian forest, we have very few children's stories with a bear in them. So we thought we could create a storyteller bear – a wise, gentle grandfather-like creature. I did not want to give the bear a Western name like Teddy or even a North Indian name like Bhalu. Karadi (which means bear in Tamil) had a wonderful ring to it.

Where do you see Karadi five years from now?
We have begun to move away from audiobooks and into picture books. While our audio component is still very important, it has come to be a part of our video products, our television series, our computer applications etc. As far as the print industry is concerned, we are now focusing almost entirely on picture books. In five years, I hope we would have trail-blazed a picture book industry in this country, just as we did with audiobooks, making beautiful, sophisticated picture books available, affordable and accessible to all children,

How do you decide which tales need retelling?
So far, we have looked at stories that allow themselves a varied soundscape because they have all been audiobooks. But as we move into picture books, we look at stories that are not necessarily linear and afford dynamic illustrations. The shift is also more towards contemporary stories about today’s children and not necessarily retellings.

Why do classics need retelling? How is a Karadi version different from say some other publication's version?
Karadi Tales does have a focus on Indian stories. Some of the series (the Heritage series, the Mythology series, Under the Banyan etc.) specifically consist only of retellings of folktales. There certainly has been a strong move, especially in the last two decades, to revive homegrown folklore (as opposed to Grimm and Aesop, for example). What makes a Karadi retelling different is largely the audio factor. Our retellings are extremely popular because of the beautiful background scores and the songs.

What is the process of selection for creative tales?
We receive, on an average, around 10 manuscripts a week. We have a strict policy of reading and responding to every enquiry. The selection process is really just an editorial sense of what we feel would work for our publishing agenda. Often, we know what we want and end up commissioning stories with writers whose style we’re already familiar with.

How do you decide on the illustrator and the style for the books?
This is usually the toughest part of the process for us. We look for unique and imaginative artwork that appeals to children and adults internationally. Once we have the story in place, we usually send it out to artists asking for one sample page from the book, based on which we make our decision. We largely prefer to work with artists who paint the old-fashioned way – with their hands and not their computers.

Is there a stipulated number of pages for a picture book? Size and layout?
Picture books are usually 32 pages long. Sometimes, depending on the story, we may revise this to 24 or 36. We have no specific style that we follow. Often, each book is defined by the artist who works on it.

Can you shed light on the Eric Carle titles, the Japanese tale and other foreign collaborations?

Chitra is an imprint of Karadi Tales that tries to make picture books from around the world available to Indian children. We wanted to make the beautiful Eric Carle titles available in the bilingual format and we negotiated the translation rights to do so. As far as The Boy Who Drew Cats is concerned, it’s a Japanese folktale that struck the fancy of Anushka Ravishankar, the author. She sent us the manuscript and we liked it – it was really as simple as that! We are very open to exploring stories from all parts of the world.

Books published by Karadi Tales have also begun to travel the world. Several international publishers have picked up titles from the Karadi Tales catalogue of picture books and had them translated to make them available to children of the world. Our books are available in a number of different foreign editions in countries including China, Spain, Korea, Indonesia, the USA, the UK, Germany, France and the Philippines.

How does an audiobook get produced?
The words come first. Once we have a story ready, we simultaneously begin the processes of audio and illustration.

Karadi Rhymes are so popular and refreshing. How did it get set to music?
Why Usha Uthup?
An Indian child’s earliest experiences are through nursery rhymes. Whether or not the child understands what the rhymes, the small verses are quickly put to memory either by the tutelage of the parent or teacher, and are performed with great aplomb and action. Seldom over the past years have we stopped to challenge the value and significance of these verses. Many of these rhymes were written at a time when power rested with the monarchy in England to mock the kings and queens and bring to light a certain social situation that existed in England.

Therefore, Jack breaking his crown and Jill tumbling down, Humpty Dumpty not ever being able to be put back again etc. alluded to the rise and fall of the monarchy. While none of the above are relevant to an Indian child, some like ‘Rain, rain go away’ are actually a sacrilege in a country where water is scarce and rain an indicator of the country’s growth and development.

Karadi Rhymes are created with profound respect for the genre called Nursery Rhymes. Both in context and music, they seek to celebrate the unique Indian aesthetic. Some rhymes use a sampling of regions and languages and describe an Indian childhood filled with mangoes, music, monsoons, kites, festivals, crows, colours and so much more. Karadi Rhymes celebrate this diversity with our children.

Usha Uthup is a favourite with adults and children. She loves kids and her voice lent itself to the rhymes. It was a fairly obvious choice.

Why do you use only known voiceover artists and singers for the audiobooks? How about unknown adult and kid voices?
From an editorial standpoint, well-known actors come with the experience of using their voices theatrically and creatively. When we’re looking for a narrator, we’re not looking for the regular voiceover artistes who use their voices for documentaries and advertisements. We’re looking for storytellers – people who can act with their voices alone. In our experience, established actors come with a wealth of acting experience that serves this purpose.

Also from a marketing standpoint, it really makes far more sense to work with a talented and well-known actor like Naseeruddin Shah.

A fellow reader expressed her view that Karadi has a strong South Indian skew- karadis, kozhakottais, et al...How would you respond to that?
Karadi Tales certainly does have a South Indian feel to it – because we are, in fact, South Indian. It was not a conscious effort, but perhaps a strong subconscious effort. Besides, ‘kozhakattai’ sounds so much lovelier than ‘modak’ or ‘momo’ or ‘rice balls’!

Your take on e-books?
The book is now available on a variety of cross-platform media – computers, e-readers, television, audio etc. The actual printed book is seeing a dynamic shift thanks to new media and technology. But the art of storytelling is very, very old. No matter what, the relevance of stories will never decrease in our lives and especially in the lives of children. While the platform on which the story becomes available may change, the stories themselves will continue to be important.

How does one submit manuscripts to Karadi?
We have very clear submission guidelines on our website here . Karadi Tales accepts unsolicited manuscripts from writers. We also commission stories from writers once we’re familiar with their style. We look for strong writing, an original approach and intelligence in concept and execution.

You held the Karadi story contest a few months back. Is it going to be an annual event now?
We were overwhelmed by the response to last year’s contest. But we hope to keep reinventing the contest and coming up with different types of contests every few years.

What is the relationship between Karadi and ACK?
ACK Media has invested in Karadi Tales and this has helped us focus more on creative content as they have supported us in the distribution and marketing. Karadi Tales continues to function as an independent unit in terms of creative content development, although marketing, production and distribution have been centralised. Ultimately, we’re all one big happy family!

Any message to our ST readers?
Keep reading! :-)


nanands said...

That English is the primary language of the educated Indian does not mean that we need to educate and entertain our young ones with rhymes and songs set in an alien culture and forgotten backgrounds. Karadi's attempt at synthesis of our culture with our chosen language is indeed laudable.

Karadi Tales said...

Thanks, Saffron Tree! :-)

Artnavy said...

wish they would come with album 3 of the rhymes

Glad to kow you better Karadi

ranjani.sathish said...

Wonderful interview Art..really enjoyed reading it !

Artnavy said...

Thanks Ranjani

Krishna said...

Thoughts on ‘Rain, rain go away’, Jack and Jill falling are brought up nicely by Karady.

It is wonderful that cos like Karadi, bringing Indian context stories in Rhymes. Kudos. Good work Saffron Tree!

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