Against All Odds, the latest book for children by renowned writer Ramendra Kumar, is about three individuals, three obstacles and one passion – Football. Learning and Creativity caught up with this prolific and highly popular author for a tête-à-tête on his latest tome.
Ramendra Kumar’s latest book Against All Odds is a tale of fun, football and friendship! The protagonist Kartik shouldn’t play football because he is one-armed. His friend Siba can’t play because he has to earn a living. His classmate Tina shouldn’t play because her mentor is differently abled. The book is about three individuals, three obstacles and one passion – Football.
What makes Against All Odds rather unique is that it is set entirely in the steel city of Rourkela. It captures the various facets of living in a steel city with its camaraderie, bonding, the clean and green ambiance and it’s hugely enriching quality of life. This is the first book of its kind which showcases what makes life in the steel city so very special for the children and lays the foundation for a future which is fulfilling in the truest sense of the term.
The book also tackles sensitive issues like treatment meted out to differently-abled children, gender bias and how through honesty, commitment and courage even the toughest of odds can be beaten.
Published by Duckbill Books, Against All Odds was launched at Bookaroo, the most happening Children’s Literature Festival in the country, which was held for the first time in Bengaluru on 2nd and 3rd September. Ramen, as he likes to be called, is a well-known writer for children and Chief of Communications at the Rourkela Steel Plant. He was the only writer from Odisha to be invited to the festival.
Earlier on 1st September, Ramen, conducted a session based on Against All Odds in DPS, Bengaluru as a part of Bookaroo’s School Outreach programme. The session, in which more than 550 students interacted with the author, was a scintillating one brimming with oodles of fun, energy and enthusiasm. His engagement with the children at Bookaroo too was a gratifying and enriching one with the kids quizzing him on various aspects of his writing and later mobbing him for autographs.
Ramen has written thirty-two books which have been translated into twenty-six languages, and he has won thirty-one awards for his writing. Learning and Creativity caught up with this prolific and highly popular author for a tête-à-tête on his latest tome.
Antara: The first question that comes up in the mind is how did you feel that a one-armed boy could even dream to be a footballer and actually work so hard towards it?
Ramen: When I was in class ten, I went to see a football match in the old city of Hyderabad. I watched a one-armed youngster, whose name was Hyder, playing. It was a treat to watch him. He was dribbling, kicking, heading and bamboozling the opponents with a dexterity which the so called normal players would envy. Out of frustration a couple of his rivals started playing rough with him. But he was unstoppable and won the game for his team.
Those images remain etched in my memory and Hyder became the inspiration for Kartik, the protagonist of Against All Odds.
Antara: The other two protagonists in the book who dream of becoming footballers are the girl (the obstacle is her gender of course) and the boy who has to eke out a living first. And yet their passion drives them. Tell us about these characters.
Ramen: It is a very sad state of affairs that most schools do not encourage girls to play football declaring that it is too rough a sport for them. I wanted to break this stereotype and hence described a football tournament in which Tina, one of the female protagonists, excels. Usually boys make fun of girls playing games which are supposed to be essentially in their domain. In Against All Odds, Kartik mentors Tina at each and every stage with patience and commitment.
Siba is a naturally gifted player who, at one stage, stares at a bleak future where there no room for football, only for work. Kartik reaches out to him and helps in opening up new frontiers. How he does this is for the reader to find out!
Antara: What made you choose Rourkela as the backdrop? You have given some hilarious observations on the city and please allow me to quote: “Everything in Rourkela is related to Ispat. There is an Ispat Township, Ispat Market, Ispat Auditorium, Ispat Hospital—if I had been born in Rourkela you would have named me Ispat Singh!’ Kartik commented wryly. ‘There is just one traffic signal in the entire city. How weird is that?’” Every story needs a context and one gets the feeling that Rourkela is also a character in the story, it’s so vibrantly described. Comment.
Ramen: Yes, Rourkela is very much a character in the novel. The steel city, like most industrial townships is has a flavour of its own. Most people think such towns are boring or at best quaint. I wanted to emphasise that the quality of life here is far better and more enriching than the so called happening places like the Metros. Industrial townships might not have the glitz, gloss and glitter but they do have a soul, which is missing in the crowd infested jungles of smoke, fumes, cacophony and concrete. The book, in a sense, is also a tribute to my Karmabhumi.
Antara: The football matches, especially the Carmel-DPS match is described in graphic detail which is your forte. Being a movie lover, I could almost visualize it in exact shots, passes and misses. For an armchair sports lover, its like watching a match in the mind’s eye. How did your fascination for sports happen, which is obviously the source of such graphic expressions?
Ramen: I grew up in campus in Hyderabad where I played almost every possible game. Even a single day without sports was incomplete. I was average in most of the games except Table Tennis. But this did not deter me from participating with full on energy and enthusiasm. Even now I regularly go for swimming. This fascination with sports is reflected in my writing. I love writing about sports.
I am a great admirer of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and consider him the greatest filmmaker of our times. Most of his films are engrossing and there is a value tucked in somewhere. My humble attempt too has been to tell tales which entertain and elevate. And sports fiction offers the ideal platform for spinning yarns which are fast paced as well as inspiring.
I have written numerous sports stories, many of which have won awards.
Antara: When reading through Against All Odds, one does get a feeling that there are several biases and prejudices that often stop us from spotting real talent, even when it is staring at us in the face. In recent years, Indian cinema has taken a strong leaning towards films made on sportspersons. Several are biopics such as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Dangal which are dramatized versions of life stories or the docudrama-biographical film Sachin: A Billion Dreams. These are films on naturally gifted people who have risen to glorious success by honing their talents through perseverance and efforts.
If we look at unusual subjects, we have films like Iqbal where a speech and hearing impaired boy from an obscure village carves his place in the Indian cricket team. And there was Chak De! which turned the spotlight on to women’s hockey. Do you think the latest trend in highlighting sportspersons in cinema will sensitise people towards the necessity of looking at sports objectively and neutrally? Is the same kind of trend happening in literature too?
Ramen: All the films which you mentioned earlier, except Iqbal and Chak De!, are about celebrity sports persons who have already achieved a cult status. Most of these films are hagiographies which focus entirely on the superstars. These are not much different from the average masala movie. They don’t do much to make people empathise with a sportsperson; nor do they create awareness about the abject state of most sports in our country.
My novel Now or Never is about a father son connect with boxing in the background. Another book, The Indian Maasai, is the story of how a Maasai boy ‘adopted’ by an Indian family goes on to bag the 100 metre gold for the country. Here I have stressed the need for us to think beyond cricket and pay attention to other sports. Both these books are stories of ordinary people who beat prejudice, poverty and several other odds by excelling in sports.
The two books, along with Against All Odds showcase the triumph of the human spirit which is what sports is all about. These can very well be turned into movies or TV Serials. Is anyone out there listening?
As far as children’s literature is concerned sports fiction has still not come of age. In most cases the game is not central to the conflict, it is more an appendage to push the story along.
Antara: Your books for children have encompassed funny stories, mythological stories, cute fable like stories, stories of adventure and camaraderie and now sports. My daughter can’t have enough of Nani called Tsunami. What is next on the cards for kids from the author of 32 books?
Ramen: My latest book which is under publication is once again on sports. Titled ‘The Siege of Cricket’ it is being published by Readomania, a new but exciting name in the field of publishing. The book explores the subject of match-fixing and how the racket is busted by a group of youngsters called the Fundu Four. It is one of my most ambitious books till date and goes beyond the shores of the Indian continent to a mysterious island kingdom ruled by an enigmatic dictator. I hope my readers would enjoy this roller coaster of a book on a virulent scourge which has been threatening to destroy the very game of cricket.
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