The last session of TNIE’s Dakshin Literary Festival was a great delight for young Indian readers. The session featured some of the most celebrated children’s literature authors across India — Roopa Pai, Khyrunnisa A, Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan, Lakshmi Iyer and Laxmi Natraj. The five of them were in conversation with author and senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai about Globalising South Indian tales for Children.
“I grew up reading Enid Blyton in whose’s books, the children’s lives were different. They never had parents around them and they were visiting places on their own, unlike me. I grew up feeling my life wasn’t probably as colourful as a British child’s childhood and that my food wasn’t as tasty as their ham, scones and gingerbread,” said author Roopa Pai.
For Srinivasan, the appeal of adventure, mystery, larger than life heroes are universal and quintessential for children. She spoke about her lockdown project of retelling Indian stories for audiences across the world.
“The main job was to share our cultural heritage with children all around the world. I told one story a day for 70 days. People were very excited. In fact, at one point, I had 600 people listening to it,” she said.
Iyer, the author of Why is My Hair Curly, observed how her children’s school bookshelves in the US weren’t diverse and that was one of the reasons behind authoring her book.
“There was always a subtle whitewashing and mainstreaming of stories that were set in India. But I wanted to capture regular middle-class life with no backstory of pain, poverty or struggle,” she said.
On the other hand, Khyrunnisa said that her aim as an author was to make children laugh.
“My books may not tell you about India or talk about issues, but they have hidden messages of camaraderie and respect for elders. But mostly, I want kids to laugh. They’re quite stressed out otherwise,” she said. She also said that taking Indian books to the global markets is the publisher’s job.
A teacher turned author, Natraj started writing books with an aim to make children read more. “Initially, I was writing for very small children. I’m quite fond of them. I later shifted to science fiction and then to crime thrillers,” she said.