Thursday, March 20, 2014

Junior Kumbhakarna

Junior Kumbhakarna
by Arundhati Venkatesh
illustrations by Shreya Sen

Kumbhakarna was HUGE...
He ate as much food as 100 men... 

We've all heard this story from mythology and pictured this giant in our minds.

Of course, what he is most known for is his sleep. A deep, deep sleep. A sleep which is not easily disturbed by braying donkeys and lively drumbeat; nor trumpets nor elephants; not even the smell of delicious laddus.

His legendary deep slumber is oft-referenced to rebuke a reluctant riser, be it young or old. So, it is no wonder that our little Kukku enjoys listening to his story at bedtime. Again and again. Is it any wonder he starts to emulate his favorite person.

Our own ST contributor Arundhati's book Junior Kumbhakarna is amusing kids all over India. Shreya Sen is no stranger at ST  and her vivid illustrations laced with humor beautifully complement the story in this book.

We are delighted to have Arundhati and Shreya share some of their thoughts with us here at ST. So, grab a pot of chai and samosas, relax, and enjoy the extended conversation (via email) with the author and the illustrator of Junior Kumbhakarna.


Cheerful and sanguine Arundhati tells us about this delightful book and her journey into the children's books world.

ST: What sparked the imagination for this book?

I remember pestering my grandfather for stories every summer. The moment one ended, I would demand another. Most of these were stories from mythology. I’m sure many of us have such memories. Today, we have to make a conscious effort to introduce the epics to our children.

While there are excellent retellings for older children, there is nothing appropriate for the younger lot (under six years). Kumbhakarna is such a fascinating character; it is a hilarious tale with strong visual possibilities. I wanted to take off from there, but it had to be something readers could relate to. This was back in 2011. I turned it over in my mind, and six months later, wrote the book you've read. I felt children would enjoy it and parents would be able to identify with it too. Getting kids into bed and waking them up in time for school is such a struggle. I thought why not look at it through a different lens, with some humour? We might as well laugh about it together. It’s gratifying when readers (like this parent who is a picture book enthusiast) say it resonated with them.

ST: "Burped", "Stretched", "Yawned", "Slid", "Fled" - many action words are set in a different typeface. Was this your intention or is it something the editors felt would lend visual interest to the reader?

I wanted to tell the story through action and dialogue; I wanted it to be crisp. I was conscious of page turns when writing and I’d capitalised a few words in my manuscript. The typeface was a nice touch by the experts at Tulika. I was thrilled when the drawings came in; Shreya has brought so much joy to the book with her playful illustrations. My favourite bit is Mt. Laddu.

Thanks to the translators, parents and children can bond over the book in their mother tongue too. Apart from English, Junior Kumbhakarna is available in eight Indian languages.

ST: The transition from original Kumbhakarna to our Kukku being woken up to get ready for school is seamless. Were there any alternate endings you toyed with for this story? 

There weren't any alternate endings. Once I'd written it, I was quite pleased with the last line.

ST: Tell us about your journey into the children's book writing world.

I studied Electronics & Communication and worked in Information Technology for several years before stumbling into the magical world of children’s books. Writing children’s books is what I love doing. Both picture books and chapter books. The next one is a chapter book for young readers – ‘Petu Pumpkin: Tiffin Thief’.

ST: What are some of your your favorite picture books? What draws you to them?

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell. The ideas are ingenious yet simple.

I find myself gravitating towards books that are tightly written with plenty of wit and humour thrown in. With picture books, brevity is important. Young children have short attention spans. And picture books have to be read aloud by parents again and again and again! Picture books can look deceptively easy, but it is extremely difficult to convey what you've set out to in a few hundred words. Jon Klassen manages to do it remarkably well.

ST: Many of us have favorite children's writers, writers whose immense talent leaves us in awe. Who are some of your favorite picture book writers?

There are so many! Julia Donaldson, Shel Silverstein, Crockett Johnson, Oliver Jeffers, Emily Gravett, Leo Lionni, David Wiesner, and of course, Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss. Barring Julia Donaldson, the rest of the names on that list are author-illustrators. Among Indian picture book writers, Anushka Ravishankar, Shobha Viswanath, Nandini Nayar.


Bubbly and full of joie de vivre, Shreya Sen shares some of her inspirations in her journey into children's picture book illustrations.

ST: Please tell us about your journey into children's book illustration.

My mother has been a huge inspiration and pivotal point for books in my life. I grew up in a tiny place in Northeastern India. My childhood memories are those of my mother taking me to the book fairs. She would buy me CBT books and Russian picture books. The visuals of those books are still fresh in my mind.

As a kid, I would read Enid Blyton books and if a character wore some interesting dress, I would pester my mom and my grandmother to stitch something like that for me.

 After Enid Blyton it was discovering Roald Dahl books in my school library.  My friend and I would spend hours discussing what Roald Dahl wrote about the witches and how to identify them. Did you know that witches have fire in their eyes and have blue spit! More than anything else I loved Quentin Blake’s illustrations.

In third year of college we had to go for a six week internship. I applied to Tulika Publishers and was happy to have joined them. And here I am.

ST: What inspires you to create? Who are your inspirations in the illustration world?

What inspires me to create?  I would say everything!  Everything, that happens in my life. Getting late for work, fights with friends, my father's birthday, a new crush on a guy, deja vu, funny catch phrases, puns in random conversations...

For me definitely art is a medium to express what I am feeling. Many times it could be something that I can’t actually do! I draw myself doing that. For instance sitting under an orange cloud which shoots out orange juice. Art has been a way of escaping from reality at times.

 Also, travelling by bus is very calming and rejuvenating for me, plus I get to see interesting characters on the way. During my spare time I try to draw them out or make little comic strips about them. I have also started collecting bus tickets. I have a huge collection now. I have been sticking it in my sketch book. Would love to share them soon!

Who are my inspirations? Quentin Blake for one. The way he drew Matilda, Trunch bull, The Big Friendly Giant ... he brought all the characters alive with minimal drawing. There lies a soul in his work.

Things took a turn in my life when I began brimming with stories. I made up stories of insects that got drowned in watermelon juice. Chickens that had chicks, ABCDEFGH became characters.  That is when I started making a lot of comic strips.

I don’t have any one inspiration in my life but I have taken little things from everyone around me. There is something good about each and every illustrator. Let me take this opportunity to name some people whose work I have really looked up to- Anish Daolagupu, Lavanya Naidu, Priya Kuriyan , Kavitha Arvind, Navleen Kohli, Junuka Deshpande, Sekhar Mukherjee, Manasi Parikh and many more.

ST: What were your first thoughts when you read Junior Kumbhakarna, in terms of illustration possibilities? And how did you settle on what we see in the book?

Honestly speaking I was very scared when I got the script for  'Junior Kumbhakarna‘ from Tulika! I was scared because I have never done mythology before.

But, in due course of time things changed.  I realized that mythology does not always have to be what we have seen or heard growing up. We can tweak it and make it ours.

I took some time to get used to Kumbhakarna and realized that in the last year I have been behaving like Kumbhakarna - sleeping and being lazy. From there, it was a short step to creating the images to bring the story alive.

ST: What are your own artistic interests - projects that you'd much rather be doing if you could choose to do anything you want?

This list is ever growing and ever changing. I would like to do so many many things if given a chance.

I want to teach art to kids for 6 months and paint a wall for them.
I have also been trying to animate a favourite song of mine along with a friend.
I want to work under an architect one day.
I want to paint more. Illustrate many children's books because that is my first love.
I have always wanted to make a documentary film on Banaras, travelling in second class trains and drinking chai

ST: What are some of your favorite picture books?

My favourite picture books have been.. Hmmm I don’t know if I have any favourites! Many that I've enjoyed were from second-hand book stores in Pondicherry and Sunday Market in Ahmedabad. They were random authors and illustrators but what I liked was the way they coloured and painted each book. I don’t even know who they are. I think one of my all time favourites has been Swimmy by Leo Lionni. Also, The Giving Tree and Very Hungry Caterpillar.

[book cover image source:]
[photo coutsey Arthem Sagadat]


Divya Purandar said...

We enjoyed the book. Thanks to Arundhati for mentioning us in her interview. The book is a great read with all our Junior Kumbhakarnas -

Unknown said...

really a a great interview of a great writer read point to point its wonder to read a good interview .EACH and every point was so good described like she is giving interview infront of me.Imagine her books she is one of the greatest writer in WORLD
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