Friday, September 15, 2017

Q and A with Rinchin

As we told you in the previous post, we are intrigued with Rinchin’s storytelling technique and the way she weaves the story and its social, political, cultural and environmental issues into a fine tapestry that not only made a great read but also made us think. So we asked her a few questions. In return, we got such honest and moving answers that we had to share them with you.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your life and work?

For the past twenty years, I have been involved in social movements and my life has been nomadic and rooted at the same time, if that’s possible. That’s been my life largely spent in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Within the largely political work, a big part has been cultural. Writing, translating, publishing through autonomous groups stories of people, films and non-fiction books that should reach the general public. 

2. Why did you choose children's fiction to tell your stories?
I don't choose it, it chose me! I don't exclusively write for children. I write all kinds of stories. One never starts with thinking of the audience, or keeping in mind who it’s going to be for. As one writes, I think the story, its scope and the way it needs to be told determines how it comes out. But apart from that, I enjoy engaging with children. How they see the world, how they express their thought and how they interact with adults interest me. And it’s not only from the outside, when you write from the point of view of the child, somewhere one is also speaking for the child that lives within us. Sometimes these stories also allow for me to address the questions, joys and anxiety of that child too.
3. What inspired you to write Mati's story in I Will Save My Land? What was the starting point?

It started with a child helping her family on the fields and being stubborn about wanting to do certain tasks that were according to the adults too difficult for her. When denied, she sulked. “Is it not mine?” she kept asking. I was living with that household then and we all tried to placate her but it took a lot of placating. That was the germ. Of course, displacement and the threat of losing land is a reality in the central Indian Adivasi belt, so that is the natural context of the story. Her question resonated in my mind. It connected with me at various levels – how is it that the land to which women have a right is never completely theirs, even though they work so hard on it? Almost all of us have been told that our maternal homes are not truly ours. Then here, Adivasis are told that their land is not theirs. The government can give it away through a legal procedure to companies. Then there is caste, a big way through which people are marginalised and disinvested of their land.

In fact, after I had written this story, in the course of something we were doing, I walked into a field of an Adivasi woman. She had cleared a part of the forest for agriculture — many of the landless farmers have done that. Though she was the only woman who was working all by herself, every one said that her fields were better than any of the other ones in which the men also worked. And she had help from her three granddaughters. Sometimes one finds a living story after one has written the story. It happens many times with me. And if you see agricultural work, especially in labour-intensive farming, you'll always see women. These were the images that all went into the story. That is Mati’s world seen through my eyes.

4. You have explored several social issues  casteism and sexism  in I Will Save My Land. In The Trickster Bird, you have explored the issue of Paardhi tribals of Madhya Pradesh. Yet neither book is weighed down by them. How do you achieve this balance between the issue and the story?

Because one doesn't start with the issues; it starts with something personal about the character. But the character’s life and context bring in the issues. You can't separate that from the life the character leads or even the kind of the life the writer leads. I don't know about balance but one thing is certain the writer’s life and the politics or the views that one has will determine how the story comes out. In a sense they will determine what you see, what you think is important, what will pop out at you and demand to be made into a story. One can’t sit on a desk and determine an issue and then write about it. It won’t ring true. Sometimes when you know the context the story will flow naturally. And sometimes the characters will lead you to questions you don't understand very well or know and force you to explore them to know more, to engage more. For example, caste is a reality of our society. One cannot escape from it, not even in a children's story: you have to confront it. 

5. What intrigued me (and other readers) while reading I Will Save My Land was that I could listen to the local language through the skin of English. How do you manage to bring this out?

Because what I'm writing is a translation of the local language in English. The language of the characters translated into the language I write in. So in a way, I write in translation. It’s not an effort; that’s the way it happens. But in that it does break away from the structure of regular English. It does not always subscribe to its rules. And slowly I've realised that I can’t keep to just one language, other languages push their way in and I can’t translate everything. So they all coexist. I don't think in one language. Most of the times even in our heads we are translating from one language to the other. That’s how it comes out in writing to too.

6. You have written very strong women characters in I Will Save My Land, The Trickster Bird and Sabri's Colours. Does the inspiration to create strong women (and girl) characters come from yourself and/or the women you see around you?

Always the women around me, and there are so many. So in the women I see their struggles, their strength; it inspires me. But again it’s not something deliberate that one starts with thinking that I will have a woman character. It just happens. Women are 50 percent of the population. So 50 percent of the stories should be written about them? Where they are the protagonists? They populate this world. There has to be stories about them: of their strength, weaknesses, victories and defeats. In land struggles it is the women who are at the forefront; they are the ones who come-out on the roads. In the Paardhi context, because men always have the danger of being arrested, it is the women who interact with the police in case someone is picked up. They risk the humiliation or even the beating when they go to get someone released. They are the ones who will rag-pick to earn, while the men may try to look for other work. Because women and their work are valued less, whatever they do doesn't get enough importance. We see that unfairness in all our lives. Being the weaker sex takes a lot of strength. I think the effort sometimes is to bring this out. Because I think it is through many such stories that we read that we develop our own sense of self — to see ourselves as equal.

If that’s got you eager to read Rinchin’s books, do visit our website.

Stories Through a Writer-Activist’s Eyes

We know we said we’d give you a post on Excavating History but that is in the making right now. (It’s on archaeology so, you know, it needs some time!) In the meanwhile, here’s something else that’s close to our heart that we’d love to share with you.

Regular readers of Tulika’s books would have noticed that we love publishing books which are not just a good story but also say something about the wider world, especially on current social reality. In this post, we feature Rinchin, who while telling us a darned good tale gently draws our attention to the social, political and cultural issues behind it. (We will be talking to her soon asking her exactly how she does it. Watch out for this space!)

So who is Rinchin? She is a writer and activist living and working with tribals in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. She loves stories, and feels that everyone should have some to read that reflect the worlds around them.

What we love about Rinchin’s style is her rare and powerful storytelling technique through which she explores issues using her feather-light touch. She is our publishing gold, completely in sync with our approach.

A word here about Tulika’s publishing philosophy. Our focus has been publishing books that offer a range of experiences that is inclusive and representative of different childhoods, different social milieus and different cultural contexts. Since the books are published in eight other languages apart from English, they reach children whose lives are reflected in the stories and the children see themselves in the books. While for the young readers – and often adults – of the books in English for whom these stories show a far-removed reality, the books through the text and pictures, sensitise them to how other children live. Books that extend their ideas and sympathies beyond their privileged circumstances.

Now you see why we are so excited whenever a book by Rinchin comes to us. To give you a better idea, let’s look at some of her books that we have published. She came into our orbit with her first book Sabri’s Colours way back 2009. But we couldn’t just stop with one! So there was The Magical Fish (2013), The Trickster Bird (2016) and now I Will Save My Land (2017).

In Sabri’s Colours illustrated by Shailja Jain, Rinchin tells the story of Sabri, a Bhil-Barela girl of the Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh who loves to draw. She draws everywhere – on paper from old notebooks and the floor of her hut. She draws everything – the sun coming up from behind the hills, her Ayti and Baba and little Chakuli crawling, the chicken and the goats. One day at school, she sees paint flowing out of bottles... and her world changes. No longer is she happy to just draw – now she wants to colour the drawings as well.

Told from Sabri’s point of view, we see her world both in – figuratively – black and white and in colour. It’s a story full of yearning for something that should be naturally and rightfully hers but has been kept away from her. Through the beautifully illustrated story, we are introduced to the subtext of reserve forests, which are the people’s area but have been closed by the government to be ‘protected’ while the villagers including teachers in the school protest against it.The clashing worlds of natural justice and manmade justice resound through the story. The unfairness of the situation hits us even as the story closes with Sabri chasing her classmates who have run away with the bag which contains her precious drawings.

The story of The Magical Fish is itself quite magical. It’s a story told by Gond storyteller Chandrakala Jagat, a one-time construction worker and magnificent storyteller. Rinchin and Maheen heard this story, put it down on paper in Hindi and made a film out if it, in which Chandrakala Jagat herself plays the narrator. Translated by Rinchin into English, The Magical Fish is illustrated by Shakunlata Kushram who is a Gond and paints in the style done by her community on the walls of their homes.

The story goes that the world slowly lost its happiness. People started fighting and were always hungry and tired. An old woman, a dukariya, who could see the real problem, thought and thought about what to do. Then she heard from the wind about the magical fish which lived in a lake made by the spring behind a mountain. So she took her daughters-in-law and set off to the lake. When she got there, she coaxed the magical fish to move to the river and return the happiness of the people.

As seen in the below lines from the story, Chandrakala Jagat’s own life seems to be reflected in the dukariya’s demonstrating physical hard work, courage, perseverance and practicality:

She had built houses that never fell, ponds that did not seep, bridges that stayed strong... Now she set out to bring back happiness.

She ran home and called out to her two daughters: “Leave your sadness behind or carry it with you, but we have to go to the lake behind the mountain.” 

In The Trickster Bird Rinchin narrates with the flavour and affectionate humour of a grandma story, the history of a community condensed into a bedtime story. While listening to the story of Renchu’s grandfather who was fooled by a partridge, we get to know from the grandma the origins of the Paardhi tribals and how they were once bird suppliers to the khansama (chef) of the begum (queen) but now carry the stigma of having once being branded a criminal community. The grandma in the story narrates with such placidity and without complaint how they as a community went from being a people with a profession in their village to becoming displaced ragpickers in a big city, who live in jhuggis. The unfairness of it all again strikes us immediately.

This year, we have possibly Rinchin’s most powerful book so far – I Will Save My Land illustrated by Sagar Kolwankar. It’s the story of a small girl belonging to a tribe somewhere in North Chhattisgarh. Her name is Mati (meaning intellect) and she is on a mission to save her ‘doli’ (field) from being consumed by the big companies who are looking for coal. Carrying all the overtones of maati (earth), little Mati’s story reflects and refracts the stories of many farmer families in India.

Before we wrap up, here’s a treat: a trailer of the book I Will Save My Land. Go on, give it a watch. You can look forward to a long conversation we had with Rinchin in the next post.

Happy reading! 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Creative Non-fiction

Non-fiction = information books = general knowledge = better marks. This is how the genre has usually been seen with regard to children, and this is a reason why it is much in demand among parents and teachers dealing with a marks-centred education system.

Information, certainly, but in creative ways – this was the challenge Tulika took upon itself 20 years ago with its very first non-fiction titles.

Since then, its strong non-fiction list for ages 2 to 16 has done a fine balancing act of information, stories, graphics, illustrations and photographs to give the reader a lot more than just facts, covering many issues green and gender as well as people, places and events, and in a rich variety of formats…

Read and Colour Stories offers a hands-on way for young children to understand and explore information. The four Freedom and four River stories are told along with well-researched line drawings so that children absorb visual details as they colour the pictures and read the story-like texts. 

Looking at Art is a unique series that leads children into the world and sensibilities of some of India’s best known artists – contemporary, traditional and folk. Through story, memoir and biography, children look at art and understand aesthetics. The books give young readers a wider and more inclusive idea of art.

The books in the series are on the art of painters M. F. Husain, Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Jamini Roy, K. G. Subramanyan and Paritosh Sen, and clay artist Sonabai. Stitching Stories, based on an animation film, is a striking visual narrative through applique and embroidery. Cave Art unfolds the story of art with photographs of the ancient paintings at the Bhimbetka Caves in Madhya Pradesh alongside creative reproductions of rock art. In A for Ajrakh: The A to Z of Block Printing, each letter sparks off an aspect of block printing on textile, so that by Z for Zafran what we get is a fascinating patchwork of the styles, the motifs, the blocks, the dyes, and the skilled people who sustain and invigorate a centuries-old intricate craft.

First Look Science has five books that are perfect for a child’s first introduction to science, because they were born as pictures. In a classroom project with The Srishti School of Design, Bengaluru, students were asked to visualise five sets of scientific facts on different topics. They did this through the fantasy adventures of Bhoomi, Boondi, Dhooli, Gitti and Beeji, bringing in basic concepts about space, water, air, earth and the earth’s surface. The stunning illustrations convey the beauty, vastness and mystery of nature, enriching the storytelling experience. The science is summed up at the end of each book. 

My Gandhi Story by Nina Sabnani and Ankit Chadha, illustrated by Rajesh Chaitya Vangad, came out of four large paintings displayed in an exhibition on Gandhi. In a unique collaboration, this brought together a Warli tribal artist, an animation filmmaker and a storyteller. While the artist was inspired to paint Gandhi's life simply because “he was like us”, the curating of the visuals was inspired by the delightful details in the paintings, picked and highlighted with care. Telling the story in three distinct voices – of a questioning child, a narrator who responds, and Bapu himself – lends intimate subjectivity to a much-published subject.

Gender Talk: Big Hero Size Zero ‘talks’ directly to teens about a complex subject with empathy and in a language they would understand. Uncovering truths, untruths, semi-truths and myths, using everyday examples as well as references to popular media, and with a humorous cartoon commentary running alongside, the book explores what it means socially and culturally to belong to a certain gender.

Fact+Fiction is the series with the winning combination of both!

Other non-fiction titles:

Fact + Fiction series
Jagadish and the Talking Plant: Pioneering scientist J.C. Bose

Non Fiction Picture Books 

Coming up: In the next post, we will look at our latest non-fiction title India Through Archaeology: Excavating History