BENGALURU: Nandana Dev Sen is an actor, writer and child-rights activist. Sen grew up in India, England, and America, and has acted in over 20 feature films from all three continents (and in multiple languages). As an Ambassador and Advocate, Nandana works closely with children and grown-ups at RAHI, Apne Aap, Mission Smile and UNICEF to promote child protection. She is the author of six children’s books and her latest book, In My Heart, deals with the sensitive topic of adoption.
Excerpts from an interview:
What was your trigger for writing In My Heart?
The kind of children’s books I’ve always been drawn to, as a child and an author, are those that without being preachy promote a kinder, braver, more inclusive view of the world. I’ve been wanting to write a tender and fun kid’s book on adoption for a while, because I feel it’s important to find ways of breaking the silence.
For example, adoptive parents still fear that their child may be bullied if they speak about their history, and at times, they can even feel threatened that their child may reject them once she finds out that she is adopted. I wanted to write a book that allows children and parents to explore together the fact that all families are inseparably connected through the heart. The goal of In My Heart is to encourage all children to understand the “normality” of non-traditional families, including not only
adoptive families, but for example families with gay parents, or a surrogate mother, or step siblings.
Have you always seen yourself as a writer?
In my family writing never felt like a conscious decision, more like a happy inevitability. I was fortunate to grow up in an all-female family of writers - my mother Nabaneeta Dev Sen, grandmother Radharani Debi, and my didi Antara Dev Sen.
I’m sure I inherited my obsession with books not just from the women in my family, but also my father Amartya Sen, as well as my maternal grandfather Narendra Deb (who, among many other books, wrote one of the first books in the world on cinema) and my paternal great-grandfather Kshitimohan Sen (who was a prolifc scholar, and wrote a bestselling book on Hinduism that is still in print). I can’t claim to have inherited their brilliance, but how could I possibly have not become a writer?
What has been your inspiration as a writer?
Without doubt, the children I work with have been the key inspiration behind my books for kids. In fact, my first book Mambi And The Forest Fire came directly out of a workshop I did with amazingly creative and resilient children rescued from trafficking. That said, my mother as well as both my grandparents wrote extensively for kids, and all the women writers I grew up reading have been strong inspirations as well.
Does your writing draw influence from vernacular books?
I’m sure it does, consciously or unconsciously, as the books I read in Bangla left a deep impact on me. I feel strongly that the next generations need to stay connected to the precious literary legacies they’ve inherited in their mother tongues, but sadly this is a battle we seem to be losing, especially in the cities. I’m happy that one of my books, Not Yet! is available in bilingual editions in eight languages across India, but in general, we need to encourage more translations of books written in the vernacular.
With the digitisation of books, have you moved to reading books on screen or do you prefer the old-fashioned books?
I’m afraid I can’t get used to reading e-books though I am all for the convenience of them! In reality, I find that I need to turn the pages to know where I’ve got to, and to remember what moved me the most. I am a bit of a dinosaur in this regard, I admit, but I still need to touch and feel and smell the book to absorb it fully.
What is the process you undergo while writing?
I usually write at night. I write the first draft fairly quickly, but then I spend a long time agonising over every word until I feel it’s just right. I’m frequently up all night - and often go to bed after our daughter Meghla goes to school!
How difficult or easy is it to get published? Have you had to change the content of your book for it to get published?
I think I’ve been singularly lucky that all my books got published quickly, and had excellent support from the publishers, no matter where in the world they were. In My Heart, for example, got published within three months of submission.
Who’s your first reader? And who are your biggest critics?
My husband John Makinson is my first reader, and my mother Nabaneeta Dev Sen my biggest critic. Both are marvelously meticulous and sensitive readers, and invaluable to me in the writing process.
Do you think marketing plays an integral role in the success of a book?
Of course it does. Any author who would say otherwise is in denial. Of course every book speaks for itself, but it’s important for readers to know that it exists, isn’t it?