A Tsunami Called Naani: In Conversation with Children’s Books Author Ramendra Kumar
A Tsunami Called Naani is the latest ace served by renowned children’s books author Ramendra Kumar. He speaks to Antara on what drives him to write books for kids and how he loves weaving those enriching stories are kids love to read and listen to.
Author: Ramendra Kumar
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: MANGO; 1 edition (2016)
12 year old Anurag’s life is as dull and dreary as it can get. He has got parents whose only passion is money and whose idea of an ideal day is sitting and watching it pour in. His life script has already been written: no music, no movies, no masti – only math (and its equally horrendous cousins) – with the sole objective of becoming an engineer or a doctor and if possible even a Collector. His diet is as bland as his life: no finger licking sweets, no lip smacking junk stuff – only milk, salads, veggies and loads of other yucky health food.
Into this tedious life enters Anurag’s Naani like a well-meaning Tsunami. He had conjured up an image of a 70 year old relic who would spend her day hobbling along, screaming bhajans at him and ordering him to rub Zhandu balm all over her creaking body. Instead she turns out to be a fighting fit 62 (62 going on 26) vision in jeans and kurti, with the heart of a six year old and mind of a Machiavelli.
Naani turns his world and that of those around her topsy-turvy with her infectious enthusiasm, unbridled energy and unconventional take on life. Anurag and the twins, Smriti and Sameer, are drawn to her and the frothy foursome starts living life ‘Naani’- size.
They visit an institution called Ashray whose kids are twice ‘blessed’ – they are orphans who are physically challenged. The kids put up an awesome show in their honour and the foursome decide to showcase their talent for the world to see.
Naani takes Anurag and the twins to another place called Knights Club or Kay Kay a ‘chill zone’ for senior citizens. She tells the Knights about the children of Ashray and Naani convinces them that they should get together and help the kids participate in ‘Indian Icon’ contest – a reality show in which talent in various fields is judged and awarded. The Knights agree and the preparations begin. The Knights pool in their resources, ideas and flair in different arenas. They are naturally strapped for cash. But what they lack in terms of resources they make it up with creativity, imagination and loads of passion. Naani even manages to convince Anurag’s parents to look beyond the rupee and see life in terms of relationships.
The team, now named Indradhanush, makes it to gala round and then the grand finale.
In the finals, which is in Hyderabad, Indrdhanush is pitted against a highly fancied, resource laden and much experienced team from Mumbai.
The foursome accompany the team. Just as the show is about to begin Naani is kidnapped by a group of thugs. The idea is to use Naani as a bait and force Indradhanush to mess up their act. Before the kidnappers can achieve their mission, Naani with lots of pluck and little bit of luck manages to escape. Her return provides that dose of extra inspiration and Team Indradhanush puts up a mind-blasting show. It wins the Indian Icon Contest and returns to a rousing reception.
In a year since she happened Naani has made a difference for the better to every life she has touched. The only aspect in which Naani’s intervention has had the opposite effect is Anurag’s weight. She had wanted to make him slim and trim – instead he has become fatter and stouter.
Not one to be cowed down by failure, Naani has chalked out a strategy to help Anurag win the battle of the bulge. The plan is right now being put into practice……
The books is a tale of camaraderie and commitment and guts and gumption, laced with oodles of masti and chunks of humour. The characters are set in the here and now. They are not extraordinary beings but normal people who face extraordinary situations. They have neither magic wands nor charms and spells. All they have is a heart that beats for others, a mind that is as maverick as it can get and a soul that refuses to shrink. What makes the book an endearing read is the connect between the gen ex and gen next. The book is value driven but never preachy or didactic, its tone is sensitive but not maudlin, it takes up issues of concern without snapping the gossamer thread of humour .
As Anurag and the twins reach out to Team Indradhanush and interact with the Knights they learn invaluable lessons in life and living. They realize that impossible is really nothing.
Ramendra Kumar spoke to Antara Nanda Mondal, Editor, Learning and Creativity on what drives him to write books for children and how he loves weaving those enriching stories kids love to read and listen to. Excerpts from the interview:
Antara: How did the concept and idea of this novel for children A Tsunami Called Naani take shape?
Ramendra Kumar: Books have been written on uncles, aunts, dads and mums as protagonists. However, I did not find any children’s book in which the grandma was the heroine. So decided to tell the story of a naani who is ‘a fighting fit, ‘62 going on 26’ vision (or should I say nightmare), with the heart of a six year old, the mind of a Machiavelli and the chutzpah of a teenager’.
I also wanted to touch upon issues impacting two marginalised groups in our society – the differently abled kids and the senior citizens and how a sublime connect between them can create magic. I started with a rather sketchy idea of naani’s character. As the novel progressed I found to my utter delight naani taking on a persona of her own and catching my left ear leading me into ‘naanistan’ – a world of action, adventure, emotions, values and above all sheer unadulterated and unbridled lunacy.
At that point of time I had finished writing my first book of non-fiction – Effective Parenting: A New Paradigm. A few of the pointers given to parents in the book I included in A Tsunami Called Naani.
Antara: As you say “The characters are set in the here and now” – do you think there is a need for children’s stories to now outgrow the fairy tale mould and place themselves in a more contemporary context?
Ramendra Kumar: I have been saying ever since I started writing for children that the “Here and Now” is the most important genre especially for children in the age group 9 plus. The stories in this category are set in the present times, address issues of contemporary concern and have characters children can easily relate to. The kids in most of my tales are normal children who are faced with extraordinary situations. The young protagonists meet these challenges not with magic wands, spells or potions but with gumption, energy and effervescence. I have addressed some very prickly issues like communal riots, parental apathy, pollution, corruption, apartheid et al from a child’s perspective. However, even while talking of grave concerns I have tried to make the story line as riveting as possible so as to keep the reader involved.
I have written fantasies but these too address contemporary issues.
Here I would like to mention that many of our Indian publishers want to play it safe by treading the tried and tested track of fantasies and fairy tales. For the authors also penning a fantasy is easier than writing realistic fiction where you have to balance too many issues.
Antara: Many of our children’s stories are didactic. The typical end quote of children’s story is “Moral of the story” and the story teller always ends up with “Bachchon, is kahaani se tumhe kya shiksha mili?” Your stories have their lessons but not in the face. Comment.
Ramendra Kumar: I too am of the opinion that no child would like a story which is instructive and unleashes a moral. A story should both entertain as well as reach out with a value. In my stories the value is not thrust down a reader’s throat. Rather it is subtly tucked in somewhere in the story. At the same time I make sure that my tale is an engaging one. Or else the reader would simply switch off and move on.
Antara: In your huge repertoire of books and stories for children, which ones do you rate as your favourite? I know it’s impossible to choose the best among your kids, but just wanted to know if there are some closer to your heart.
Ramendra Kumar: There is an award winning story of mine called ‘A Pebble on the Beach’ which I would rate as my favourite. It has been very popular in my story telling sessions as well. The soul of Satya, an honest man is turned into a pebble by the devil who wants to punish him for following God. The story is all about how the pebble goes around changing those around him and finally converts the Devil himself.
As far as novels are concerned I would rate my latest as my best. I was down with TB a few years ago. I had two choices: either blame the universe and my mother in law or fight my way out of the depression of having to battle a debilitating disease like TB (along with of course my Siamese twin diabetes). I chose the second option and my companion in my battle against the moody blues was the irrepressible and incorrigible Naani. I finished Naani in two weeks and my kids were pretty impressed by the fact I could write a book full of humour and hope, fizz and spunk while caught in the vortex of a short term malaise and a long term scourge.
Antara: What do you have in your mind’s eye when you start contemplating a children’s story? Let’s know your secret today. :)
Ramendra Kumar: I don’t write to a formula, hence I don’t really have do’s and don’t’s which I have to adhere to. But yes, as mentioned before I like to write a story which is entertaining, is an attention guzzler and yet is value driven. My ideal are the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee which have loads of entertainment with a slice of values.
I also believe in ending every children’s story of mine on a note of hope. I feel that as it is the kids of today face are much more under pressure than we were. Their minds, hearts and souls are often crunched by the world around them. In such a scenario I feel it is my responsibility to end every story of mine with a feel good footnote.
Books by Ramendra Kumar
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