Visit the children’s writer and illustrator’s Facebook page and you would find an apt introduction of the author: “He basically likes to make people laugh.” In this interview, Rajagopalan tells Medha Dutta Yadav what he loves drawing most and how like most kids, it is always the funny stories that he loves to tell.
What is your favourite thing to draw?
Big smiling faces! One smile deserves another, and those smiles will keep my readers smiling through the story. I have a big mouth, in more ways than one, and I give my characters big mouths too.
How important are illustrations to attract a child’s attention and motivate him or her to pick up a book?
Younger the reader, the more important is the role of illustrations. Older readers supplement the text with their imagination, painting the pictures with their mental palette. At picture-book level, illustrations are essentials. Children are motivated to pick up a book by the picture on the cover. Unless it’s a brilliantly funny book like The Book with No Pictures by the equally brilliant and funny BJ Novak, of course.
What is that one book that has stayed with you in all these years?
Quite a few that I keep re-reading. But the one I keep multiple editions of and re-re-re-read is Leave it to Psmith by PG Wodehouse.
Given a chance, which children’s book character would you pick as your alter ego?
Most times, I am Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up! My maturity level, for an adult of 40 or above, is that of a kid of 12 or less. I seem to live in a dreamy Neverland most of the time, surrounded by lost boys, fairies, mermaids and pirates. Other times I’m in the hundred-acre wood as Winnie-the-Pooh. And I have my very own heffalump, Gajapati Kulapati!
Is there a book that you would love to pass down to your grandkids?
Leave it to Psmith, again. Of the ones I have written, Ha... Ha...Hasya! published last year by Tulika Publishers. I think that’s the best I have written so far. I am also planning to write an autobiographical story: a letter to my grandkids and their kids and grandkids, on my life and times.
Is writing for kids easy?
Answering this question is not easy! Gajapati Kulapati, the first book of the series, took me an hour to write, but the sequels took longer and longer. The fourth, Gajapati Kulapati: Kalicha Kulicha, was written 10 years after the first. It took me this long because I did not want readers complaining that the sequels are not as good as the first. Writing for kids is sometimes easy, sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, other times soul-satisfying. Compared to writing for grown-ups, I guess it’s more challenging. It’s like talking to children like an equal, treating them with respect, and entertaining them by being funny, not giving them a patronising pat on the head, and asking them to study well and obey their parents.
Will we see you treat adult readers to a book some day?
I have begun! I have written a funny novel, a la Wodehouse, to make grown-ups laugh out loud. It’s called Lemon Salt Soda, and it’s seeking a publisher.