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In between sips of coffee on a rainy Bangalore afternoon, Roopa Pai, author of the Taranauts books, a fantasy series for children between the ages of 8 and 12, confesses to being a reluctant fantasy fan. “I can’t really connect to adult fantasy fiction. Even The Lord of The Rings didn’t quite grab me,” says Pai, eyes twinkling.
“I am a huge fan, though, of fantasy written for children and young adults — from Harry Potter to the more recent Percy Jackson series,” she adds.
Quite a confession from an author whose first foray into writing a fantasy series — eight books, no less, two of which are on the stands while the third awaits a launch this month — has won her a place in the shortlist of the Vodafone Crossword Book Awards in its newly constituted category, Children’s Books. The Quest for the Shyn Emeralds, the first book in the Taranauts series — fast-paced, cheekily written adventure books set on an alternative universe called Mithya featuring three kick-ass child protagonists — has been nominated in this category.
“It’s amazing that there is such a shortlist,” exclaims Pai. “That, in itself, is quite rewarding for any author writing for children in India.”
Once she had been commissioned to write the books by Hachette India’s children’s wing, it took her four months to decide the framework of a book; she wanted to write something that would be universal in its appeal and yet be recognisably Indian.
“The best way to do this, I realised after a time, was to create a different universe where I got to make the rules, so nobody could complain of authenticity or that I had mixed up ‘Western’ and Indian things. This was my world and I could do anything,” says Pai excitedly, explaining how Taranauts and Mithya were born.
Pai wandered into writing by way of an engineering degree, which, she says, explains her love of science and puzzles, both of which come into the Taranauts books quite strongly. As the launching editor of Pratham Books, Pai also wrote a four-book series on science called Sister Sister. “I loved history in school, which of course made me something of a freak. But I love deconstructing subjects like history and science and making them more accessible and fun for children,” says Pai. Understandably, she is not a huge fan of the way these subjects are taught in most Indian schools, though she feels this is changing.