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Flying with Grandpa – Madhuri Kamat

Flying with Grandpa – Madhuri Kamat

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Flying with Grandpa – Madhuri Kamat

Akshyata Ray

Among many genres present in the field of writing, how did you choose children’s fiction? What does writing for children mean to you? 

It chose me, I think. I’m not consciously writing for children. It’s Duckbill who took an interest in my writing. So, it’s all thanks to Duckbill’s Sayoni, Anushka, Ayushi! I’m still trying to figure out what writing for children means! But I do wonder how children’s fiction is perceived. Because in casual conversations, I’ve had reactions ranging from, “Oh, I don’t have children!”, “My children are grown-up.”, “Which age-group are you looking for?” This last was in a children’s book shop where I was browsing and I had to say that I was looking for a book for myself! So, there is this misconception that children’s books are meant for children alone and not adults. The name to distinguish it as a genre is limiting its readership as well, which should not be the case. Why have we pigeonholed it so? This wasn’t there when I was growing up. Regardless of age, everyone read the children’s classics and looked forward to Chandamama and Children’s World.

 

Do you think that children today are reading less than before? If so, what do you think can be done to revive this form of learning?

We need to address this question to children. Often, it is adults who are posing it and answering it. And we get worked up not so much about the reading part but what children are doing when they’re not reading. So, first, we need to look at how adults are arriving at definitions of less and more?  How do children view reading in the first place? What do they call reading? We can ask children who are reading how come they’re reading and ask children who are not reading why they’re not reading. We also need to look at out-of-schoolers as well as children staying in institutions under the Juvenile Justice Act. Are they reading? 

 

What can we do as adults to get children reading?

Children want to be seen as grown-up so they will naturally gravitate towards the digital that has consumed our world. Children need to see adults reading books for them to emulate the example. And as stated earlier, adults should be seen reading children’s fiction as well. Not necessarily when with children but even otherwise. And restore autonomy to the child. Let them decide which books they want to read. And please don’t keep books meant for them in locked cupboards.

And as an aside, children travelling in airlines are often given sweets and toys to quieten them down, why not books?

 

What is the role of the State in getting children back to reading?

 

It has to start at the top. Our political class is never seen getting in and out of helicopters or vehicles with a book in hand. Candid photos do not show them reading books either. But they’re all over the social media. State governments rarely do bulk purchases of fiction for school libraries. It’s more likely to be a voluminous set of a political leader’s works.  So, why expect children to be reading more? When elections take place, there are no child care facilities for staff or anybody else. Children stand in line with families coming to vote because they can’t be left at home alone. Voting booths are in schools but are the school libraries opened up for the kids so they can read? And when there are schools with teaching posts lying vacant and schools with no libraries, where is the reading to come from? 

 

Writing for children needs to be simple and lucid, yet have the potential for conflict, and ultimately make the child think and learn. How do you find this balance?

I’ve written for television where George Bernard Shaw’s, “No conflict, no drama” is followed to a T though they may not quote him. Then everything has to be simplified because it’s assumed that a pan-Indian audience cannot grasp complexity.  This is a totally erroneous assumption but persists. So, that’s where the simplicity and conflict in my writing comes from. As for “ultimately make the child think and learn”, I don’t think as a writer I have any control over what the reader may take from it. If at all I seek any balance it is in gender portrayal.

 

You have, very creatively, given a very personal identity to Xerxes in your book. Was this character inspired by someone? If not, how did you develop Xerxes’ persona?

I was very clear that I wanted the innocence to show through and he will definitely not be capable of some larger than life Harry Potter adventure. Ahem, I’m just being my usual untidy younger self. As you can see, elements from my childhood did make their way into his persona. 

 

What kind of person you expect Xerxes to become when he grows up?

Light-yeared! As in carry his age lightly.

 

The book talks about the beautiful bond between Xerxes and his grandpa, or Mamavaji. What role does family play on the child’s personality?

Umm, I think it talks of the bond between Sonji and her father, between Sonji and Noshir; as well as between Xerxes and his parents, which are equally beautiful depending on how one sees it. But to get back to the question, it’s a two-way street. The child’s personality also shapes the family. Do they feel the child’s personality reflects on them well or not and how the family responds to it, as individuals and as a unit, all these play a crucial role in the personality dynamics.  

 

Lastly, will we get the chance to read more about Xerxes’ adventures? Are you writing a sequel?

Aapke munh main ghee, shakkar, gud

About the Interviewee:

Madhuri Kamat has documented and edited NGO work for two decades, written a poem on women who live on the pavement, a play on child sexual abuse and a script for UNICEF, and translated poems by street children. She has penned television soaps and scripts for forthcoming films. Her first book is Whose Father, What Goes?, a retelling of Hamlet.