International Mother Language Day

As a children’s author who has written for children of all ages, I often have parents and teachers sitting in on my sessions. These sessions are essentially meant to introduce children to the magic of stories and so, rather than read out from my books, I tell them the stories that I have written. Of course the children love this. But I am always surprised by the enthusiastic participation of the adults. They laugh and giggle with the children, and they join in with the children to beg for ‘One more story!’

And it’s hardly surprising, is it? After all, it is our love for stories that has us reading books and becoming addicted to long running soap operas. And so, in these days of social distancing, what better way to connect, than through stories?

This is a story that I have narrated in my mother language, Marathi, in celebration of International Mother Language Day.

 

 

A Writer’s World#6 Meeting Other Writers

For most writers, writing is the secret activity that they do in the small pockets of time between rushing around doing the million other things that rank high on the list of things that absolutely need to be done.

Writing tends to get buried under the mountains of other things we do, the expectations and duties of all the other avatars that we embrace. And though writing is usually the most important thing in our minds, it is not often the first or even the second or third thing we speak about, when talking about ourselves. It is often the almost after thought that follows belatedly on the heels of all the other identities we wear. Combine this with the fact that writing is an isolated activity and the chances of meeting a fellow writer are usually extraordinarily slim, and you begin to understand exactly what a writer feels about being a writer.

These were my emotions too. Almost fifteen years of writing alone, cut off from any but the most necessary contact with the writing world, I had no real sense of where my writing and I stood. All communications with the writing world had invariably been from publishing houses. And since these had been a mix of acceptances and rejections, with a heavy tilt towards the rejections, I had no clue how to assess myself and my writing.

And then I attended my first literary festival exclusively for children’s books. Suddenly I was in the midst of people I knew and recognised from their writing, people I had admired without ever hoping to meet and people whose books had given me much joy. These were people who spoke a language I understand and who understood the frustrations of writing and publishing, of making time for oneself and one’s writing in the mad race of every single day. With so many common points established, it was difficult, almost impossible to not make friends with at least some of them.

And I came away with a few friends whose opinions I valued, whose suggestions I considered and whose encouragement I appreciated. They brightened up my day with jokes and send comforting messages when I was down. They also offered suggestions and willingly shared contacts in the publishing world.

And I understood then that literary festivals, in addition to bringing readers and writers together, also allowed writers to meet each other. Just one more act of literary significance!

A Story A Day #33 True Courage

 People are brave in different ways. Some in more obvious ways and some in ways that are more interesting! 

The word of the day is – Courage. 

Courage, to Aparna had always meant something spectacular- like rescuing people from a river or braving a raging fire. But that was before the end of the year treat.

The end of the year treat was a tradition for Aparna’s group and this year they planned to watch a film before eating their favourite fast food. But the day before the treat Aparna heard two bits of upsetting news that took all the joy out of the outing.

The first was that her little sister Arpita wanted to join them. Aparna didn’t want to take her, but unable to resist the tears in Arpita’s pleading eyes, she had to agree. But any fears she had about Arpita joining the treat seemed tame when she heard the other news – that their classmate Uma was joining them. “Can you imagine?” Rina moaned. “Having Umawith us?” It was a truly horrible idea, having Uma along on a day you were supposed to enjoy. Uma was the sort of girl who always found something nasty to say to others. She seemed to have the gift of saying things that hurt people. If you were in the wrong uniform it would always be Uma’s gleeful voice that called out, “Looks like someone is going to get into trouble!” It was always Uma who found something funny about people’s names. And it had to be Uma who had started calling Amber, Amberger, Uma’s evil genius that had renamed  Aparna Aprona, Shalini Shall-we and so on. And to think of spending a fun day with this same Uma!

By the time she was ready for the day Aparna had decided it was doomed to failure. Arpita, on the other hand, was bouncing around in joy at the thought of going out with her sister’s friends.

Her friends were waiting for her and when Rina said, “Uma isn’t here. Perhaps she’s not coming….?” Aparna allowed hope to surge for a minute.  Uma walked up at that moment, eyes darting around, looking for things to poke fun at, details that would transform normal, happy people into embarrassed ones.

“Hi Aprona, Rin! Hi Shall-we!” she said cheerfully, just as she always did, blind to the fact that no one was laughing at the silly names. “And who,” she asked, noticing Arpita, “is this?”

“My sister,” Aparna said. “Arpita!”

“Hi,” Uma said. “Harpic!” Aparna and her friends gasped. How could Uma pick on a little girl?

“Hi,” Arpita said and her matter-of-fact manner made Aparna feel suddenly proud of her sister. “What’s your name?”

“Uma,” Uma said. “So…”

Upma?” Arpita asked with an innocent look. Everyone looked at Uma, wondering how she was going to react to being made the butt of her own joke. For a minute Uma stood frozen. Then she laughed loudly. “Nice,” she said. “Arpita. Don’t you agree Shalini? Rina?”

Aparna stared in amazement at her sister, who had opened her eyes to the different kinds of courage and helped her see that they didn’t all require leaping into burning buildings or raging rivers.

 

This story was published in Young World, the children’s pages of The Hindu. 

A Story A Day #32 Polka Dot Tuesday

Does our appearance really matter? Perhaps it does…only to us! 

The word of the day is – Appearance.

Anushka was wearing a new dress.  So was Smriti. None of the others was in a new outfit but that was small consolation since all of them owned far more clothes than Neha.  And I, thought Neha, looking down at herself, am dressed in the same red polka dotted skirt that I wore last week.  She sighed to herself, wishing she was back in her old school, where all of them had worn a uniform and she had never had to worry that she only owned six outfits, which she wore in rotation. But her old school and her old friends were in the past and there was no point in sighing for that world, when her world was now made up of girls who thought nothing of wearing new clothes to school every day.

She watched as some of the girls gathered around Anushka obviously complimenting Anushka on her new outfit. Neha longed to walk up to Anushka too, longed to say, “That’s a pretty dress!” But what if that made Anushka look at Neha’s clothes and notice how the often washed red polka dots on her skirt looked a little tired while the matching red top could easily pass off for pale pink?   Neha knew it was only a matter of time before one of the girls noticed how she always repeated her clothes and dreaded the moment when someone mentioned the fact. She had worn this same outfit last Tuesday, Neha remembered now. That was the day when the Math teacher, Mrs. Mary, had sprung a surprise test on them.

Neha had only been at the school for a week that day and recalled the feeling of terror she had felt when Mrs. Mary had begun writing out the questions on the board, squashing all the moans  from the  girls with a warning that she wouldn’t give them a single extra minute. Neha had finished just as the bell had pealed and thinking now of how she had been weak with relief, she smiled. For Mrs. Mary had handed them back their tests that very afternoon, after she had delivered a lecture on how badly they had all done and then had announced that Neha had been the only one who had done well. For a moment the memory kept the smile pinned on Neha’s lips.

 Anushka’s voice interrupted her thoughts.  “Wasn’t it last Tuesday,” Anushka was saying, walking toward her and Neha felt her throat dry in fear. Here it came, she thought. Anushka was about to comment on the fact that she always wore the red polka dotted skirt and the once-upon-a time-red top on Tuesdays. “That Mrs. Mary gave us that Math test which only you managed to do well?” Anushka finished. “Yes,” Smirti nodded. “It was last Tuesday. Wasn’t it Neha?” They were both staring at Neha, waiting for her to speak and for a moment Neha could think of nothing to say. Then she nodded, “Yes,” she said. “It was last Tuesday!”

This story was first published in Young World, the children’s pages of The Hindu. 

A Story A Day #31 The Perfect Birthday Gift

We often take the people close to us for granted, until they manage to surprise us in the most unexpected way. 

The word for the day is – Gift.  

The Perfect Birthday Gift

Most people enjoy their birthdays and look forward to their birthday parties. But I only became grumpier as my birthday came closer. “Why does Anuj have to be at my party?” I grumbled to Amma, “Why can’t you take him out somewhere or leave him with the neighbours?”

“Don’t be mean Anu,” Amma scolded, “He is your little brother! He has a right to attend your party!” Yes, I mumbled, he did. But what about me? How was I going to feel, having my little brother tottering about at my birthday party, grabbing all the attention, while I was ignored? It had happened before and it would happen again.  And that’s why I wanted Amma to keep Anuj away from my party. But so far I had had no such luck.

I went back to my homework and Anuj found me there “Hey Anuj!” I said, “How are you?” My brother babbled and I nodded my head. “So Amma isn’t giving you a biscuit? Let’s see what we can do!” I marched to the kitchen lugging my brother and after a short battle, got away with two biscuits. Sitting on my hip, Anuj babbled away into my ear. We were waiting for him to begin talking but for now Anuj’s conversation consisted of these meaningless sounds.

By the day of my party I was resigned to having Anuj there. “Your brother,” exclaimed my friend Smitha, “He’s so cute!” Yes, I thought looking at Anuj, his curly hair framing his round face, and his pudgy hands grabbing things, he was cute and I was glad he was at my party. So what if my friends had gathered around him and were passing him around, as if they were playing pass-the-parcel and he was the parcel, while I stood in a corner, ignored at my own party? Anuj hated the attention, and seemed to want only me. His frantic eyes kept looking at me, as if begging to be rescued from my friends. I smiled and waved, but stayed away. And then, as if he could bear it no longer, my brother Anuj pointed at me and said, “ANU!” The room fell silent. I could hardly believe my ears. And then, as if to oblige me Anuj said again, “Anu!” This time there was no doubting it. My little brother had spoken his first word. And it had been my name! A perfect storm of noise burst then. Anuj’s face crumpled and he looked ready to cry. I grabbed him. “Anu’s here!” I told him. “Don’t worry Anuj, Anu’s here!”

“Anu,” Anuj agreed, patting me on my cheek. And at that moment I felt like the most special person in the world and knew that this was the best gift my brother could have ever given me. And I had actually wanted Anuj to stay away! At the memory of my meanness my arms tightened around Anuj. “Anu!” he yelled. “Anu!” I grinned, enjoying the best birthday gift anyone could have asked for.