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Interview With Adithi And Chatura Rao

The launch of Growing Up In Pandupur in Mumbai gave us a chance to interact with two very versatile and creative authors – Adithi and Chatura Rao.

Growing Up In Pandupur is a marvelous collection of 13 short stories for children. And parents alike.

The writing is mature and stable, but at no place does it feel commanding or overbearing. So kids will have no difficulty breezing through the stories.

Talking to the author-sisters would really make you feel as if you are talking to a friend…a mature, responsible and a really caring friend, who will always guide you through difficult times.

Yes, the book in a way brings to light certain topics/issues that kids face but are unable to communicate with their folks. The book comes as a friend and a guide to not just children, but parents too.
Well, the sisters are good at hearing you out as well. No wonder kids and parents wouldn’t leave a chance to strike a conversation with them, at the launch. Their observation and insight to finer things, usually overlooked by most, is admirable.
I got a chance to interview the sisters and here’s a bit of the conversation:

How did you chance upon the title of the book?
There is actually a small town by the name of Pandavpur between Bangalore and Mysore. We passed through it many a times and it is quite scenic. While we were penning out the stories, we modified the name to Pandupur.

How did you think of writing a short story collection for kids?
Between us sisters we have three kids. And we discuss every issue our children are facing or undergoing. There are a lot more challenges you face as a parent. There are times when kids cannot really express what they feel, and this (writing stories of different themes that revolve around kids) was a way of connecting with them.
We already had a few stories around the theme of growing up, and we added a few more to complete the book.

Broadly, what would you say are the diverse topics the stories touch upon?
From sibling love-rivalry, to the loss of a family member, to child sexual abuse, to growing up –most of the stories cater to topics any child can relate to. For that matter, any parent can relate to.

Amongst the stories in this book, which ones are your favorites?
Grandfathers and Trees
Sister’s Song
The River Came Home
The House Painted Blue

Could you name a few of your favorite books?
Chatura: I like fantasy-science fiction work by Ursula K. le Guin, novels by Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck.
In children’s fiction, The Bridge To Terabithia, the Earthsea novels by Ursula K. le GuinJ.R.R Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’Ruskin Bond and R K Narayan, and Winnie the Pooh, and Huckleberry Finn.
Adithi: I like the work of Harper Lee (To Kill A Mocking Bird). Her ability to get into the psyche of a child is commendable. I also like R.K. Narayan’s  Malgudi Days and The Christmas Miracle by Jonathan Toomey.

What were your growing up days like?
Charuta: We had a typical middle-class childhood. Grew up in south India, moving between Chennai and Bangalore. Played a lot with large groups of kids. Cycled, went for music classes, stole mangoes, befriended stray dogs and adopted their puppies, ran a book library from a friend’s garage, spied on crabby old neighbours, got together and put up plays and dances at Christmas in our grandfather’s garden…
Adithi: Pretty much as Chatu described it! Bangalore was my Pandupur, complete with the magician grandpa and a grandmother who was never too tired to read, cook, feed, sing, play, talk or listen when it came to me…

Would you share an incident (from childhood) that has stayed with you till date?
Chatura: I used to be petrified of having my nails snipped by my grandfather. He was an ex-armyman and believed in crew cuts! So I’d hide around the house, sneak around quietly, until inevitable he’d shout for me, and then i’d go to him like a lamb to slaughter! I remember the undersides of beds and tables a lot because i was often playing behind/ under them with my dolls, and also hiding from people. One time my sister got an injection and while she yelled, i hid behind the bed and cried too 🙂
Adithi: “About Grandfathers and Trees” pretty much tells of my most poignant childhood memory.

What next do we see from you – individually and / or together?

Chatura: I’m working on a collection of stories for adults in the style of magic realism. Nothing being co-written with Adithi right now.
Adithi: Together we haven’t planned anything yet, although we’d love to do a “Pandupur Too”! Individually I’m sure Chatu will come out with a book. As for me, it has to be a film or I’ll burst!

If there was one advice you could give parents today, what would it be?

Chatura: Listen to the kids.
Adithi: That if it’s happening with your kid it is probably happening with lots of others as well, so it can’t be that bad. Let it pass with a sense of humour, things do have a way of working themselves out. This is advice for myself as well as for parents out there… I too forget, more often than not.
Psst: For people who still haven’t picked up a copy of Growing Up In Pandupur, “fie fie!”
Get it here!

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Comically Tuned

We all love going through the small comic strips that appear in newspapers. There is something about them that always catches our attention. No, it not just about the instant smile that they bring, but the satire on certain socio-political or other critical issues that hooks us on to the graphical representation. The works of R.K. Laxman and Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram are cases in point.

Come to think of it, amongst the first things a baby is taught or shown are pictures.
And right from our childhood, reading comics is one of our greatest indulgences.

Kids would create havoc if their monthly subscription didn’t arrive or wasn’t handed to them. Well, at least that was the case in my house.

I remember, my brother and I had an entire rack full of ChandamamaTinkleJataka TalesBahadur (Indrajal Comics),Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu, Pinky, Billoo, Shrimatiji, Shikari ShambhuAkbar and BirbalTantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Nagraj (snake king) whose powers are based on ancient Hindu tales, and various other characters from Amar Chitra Katha, Gotham Comics and Diamond Comics.

Then came Western comics in the form of Archie’s, TinTinAsterix,Dennis the MenacePopeye the sailorSpidermanSuperman, Batman, X-Men and their ilk.

But as we grew up, comics had to take a back-seat – given the academic overload.

Not to forget the advent of television, followed by umpteen animated series on cartoon channels, which was closely followed by the highly engrossing game consoles and the internet lure. Comics and graphic novels lost their readers almost in a jiffy. And surprisingly, us, readers did not seem to miss our “once-upon-a-time-favorite” characters too. Somehow, Mario and Luigi seemed more interesting and car racing was more fun than reading and laughing over Suppandi’s idiocracy.

And soon, comics almost disappeared.

But just like other things in life that have undergone revamping, comics too seem to have come back in a new rejuvenated form.

A new wave of graphic novelists has emerged, in the recent past, to shake up the art form. We no longer see conventional centuries-old myths and folktales adorning the covers of comic books. The new crossover Indian superheroes have gained popularity and a wider audience amongst the adults as well. And subjects now range from subtle social messages about the environment and society to bolder issues of homosexuality and politics.

New-age artists are looking to create brand new superheroes that are quintessentially Indian to see off competition from the likes of Spiderman and Batman.
Amongst the new-age cartoonists and graphic novel designers, we have Sarnath Banerjee, whose graphic novel “Corridor” is set in New Delhi and delves into politics and sex. Sarnath is known to write and develop comics through his keen observations.

River of Stories” by Orijit Sen, that released around 1994 in black-and-white, dealt with the social and environmental impact of a controversial dam, and prompted changes even among traditional comic publishers in India.

Kari” by Amruta Patil, the writer also known as India’s first female graphic artist, centers on a suicidal lesbian and has been dubbed India’s first gay graphic novel. And another, “Kashmir Pending,” by Naseer Ahmed and Saurabh Singh, seen through the eyes of a reformed militant in jail in the disputed region.

A recent Mumbai based start-up, Vimanika Comics, aims to bridge the gap between historical narratives and graphic novels, giving mythological characters a 21st century facelift.
From what I gather, the company’s “The Sixth” series shows Karna, a warrior from the ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata,” in a modern light. The series starts as a high-flying businessman, suffering from recurrent nightmares, discovers he is the reincarnation of Karna.

Another publisher, Campfire, based in New Delhi, is about to launch “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King,” a graphic novel of a story retold over centuries in India but this time seen through the eyes of its primary antagonist — the demon king Ravana.

Fresh initiatives like Manta Ray, Level 10, Random, Abstraction, World Comics India (an NGO floated by young artists, who pick tales of common man’s heroism) Cartoon Watch, Comix.India, Creative Gaga, and many others aim to offer a platform to new talent. This alone shows the uprising the industry is about to notice soon.

Even the virtual world of web-comics has managed to entice readers.
I read this recently and decided to bring it everyone’s notice as well:

Kshiraj Telang has more than a thousand comic strips, many around the middle-class status symbol – a pug puppy on the web. Badmash is created by and aimed at the Indian diaspora. Curry Bear Comics is another popular Indian webcomic that revolves around three South Asian college students and their White friends, taking a dig at the Indian students at odds in America. Fly, You Fools (webcomic) deals with the daily irritants of life in India. Arbit Choudhury, regarded as the world’s first MBA comic character had to be created in India. Though, another Dilbert is what we are waiting for, to comment on our cutely corrupt and jugadu Indian work culture, Sunny Kris, a web comic, focuses on the unique idiosyncrasies of an Indian workplace.

And this is just the beginning.

Bringing back and boosting the fading love for comics, India recently saw the first Comic Con being held in the Nation’s capital, popularizing graphic novels and comics in India.
I heard that the two day convention saw more than 15,000 fans relishing the art in its new avatar. Fans dressed up as various characters, from American superheroes and villains such as Superman, Wolverine, and Harley Quinn to local Indian heroes like Chacha Chaudhary.
The festival had stalls for comics and graphic novels as well as workshops, activities and book launches. Illustrators, cartoonists, designers were awarded and felicitated for their contribution to the world of comics and fun.

Comic Con India also saw many new comics being launched – including “Uud Bilaw Manus: Back with a Vengeance” by young Adhiraj Singh, which shows off a new Indian superhero: a half-otter-half-human from the post-apocalyptic fictional place of “Beehar” in northern India, who fights corrupt officials, among others. That seemed somewhat striking. No matter how modern or western the graphics look; the stories, the subjects and the emotions that it carries is very distinctively local in flavor.
Sumit Kumar’s The Itch You Can’t Scratch, is an adult book, not by common connotations attached to adulthood-sex, but because of its stark honesty.

Amazingly, the sales over the two days at Comic Con spoke volumes about the love for comic books that still exists in a country like ours.

Overall, not just the sales, but the sheer enthusiasm and spectacular attendance and excitement shown by the people stands to prove that comics and graphic novels will never vanish. They had and always will find space in our hearts and bookshelves.

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Book Review of “The Itch You Can’t Scratch” by Sumit Kumar

The Itch You Can’t Scratch

Sumit Kumar

The blurb on the book read:

A Former Writer For Savita Bhabhi, Sumit Kumar Takes The Reader Through His Short But Eventful Life. From The Absurd To The Comical, From Mundane Activities To Mind Blowing Realizations, From Entrepreneurship To Embarrassment. This Is A Self Effacing, Honest View Of The Life Of A Young, Confused Man Suffering From An Acute Case of The Itch You Can’t Scratch.

And rightfully so this book offers all that and much more. Maybe even an itch to read more from Sumit Kumar.

Insanely and extremely funny, witty, quirky, and highly captivating, this book gives a whole new outlook and meaning to “comics” in India. No one can escape Sumit’s radar – not even Sumit himself. Simple plots, tight satire, sarcasm to its max – what more could you ask for!?!

The content, the graphics and the presentation –awesome!

The ideation and the thought behind it all – Legend…wait for it…Ary!!!

It’s expensive no doubt. But then who said humor is cheap.

Go for it. It’s totally worth the money.

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Book Launch – Indira Gandhi -The Final Chapter

Book Launch – Indira Gandhi – The Final Chapter by Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram

Friday, April 29, 2011


Crossword, at ICC Towers, saw a houseful of audience gathered for the book launch of Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram’s latest book of illustrations – Indira Gandhi – The Final Chapter.

A book of illustrations, Indira Gandhi – The Last Chapter, lampoons the political figure through witty cartoons. It draws a satirical portrait of the Indian leader while humorously depicting certain behind-the-scenes political and social affairs of the country.

This was my first event as a moderator and was I nervous?! Oh yes!!!
But one entire sentence (without faltering, mind you) and I knew I could do this.

The event began with Mr. Bikash D. Niyogiwelcoming the audience and the eminent personalities of the city.

For all those wondering who is Mr. Bikash – well, he is the MD of Niyogi Books, which is amongst the reputed publishing houses of India and they are the ones to have published Suraj’s book of illustrations on Indira Gandhi. Their recent foray into publishing fiction, translations, cookery and self-help books has widened their reach.
My nervousness just lasted for the initial few minutes, but as I welcomed and introduced the distinguished personalities on the dias, I seemed to go with the flow.
The Chief Guest for the evening, Mr. Arun Bhatia and the Guest of Honor – Mr. Randhir Khareadded not just charm but a lot of insight to the occasion.
I’m sure we don’t need to tell you much about Mr. Bhatia but one thing that stands out about this courageous man is his determination and drive.Currently the President of the People’s Guardian Party, Mr. Bhatia is one man, I feel, who can rightly guide and lead the nation.

And talking about award winning  author, prolific poet, theatre personality, artist, renowned educationist and a passionate social, cultural and community worker –Mr. Randhir Khare the one thing that does come to mind is his wit and humor that lightens up even the most mundane situations.

Coming to the author – I’m sure not many would remember his work from yester years. Suraj Sriram was a freelance cartoonist in Mumbai and his editorial cartoons appeared regularly in leading newspapers and magazines from 1976 to 1984. He left for the United States in 1985 only to return recently. And what a comeback!!!
The book deserves a prominent position in everyone’s bookshelf.
After brief introduction and a warm welcome to all the panelists, by a charming little girl Karishma, (Suraj’s granddaughter) the book was officially launched and unveiled.

(L-R – Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram, Arun Bhatia, Randhir Khare)

We had Mr. Bhatia and Mr. Khare reminiscing and sharing their thoughts about the book and the author.

“This is our real history – right here – in this book” said Arun.
“Highlighting subjects that really matter in simple commentary, I feel this book should be a recommended or a prescribed read – like they do in schools and colleges in the US,” he added.
“We are losing humor and satire today. The critical playfulness that Suraj brings with him is all here in this book. I highly recommend everyone to pick this up,” asserted Randhir.
Humbled by the thoughts and the gesture, Suraj shared his experience of working with Indian Express in Mumbai, and he heartily thanked his family and ex-colleagues for supporting and helping him evolve over the years, by setting standards and different challenges each time for him to overcome.
A quick interaction with the trio followed. And I surely was more nervous asking them about the situation of the “aam aadmi” today.

“The aam aadmi will always remain the aam aadmi. He will always be kicked in the teeth by authorities. Unless, of course, they wake up and rise and take a stand,” said Randhir.
“The youth of the nation is aware of the situations around and also knows what is to be done. But the lack of opportunities provided lead to the set-back each time someone tries. And more than anything else – it is the “fear” that is instilled in the hearts that makes them succumb,” added Arun.

Before the discussion could go the political way, and of course due of shortage of time, I had to limit my questions and wrap up the discussion for the audience to get their signed books and interact individually with the people on the dias.
Wrapping up the evening, Mr. Bikash thanked the audience and the panelists for the lively interaction and support.

It was truly a marvelous experience for me to have moderated the event and to get to know people I’d heard of and longed to meet for a long time.


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Author Interview – Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram

Last week I got the opportunity to moderate the launch of Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram’s latest offering- Indira Gandhi – The Final Chapter.

A book of illustrations, this, it lampoons the political figure through witty cartoons. It draws a satirical portrait of the Indian leader, while humorously depicting certain behind-the-scenes political and social affairs in our country.

The book launch was a wonderful experience and so was the interaction with the author.

For those who haven’t yet ‘google-d’ him – Suraj Sriram was a freelance cartoonist in Mumbai from 1976 to 1984. Known in the media circles as ‘Eskay’, his editorial cartoons and illustrations have appeared regularly in most leading newspapers and magazines published in the city. He left for the United States of America in 1985, where he freelanced as a cartoonist (in Massachusetts and Rhode Island) and also taught cartooning in schools, colleges and design institutions. He is a member of the National Cartoonist Society of America and has received awards for his editorial cartoons from the New England Press Association.
Currently back in India, his editorial cartoons continue to be published weekly and monthly in leading business papers in Boston, USA.

What followed the book launch was an insightful interaction for our readers exclusively!

What made you choose Indira Gandhi as your subject? How did the entire ideation come about?
Indira Gandhi was and will always remain an iconic figure in the political history of this country. Any book about her will always generate interest. During my career as a freelance cartoonist I had done innumerable editorial cartoons and illustration that in a collective fashion could well be a visual history of the period when India Gandhi came to power in 1980 till the time she was assassinated.
What kind of research did you have to undertake to pull out this brilliant piece of satire?
During the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, computers were a rarity and I at least had never heard of the internet existing in India. There was no ‘Google’ that one could browse to get references, visuals or other information. Consequently, to translate a news item into an editorial cartoon or illustration, you had to depend totally on the visual information already absorbed and stored in the data bank of your brain. Often, one had to rummage through various picture clipping stored in the drawers of your drawing desk, a time consuming task. Once the news item had been digested, the process to match it to an appropriate image or setting had to be done, a challenging and creatively a very intense activity. At some point of time during this process, wherein you had sifted through various visuals, you had the ‘Eureka’ moment. The cartoon was born.

The country recently saw Anna Hazaare going on a hunger strike and people all over the country conducting candle light march, as a sign of protest against corruption and to implement the LokPal Bill. The bill had been pending for the last 42 years. So be it Indira Gandhi or other politicians and government officials/netas/babus/ the “aam aadmi” is still at the receiving end of it all. What is your take on the current political scenario of the country?
My gut response is that nothing is going to change. The current crop of politicians strutting the halls of power and ably assisted by their ‘dirty tricks’ departments are in no hurry to effect change. The skeletons popping out of the cupboards of almost every politician or government office, agency or department, and the recent interview with the founder of  Wikileaks shown on TV, is indicative of how deep the cancer of corruption has spread across the country. The Lok Pal bill, by itself, is just a band aid and will be rendered  meaningless unless the enforcement agencies that do the follow up get some teeth and are rid off political interference and influence. Parallel action is needed for police reform, banning of criminals from getting elected and the right to recall errant politicians. Also, the youth and middle class that participated in the recent movement will need to extend their commitment to the cause and continue to keep the pressure and momentum going.  I haven’t seen much of that happening or being reported by the media. Armchair activists on Facebook who sometime ago were shrill in their support of Hazare have shifted their attention to Jaitpur, and soon may shift to some other issue that crops up shortly.
So, what would you have to say about the “aam aadmi” today? The mango people of the 21st century?
Other than the utterly destitute or those with a super strong conscience, I have a feeling the ‘aam aadmi’ has decided that since corruption at all levels is here to stay, then ‘ if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’. They have become de-sensitized to corruption as most of them are in some way party to it and take it in their stride in their day to day existence. That is perhaps why we don’t see people taking to the streets in a collective movement as an ongoing crusade.
What, according to you, is the basic difference in the humor that Indians indulge in as compared to their American counterparts?
I will confine my comments to editorial cartoons published in the English language. The general perception is that the humour of Indian cartoonists, which perhaps is patterned on the British,  uses irony, sarcasm and cynicism. The work of R.K.Laxman, Abu and others exemplifies this. As against this,  American humour tend to more slapstick. Indian cartoonists tend to be subtle and sarcastic whereas their American counterparts tend to be more obvious. However, one cannot generalize. After all, we too have our beloved Mario Miranda whose slapstick creations kept us in splits of laughter in days gone by.

Who would be your next target? Any other official/neta to be scrutinized?
Unfortunately, nobody. I am now concentrating on my next book which will be a compilation of never before published cartoons and comic strips, totally non-political, that will be pure unadulterated fun bound to make you laugh and chuckle.

Your advice to budding cartoonists of the country?
The recent contest organized by Times of India titled ‘Day in the life of India’ shows that the country has a large number of people with excellent cartooning skills. I presume most of them are youngsters. My only advice is that in addition to their drawing skills they must also hone their thinking skills. They must read about, understand and reflect on all the political, social and economic issues that confront the country. They must also be fully aware of events on the international scene and that impact the nation. They have to be net-savvy and do online searches for information and visuals that will help in creation of powerful images/cartoons that convey a subtle but compelling message to the reading public. And lastly they must develop a philosophy that is consistently reflected in their cartoons/illustrations.

Indira Gandhi – The Final Chapter, I say, is one of the most recommended books of our time.

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