Finding faith through fiction

Nalini Ramachandran, in her latest book, attempts to construe the sensitive subject of faith, the queries, complexities, and curiosity tethered to it
Representative Image
Representative Image

BENGALURU: Faith – a simple word that represents entire worlds for different people. Faith is what leads us to worship, pray, and believe in something that roots us. There are a myriad of faiths that bring guiding light into people’s lives. When curious children first encounter this concept, the sheer number of beliefs across humanity might seem to be a vast concept to grasp. This is because they are not only navigating their own connection to faith, but they’re also learning to understand and respect other faiths.

Undoubtedly, this subject requires sensitivity and great knowledge to make it accessible for children. This is where author, editor and storyteller, Nalini Ramachandran’s latest book, The Boy with a Hundred Questions: Stories of Faith and Belief (HarperCollins Children’s Books; `499), comes in.

She finds a special joy in authoring children’s books and graphic novels. With expertise and great care to make it not only informative but also an enjoyable read and a visual delight for young readers with its wonderful illustrations by Shruti Hemani, Ramachandran’s book is a must-have on family bookshelves.

In a conversation with CE, she delves into the process of writing the book, the challenges she faced, how she managed to make The Boy with a Hundred Questions a special read, and more.

Excerpts:

What inspired you to write this book?

The Boy with a Hundred Questions is a book that explores concepts, teachings, and stories from eleven major faith systems from around the world. I have often come across toddlers imitating their parents at places of worship – they join their hands in prayer, bow their head in front of the shrine, offer flowers, and try to repeat chants. Once children grow up, they want to know why they follow such practises, and why people around them have different beliefs. Many parents find it difficult to explain these aspects and answer their child’s questions. The need to bridge this gap inspired me to write the book.

How did you manage to tackle such a complex concept like faith for young readers?

Storytelling has been used since ancient times to explain complex ideas. In this book, too, I have woven the story of the protagonist (Shunya, a nine-year-old child) and the story of belief, along with stories from various faith systems, to help readers understand the concept more easily.

In your opinion, why is faith an important concept children should read about?

Faith is all around us. Human evolution and the spread of faith have been parallel. Even today, the languages we speak, the traditions we follow, the foods we cook, and the festivals we celebrate are all rooted in faith. Children grow up surrounded by these cultural factors. So, it is essential that they understand their roots and decide on how to take these ways of life forward.

Was it challenging to represent all the faiths as accurately and respectfully as possible?

When respect for all faiths comes naturally, it becomes simpler to depict them authentically. I believe that is the only way a book such as this could have been created.

Could you explain the research process?

The research on faith and beliefs, I would say, is an ongoing or never-ending process. Writing a book like this is a journey in learning and discovery. Every question, conversation, and experience from my life has been part of the background research for this book. But yes, specific research for the content included selecting meaningful concepts and interesting faith stories, and ensuring their authentic representation.

Upon reading the book, it was immediately evident that the language was easy to follow and also relatable. Was this important for you to maintain?

One can get stuck in jargon and terminology, when writing about faith. So, while it was important to explain certain terms, the language had to be simple enough so that the book reaches as many readers as possible. Moreover, to add local flavour and authenticity to the characters from different parts of the world, some regional language and colloquial words have been included in the dialogues.

How did the illustrations help bring the book to life?

Illustrations play a significant role in the book. Shruti Hemani has done a fabulous job. Not only has she been creative with the doppelgänger and faith story illustrations, but she has also brought out the essence of every concept through her art for the chapter openers and the symbolic motifs.

Speaking of the doppelgängers, how did you come up with the idea of using this concept to express different people following different faiths?

I wanted to find a narrative thread that could show how the eleven major faith systems mentioned in the book are different, and yet are alike in some ways. That is when the idea of using doppelgängers occurred to me. Because they, too, are different people, and are yet characterised by some similarities. This became the factor that helps Shunya in finding answers to the questions in his head.

At the end of each chapter, Shunya poses a few questions which also seem addressed to the readers. Was this intentional?

It is highly likely that the questions that Shunya asks are also the very questions that readers have in real life. So, the questions at the end of each chapter will make the readers pause and think. And then, they continue to the next chapter – journeying along with Shunya to find some more answers and read some more stories, all the time discovering themselves and forming their own ideas of faith.

Would you classify your book as exclusively children’s literature, or can adults read it too?

Both children and grown-ups have questions about faith. Also, some adults may not know how to find answers and the connections between beliefs. The Boy with a Hundred Questions is for every inquisitive person who has questions about beliefs and life itself. Their age does not matter.

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