Sunday, November 13, 2011

A chat with Samhita Arni

Samhita Arni is known as the child sensation who authored and illustrated Tara's The Mahabharatha- A Child's view. The book has been translated into seven langaugaes and the author has been felicitated globally for her work. While she is an author of repute even today, the charm of a child writer and that too a creator of such a work is captivating. It is indeed a joy to have her at Saffron Tree, that too on Children's Day! The questions that ST has posed are more from a child's perspective but we trust will interest parents as well.

Samhita at 11

ST: What did you read as a child? Did you prefer listening to stories than reading them ? Or did you enjoy making up your own?

SA: I read anything and everything as a child. And I was fortunate that my parents never restricted my reading habits - I was allowed to read anything that I picked up.

I loved listening to stories, but I think I read more. I loved stories of king and queens, princesses and particularly witches. Mythology - especially Indian and Greek mythology - was a big favorite. In school, sometimes, when I was bored, I used to daydream about being a monster, or a witch, or a prince and (occasionally) even a princess. (I have to mention though, that I detested Barbie dolls - and as my mother wants me to add, used to dissect and perform operations on all the Barbie dolls that people gifted me. I was a very, very strange child)

I used to like making little books made of stapled pieces of paper, with stories that were made-up or retellings of myths.

Do you prefer to write or enjoy sketching more?

As a child, I liked both equally. As an adult, I prefer to write.

Kids usually use colour, why did you choose B&W?

It wasn't a conscious decision. I used to draw in colour as well, but when I started to write the Mahabharata, I often would draw in the same book that I was writing in - in the same ballpoint pen that I used to write with. I think also that black and white allowed me to create drawings with a lot of detail. I was a child obsessed with things like jewelry and ornate fabrics. If you look at the images in the Mahabharata, all the characters wear lots of jewelry, and wear elaborately designed outfits. Black and white allows those details to show up better. If i had done it in colour, illustrations would have taken a lot more time. (And as you might suspect, a lot of these illustrations were done in between tuition classes, homework sessions etc, so time was an important factor.)

When you realised your book was getting published, how did you feel?I don't think I was actually terribly excited. I hadn't written the book for it to get published - it was a compulsion, and obsession. I was also very caught up in my own world.

Your top 10 picture books for children?

The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf
A Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
Where the Wild Things, Maurice Sendak
Book of Nonsense, Edward Lear
George's Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl
Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey
Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
Wingless: A Fairly Weird Fairy tale, Paro Anand
Olivia, Ian Falconer
Madeline, Ludwig Bemelwans

Any advice to aspiring child writers ? And their parents?

Honestly, there was nothing really special about me - if you meet me today, I'm a fairly normal, average person. Anyone can be a writer - but I think the most important thing is that you must be compelled to tell a story.

As for parents - don't try to make your children into accountants or lawyers, and force them to be what you want. Give your kids the space and opportunity to try out many things, and find out what they're best at and what gives them the most satisfaction. Don't force them to continue something they don't like or aren't good at.

Also, there are a lot of parents who force their child to go from activity to activity, and fill up all their free time. For me, boredom was important. As a child, I needed time and space to be, to digest. It's when I was bored that I turned to writing and drawing to find something to do - and that's how the Mahabharata began.

Kids that I meet today always surprise me with their insights, and their opinions and thoughts deserve, and have earned, a great deal of my respect. I think it's important for parents to give their children the freedom to think and ask questions - I'm so grateful that my parents encouraged traits that other parents would regard as eccentric, distracting habits, and have given me the freedom to think and choose my own path in life.


Did you know? Samhita was not a draft- to- final kind of drawing kid. There was always just one go, and it either worked or it didn't. She never used an eraser or a pencil either. Drew straight on paper with pen.

When she was eight, Samhita Arni started writing and illustrating her first book. The Mahabharata - A Child's View, (Tara Books, 1996) went on to sell 50,000 copies worldwide, winning the Elsa Morante Literary Award, and receiving commendations from the German Academy for Youth Literature and Media and The Spanish Ministry of Culture.

Samhita's second book, "Sita's Ramayana", a graphic novel developed in collaboration with Patua Artist Moyna Chitrakar was published by Tara Books earlier this year.Samhita's third book and first novel, a speculative fiction feminist thriller tentatively titled "Searching for Sita" (tentative title) is forthcoming from Zubaan in 2012

For more on her, go here.

Book Image from Flipkart


sathish said...

"boredom was important". I love that statement.
but, as a parent it sometimes gets on my nerve when my kids are just sitting around doing nothing. I try hard to stop myself; but, doesn't work always!

Lovely interview Samhita and Art!

sandhya said...

I was smiling as I read about the young Samhita making books of paper stapled together. A does much the same, filling them with whatever she loves to write.

I found this version of the Mahabharatha around the time A was 5, and I had run out of stories from the epic to tell her at bedtime. Somehow I found it difficult to distill the stories into something digestible for a child. Samhita's book was a life saver, though even with it I found myself picking and choosing what I could read out to A. Of course we have read all of it now.

So when we came to know that Samhita was going to be there for a book launch of a collection of stories in which one of hers featuresd, at Crossword, we HAD to go and meet her. Of course we had never seen a picture of her, so we didn't know who she was among all those writers gathered there. By an odd co-incidence, the lady we asked for Samhita, was Samhita herself. She was so sweet and spoke to A without any 'talking down', and readily signed our copy that we had carried with us. A was thrilled.

She has been a big influence on A. Thanks, Art, for bringing her to ST.

Artnavy said...

Thanks for sharing that

Was absolutely amazed at how accesible Samhita was- an email was all it took. And very short notice too...

THANKS for making Children's Day extra special at ST!!

Arundhati said...

A delightful interview

"Boredom was important" :)

Tulika Publishers said...

Lovely, Art and Samhita.

Choxbox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Choxbox said...

Echoing what seems to have struck a chord with almost everyone - the boredom bit!

Have gifted this book to many friends' children, and also donated it to libraries of two orphanages. Been quite a hit with all of them. One time I took a friend to Sutradhar and showed her the book, she was so taken with it that between her and me we bought all the ten copies they had!

My only crib is this- it is rather difficult to get it at regular bookshops, someone somewhere needs to do something about this..

Artnavy said...

Thanks Arundathi and Tulika

I guess flipkart would be the answer but it is usually available at Strand as well no?

Samhita Arni said...

Hi, Thanks for all of your comments, and thanks to Arti for asking some great questions. (and Sandhya, I do remember you and your daughter from the book launch over a year back!)

The books are notoriously hard to get hold of, but now Flipkart carries both my books, and you can also order them off the Tara Books website. If you're in bangalore, Strand (the various strands, and the flagship store at Manipal Center stock the book. So does Blossoms, I believe. Links/Details of all places are up on my website (

Hope this helps! And thanks to all for liking the interview, and for reading the book with your children! Happy children's day!

Sam (Samhita Arni)

ranjani.sathish said...

So nice to hear Samhita's views..she is so humble and grounded ! Thanks Art and Samhita for this interview.

Choxbox said...

Art and Samhita,
Thanks, yes of course, Flipkart Zindabad!

Vibha said...

Have read the Mahabharata. Need to get the Sita's Ramayana now.
Art, thanks for this lovely interview.

Unknown said...

Hi, Thanks for all your comments, and thanks to Arti for asking some nice queries. (and Sandhya, I do keep in mind you and your daughter from the book launch over a year back!)

The books are notoriously arduous to urge hold of, but now Flipkart carries each my books, and you can conjointly order them off the Tara Books web site. If you're in bangalore, Strand (the varied strands, and the flagship store at Manipal Center stock the book. Thus does Blossoms,

Hope this helps! And thanks you
flipkar coupons for hard disk

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