Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Farmer Falgu & an Interview with author, Chitra Soundar

Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip is an amusing treatise featuring a silence-seeking farmer. As Falgu sets off on his bullock cart, to free himself from the clamor his farm animals make, he meets a string of musically-inclined people - an old man who sings, a snake-charmer who can play the pungi, and a dance troupe, all of whom show him the many joys music and sounds can bring. This in turn leads to some solid introspection,which eventually steers the story to a happy ending.

The effortlessly woven-in onomatopoeic words are the real stars of the book. Crystal-clear writing by author Chitra Soundar is a breath of fresh air. Kanika Nair's vivid and vibrant illustrations capturing rural flavors and colors are an absolute pleasure to behold.

While farm-themed picture books are a fairly new concept in contemporary picture books from India, the story's unusual plot of silence and music was enough to pique my curiosity. Rhythm and music have always been the forte of Karadi Tales. Farmer Falgu with its rhythmic narration is sure to charm its way into the minds of little readers, who no doubt will demand more of Falgu and his simple, every-day adventures. We can't wait indeed.

And that's not all. I decided to ask Chitra Soundar a quick set of questions on what inspired Farmer Falgu. It's always a pleasure to have authors talk about their creations. That's what excites us most whenever we choose to review a free copy from the publisher.

Thank you Chitra for your enthusiastic responses. It's great to have you on Saffron Tree!

1) What was the inspiration behind the rhythmically narrated Farmer Falgu story?

I had two thoughts in my mind - Noise is not all that bad and the world is never quiet. The first thought came from my own relationship with sound – I craved silence as much as I enjoyed company. But my silence was never silent – I was either listening to music or reading a book by a train track.

The second thought was my observation of nature in the middle of a big farm in Pennsylvania – the night was never quiet, even in the coldest of winters.

When these two thoughts collided, Farmer Falgu came uninvited.

2)You have written a couple of books for Tulika. Farmer Falgu is your first one with Karadi. Is it going to be part of a series?

Yes, Farmer Falgu is going to be a 4-part series.

In each of the books, Farmer Falgu is going somewhere and in each of his trips, you can see his unflagging spirit and resourcefulness.

3)Tell us something about your childhood. Were you boisterous and noisy, or the quiet one who’d run away from all kinds of din, like Farmer Falgu?

I was a certified bookworm. I read everything with printed words on it. I found corners and crevices to hide and read in. I loved it when others were making noise – but preferred not to join in. I think I’m still that girl – I prefer to watch than join in – although Farmer Falgu has given me the courage to jump around and make noise in front of toddlers and young people.

4)When and how did you realize children’s writing was what you wanted to do?

When I was growing up, I was the family babysitter. We all used to gather at my grandpa’s big house during the holidays and I used to keep the younger ones occupied with made-up stories.

I moved to Singapore in 1999 and couple of years later, when I wanted to write books, instead of just diaries and journals, my sister suggested I should write down the stories I used to tell them.

One thing led to another and there I was writing stories for young people. I wrote business articles for newspapers and such for a year – but didn’t enjoy it as much as I did writing my own stories.

I rediscover my own childhood when I write for children. It is like picking up a seashell on the Marina Beach and imagining a story about the people under the sea. Only kids can do that. Adults kick it back into the waves. I still pick up sea-shells and smooth pebbles and keep them in my muse-box. And I hope the world will continue to fascinate me as much as it did when I was a child.

5) What are your favorite books from your childhood? Any current favorites in picture books that left you in awe?

Too many to list. But some made an impact. The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton was my big favourite for a long time. The tree became my refuge from real-life. When I made up stories, I created little people up a big tree too.

I loved Ruskin Bond and R K Narayan. Malgudi Days was one of my favourites, both in print and on television.

Other than books, I read a shed full of comics – Amar Chitra Katha in particular, Tintin, Asterix and magazines like Tinkle and Target. I had a lending library membership 10 miles away from home and my mum used to take me there every week to bring back volumes of comics.

I loved mysteries even as a child and read every Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew ever written.

Some of my current favourites are
The Growing Story by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by the wonderful Helen Oxenbury
The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool
How do Dinosaurs say Good-Night by Jane Yolen
Gruffalo and all other books by Julia Donaldson

6)What are your upcoming projects?

I’m working with Karadi Tales on the Farmer Falgu series, which is just about complete. We are also working on another project together.
Apart from these, I’m also working on a picture book and a chapter book. The picture book is about how bedtime stories were born and the chapter book is for 7+ ages about Aurora Watts, a junior inventor who loves chips (crisps in the UK).

Couple of stories, which are in their early stages with UK publishers, will hopefully become real projects soon.

Thank you to Saffron Tree and Prabha Ram for introducing me and Farmer Falgu to your audience.


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