Sahitya Akademi Award-winner Paro Anand talks of the responsibility children’s writers

Updated: 19 November, 2017 16:17 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

Sahitya Akademi Award-winner Paro Anand, whose collaboration with a Swedish author has just been released, talks of the responsibility children’s writers have towards young readers

A few years ago, author Paro Anand found herself in the company of an unlikely duo at a writing workshop in Goa. It's then that the team, comprising Swedish author Örjan Persson, illustrator Kaveri Gopalkrishnan and her, decided to collaborate on a novel. "But, we were all on different pages -- Orjan had only written for teenagers, Kaveri had only illustrated picture books for very young children, and I had done both. We were finding it daunting. Till one day, we all decided to go out on a boat."

Paro Anand

As they contemplated life in the middle of the ocean, they saw a pair of dolphins and that's when epiphany struck. "We thought, 'Let's write about dolphins'. Kaveri drew a picture of two dolphins underwater and bubbles floating to the surface. That was the strange inception of our new book, 2," says the author, who won the Sahitya Kala Akademi award last week for Wild Child and Other Stories.

2, written by Anand and Persson, with illustrations by Gopalkrishnan and Garima Gupta, is, as Anand puts it, "the first-of-its-kind in India". It's divided into two narratives -- one from the perspective of Swedish teenager Helga, and another from the eyes of a shy Indian boy, Ganga. The book splits down the middle and has illustrations that go with both narratives. Helga comes to Goa, has good and not-so-good experiences, and somewhere along the way is transformed into a dolphin. Here, she meets Ganga, who had helped her in the outer world, and whom she helps in return, when he is being bullied.

Anand, who in her long career in children's literature is known for writing about tough issues that kids face, tackles a few sore points as well. "It's all about how we treat someone who is different. Though I never spell it out, Ganga is borderline autistic. He is special. And, Helga is special in her own way. The aggression that they face because of that forms the crux of their story."

Anand says that the two narratives offer different perspectives. "We can't judge something by hearing one side. There is never an 'Us versus Them' situation," she says of the book, and life in general. She's also very clear about her responsibility to her young readers. "I like to create empathy for my characters. But, the most important thing is to never lie. The monsters are not mythical, they are real, and I tell the truth about them."

No wonder the National Centre for Children's Literature head has won herself plenty of fans. She laughs, "At an event in Bangladesh, a gentleman told me, 'You are not a writer. In fact, you are a magician'. That felt very good."

First Published: 19 November, 2017 14:22 IST

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