Come October 2, and all across Delhi, one can spot children dressed up like the Mahatma in loin cloth.
Skits are held at various places and songs are sung in reverence of the Father of the Nation on his birthday. But a new book by Bal Sahitya Award winner Paro Anand, Being Gandhi, attempts to explore what it means to be Gandhi in the present divisive world, especially for children and teenagers.
Young actors last week performed excerpts from the book read by the author at Delhi’s Akshara Theatre.
Anand, spoke to The Morning Standard, about her engagement with this historical figure for her book and the craft of writing. Excerpts:
What is the underlying message of Being Gandhi?
In one phrase, it is a book that hopes to create empathy and then convert that to action. I would like to empower young people to act in the face of injustice and prejudice.
Could you tell us what led you to write this book?
I love writing reality fiction, but where was the space for that when writing about such a well-known personality?
Honestly, I would not have thought of writing this book myself, but my editor brought me the idea and though I resisted at first, I soon realised that Gandhi is not a ‘fad’ that goes out of fashion. All that Gandhi stood for is what we need to stand for today.
What are the recurrent challenges you face while writing for children?
I love it [writing] too much to think of the challenges. I don’t find writing difficult. Draining, yes. More so, because I don’t write ‘about’ a character but become that character. If my protagonists are in trouble, as they mostly are, then I am in trouble. I inhabit the skin of my characters. That’s the part I love and find most challenging.
The other tricky part while writing for children and young adults is that it is adults who buy the books… whether its schools, librarians or parents, and it is the kids who hopefully read them. You have to reach the hearts of both.
What were you most curious about as a child?
I cared deeply about justice and fair play. I loved animals and my first three books were based on animals.
Through this early writing I got to understand that I write from the point of view of my characters. I cease to be Paro when I am writing. So I was a tiger sometimes and a tiny sparrow among others.
Now sometimes I am a little militant and sometimes, as in Being Gandhi, an angsty teen who realises what’s happening out in the world is his concern. That he must care and care enough to act.
What are you reading nowadays and what kind of books influence you as a writer?
I love reading reality fiction for teens. I don’t love the fantasy genre so much (though I adored Harry Potter). I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s Love, Morrison is a wizard. Currently, I am reading The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, so beautifully written.