Malavika Shetty is currently a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech, where she uses her background in linguistics to teach courses in multimodal communication. Her courses encourage students to think critically about the role of language in the media and in their daily lives.
Malavika received her PhD in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. Her areas of interest are linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and narrative. Her dissertation, Television and the Construction of Tulu Identity in South India, looks at how television can be used by a community as an effective medium for language revitalization and maintenance.
|pic courtesy Tulika books|
As one of the winners of their mango blogathon, Tulika books sent me a copy of the book, and asked me if I would like to interview the author. Would I like to? Of course, YES!
So here she is, Malavika Shetty, in her own words.
ST: How did you conceive of the story idea?
I have always wanted to write a story about friendship and the close bonds formed during childhood. Also, I love mangoes, so I thought about writing a story about friendship, but also a story that was set during the mango season.
ST: Tell us a bit about your childhood and background.
I grew up in the suburb of Bandra in Bombay in an idyllic neighbourhood where I played all day with lots of children. We went cycling, plucked and ate mulberries from bushes, played cricket and hide and seek…. My childhood was a never-ending summer. I am still in touch with the friends I grew up with and, when we meet, we speak about how much fun we had growing up together.
My family is from a village near Udipi (the village I describe in the book is my village), and almost every summer, my family and I make the trip to the village where there are lots of mango and coconut trees. My summer holidays, growing up, were spent doing exactly what Suma and Jyothi do in the book (except the walking to school bit!). I plucked mangoes from the trees surrounding the house. I ate lots of mango curry.
ST: That certainly sounds idyllic! Did you have an experience similar to that of Suma or Jyothi, as a child?
While the setting of the story is similar to my experience of childhood in my village near Udipi, I do not recollect a similar incident of saving a mango for myself and finally sharing it.
ST: How did Tulika books enter the scene, and how did the journey of making the book go?
I have always loved reading Tulika books and enjoy reading them with my children very much. I also make up my own stories and tell them to my children, so the thought of writing a children’s book was always in my mind. I was in Chennai one summer, so I walked into the Tulika office and asked about how I could go about writing and submitting a story to them. I was, very kindly, given an email address to which I could submit a story. I got back to Atlanta, wrote the story, and sent it to Tulika. I was thrilled when they actually accepted the story for publication.
ST: Ajanta Guhathakurta, the illustrator, is an established name. One of the books illustrated by her, The Yellow Bird, has featured earlier on Saffrontree. As I said in my review, "A drool-worthy book, with warm, summery illustrations by Ajanta Guhathakurtha matching the yumminess of the text." How did you collaborate with her on this book?
Ajanta read the story and came up with the fabulous illustrations all by herself.
ST: Your bio says: "Her areas of interest are linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and narrative." Could you elaborate on that? How do you associate that with creative writing?
My research broadly looks at the relationship between language and culture. I look at how language is a crucial component that binds communities together and how it is an essential part of a community’s identity. My training and background is in linguistics, but I use tools from anthropology to look how language is used by a community.
My dissertation looked at how a Tulu-language television station in Karnataka could change the way Tulu is regarded. Having a call-in Tulu TV show gave community members an opportunity to voice their opinions and present different versions of narratives like folk tales and folk songs that have been part of the community’s oral culture for centuries.
Listening to folk tales and folk songs while I was doing my research has been an amazing experience. There are so many stories and wonderful descriptions contained in our oral cultures. These narratives are a source of inspiration for my own creative writing.
ST: Tell us some more about the 'Mundappa mango' that the story mentions.
The Mundappa is a variety of mango found in the region of Karnataka that I describe in the story. It is one of biggest and fleshiest mango varieties, and, if eaten, when it is at its optimum moment of ripeness, is in my opinion, the sweetest mango in the world. The Mundappa has a distinct round shape and grows to be as large as a coconut. I used to see the Mundappa in trees far more often when I was growing up than I do now. It seems as though the Mundappa mango trees are giving way to other varieties, so laying ones hands on a perfect Mundappa is really a treat.
ST: It is said that it is more difficult to write for children than for adults. What do you say to that as seen from the perspective of your profession, and as a children's writer?
I don’t think it is a question of ‘difficulty’. For me, it is more of a question of what I want to work on at a given moment. Sometimes I find that I want to write something that adults would read. At other times, I want to write something that children might enjoy. While I enjoy my work as a linguistic anthropologist and like writing about aspects of my work for an academic audience, I have discovered that I also enjoy writing for children very much.
ST: That sounds wonderful, as it means that we shall see more of your work in the future. Are there more books in the pipeline?
Yes! I loved writing 'The Sweetest Mango', and working with the editors and staff at Tulika has been a wonderful experience. I will certainly write more children’s books.
Photograph courtesy Malavika Shetty.