Nandana Dev Sen conceptualised the character of Mambi, the lead character of her new title after she spent a day in a shelter for children rescued from trafficking and the streets. On Day One at JLF, she along with Jerry Pinto, Paro Anand Nayanika Mahtani spoke about the challenges faced by those who write for children in India. Excerpts from an exclusive interview

Q. Why children’s books?
A. Through the years that I have worked with children there were lots of stories that built up inside me and I wanted to write for several years so many of the books got written around the same time. They are not text heavy. There are four more in the works.

Nandana Dev Sen
Nandana Dev Sen

Q. What did you read as a child?
A. I grew up in a family of writers and read everything. My grandmother and mother wrote extensively for both adults and children. We had the largest collection of books from all over the world. We had no TV, even later we could only watch the news. I never got bored. The games then were not video games. I read books in English and in Bengali. There was no young adult category separately. When I was 12 or 13, I read Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Tagore, Jane Austen and Dickens that were not targetted at children but I read them.

Q. What should an aspiring children’s writer keep in mind?
A. It’s important not to be didactic. You should be playful. We are competing with TV, the iPad and Disney. There needs to be colour in terms of writing, vitality and energy You have to become a child to write for them. I think we can all do that. In fact, as parents we do that often

Q. Tell us about your next book
A. Kangaroo Kisses was actually the first book I wrote. It was written for my niece, who is now 6. I wrote it when she was younger. She would refuse to go to sleep. I was just like her. It’s a bedtime stories book. It uses poetry to describe a mother and daughter relationship, where the mom’s trying to get the girl to sleep while the girl keeps coming up with innovative excuses to stay awake. So it’s meant for the kid but for the mother too, or the dad, brother, grandparent, nanny – anyone who tries to put a child to sleep, as a tool.