‘चुन्नु-मुन्नु का नहाना’ the 8th and final story of our ‘Weave-a-Story’ campaign is up on Storyweaver! It is a quirky little story about two children, their bath time and all the fun and frolic that it brings along.
Written by Rohini Nilekani (also known as Noni in her previous author avatar), this lovely tale like many of her others, draws inspiration from little moments in her life. Other than चुन्नु-मुन्नु का नहाना, Rohini has written and translated many other wonderful books in English, Hindi and Marathi for Pratham Books and is the creator of the much loved Sringeri Srinivas. She loves writing for children and most of her stories are open source allowing people all over the world to read, enjoy and share at absolutely no cost!
We had a chat with her recently and she shared many little secrets about her inspiration, love for writing and more. Here’s a little snippet of our conversation.
Last year, I was helping my darling grand-niece with her bath and we were having much fun clowning around together. It reminded me how my own two kids used to enjoy their water-time. Gosh,that was decades ago! They would get all muddy after their time at the playground and bath time was a great way to wind down, get clean and also, if I was lucky, a bit drowsy. They were so tiny, they used to each fit in a small tub or a bucket. Nostalgia made Chunnu-Munnu come about.
You've written many delightful stories for Pratham Books. Tell us a little about your journey as a children’s book author.
Nothing has given me more joy in all my work that setting up Pratham Books and writing books for children. And best of all, knowing that children have liked some of my books. That is pure, unadulterated joy. I find it easier to write for little kids, though I should try my hand soon at longer fiction for older children. Kids around 3 and 4 years are so clever, so unfettered, so curious - it is great to enter their world and become creative for them. I find it easy to be with young children and really enjoy myself too. But when you deal with them or write for them, you have to make sure you are not talking down to them, and that you recognise them as intelligent human beings, however little. They can spot pretence or condescension from a mile off. I have been making up stories for children around me for as long as I can remember and I am so grateful that Pratham Books offered such a fantastic platform for me to write. I hope Pratham Books can continue to attract thousands more people to writing for children. As a society, we need them all!
Sringeri Srinivas - created by you - is a hugely popular character. How do you come up with such interesting book characters?
Sringeri Srinivas was just a stroke of luck. I always thank God that one of my colleagues (he may not wish to be named) provided me the inspiration for Annual Haircut Day. Now Sringeri Srinivas has become a real character in my head. In fact, I was recently in Sringeri Srinivas country - the Shimoga-Sirsi region of North Karnataka and I could just imagine him everywhere, doing some crazy stuff. New ideas are bubbling up! Clearly, he has some magic of his own, and my illustrators, Angie and Upesh have a lot to do with that! Not a month goes by without someone mentioning to us how this or that child loved Sringeri Srinivas. I am just happy to be able to bring his foibles to children. I hope I can write better and better stories about Sringeri Srinivas and his community. I also hope more characters emerge from my pen. Are my other colleagues listening?
Well, those few hundred words take many days to write. The idea marinates in your head for a while. Then you imagine some child and how she would receive such a tale. You have to enter the head and the world of a child that age. You have to keep working at the story till it really comes together. It is not so easy as it feels when you quickly read the book in a few minutes. And even then, you just have to accept that you haven’t succeeded fully. You have to very humble, when you write for children. I also believe that it is hard to create contemporary, relevant, sometimes irreverent stuff for today’s kids. You want to break some barriers; you want to challenge children; you want to stop all the humbug political correctness that is so prevalent in children’s publishing. Yet you also want to respect age old wisdom on what works for children’s writing. It is a very tough balancing act. Most writers fail at it. I want to keep trying.
You were one of the first authors at Pratham Books who willingly put your work under a liberal Creative Commons license. What motivated you to bring your work into such an 'open' space and what, according to you, has been its impact?
From day one, when we started Pratham Books in 2004, we knew that it was a societal mission. None of us were in it for the money or for the fame. We wanted to make an impact on the whole sector of Indian children’s publishing. We wanted to revolutionise access to good, affordable reading content, for ALL children, irrespective of language, class and other barriers. We were determined to take risks; to try things no one had before. Putting out our stuff under the Creative Commons license was one of the fabulous things the team decided on. It fitted our ideology perfectly. Naturally, I was among the first to put up my own work. We had to walk the talk. And we believed in it completely. It was the smartest thing I could have done.
The impact is there for all to see. In 11 years, we have reached millions of children, not just here in India but in many parts of the world. We have inspired writers, illustrators, translators, teachers and so many others. The numbers are there elsewhere on the website, but the impact goes beyond the numbers. It shows us what we can do together when we set our sights on a higher societal goal. I call it creative collaboration and collaborative creativity. It works wonders.
I hope more and more creative people will put up their best work on StoryWeaver. As an author, I can tell you, it was fantastic for me. There is no way my work would have reached so many children without the power of open.
However, I do not at all wish to trivialise people’s need to make an income from their work. They should do as they need to, plus it is their right to put economic value on their work. But I really hope they can try putting out at least some of their best work out on to this platform, and then enjoy the tremendous returns they will receive!
चुन्नु-मुन्नु का नहाना is written originally in Hindi. You have also written in Marathi and translated from Marathi for some of our other books. Most of your stories, though are written in English. What is the importance of writing in Indian languages? Does it matter?
I think it is critical in a country like ours, to put out original children’s content in our own languages. It matters hugely. Our childhood memories are fashioned in our mother tongues and those memories then help us deal with the world as we grow up. If we are introduced gently, in our own languages, into the world of magic, mystery, harshness, disappointment, resilience and all those other things that work their way into children’s fiction, what a wonderful tool it provides us as we navigate the larger world of other languages and other realities.
At Pratham Books, we were dedicated to releasing our titles simultaneously in as many titles as we could. But having original work in many different languages is even more important. Sadly, I am not great at any language other than English, to be honest. And yet, some stories come to me naturally in my mother tongue, or, as in this case, in Hindi! I hope more stuff will come to me in Marathi, my mother tongue. And I hope more authors will come forward, and soon, to write in all the languages and also the dialects of India. The new StoryWeaver platform that Pratham Books has launched creates space for it all.
चुन्नु-मुन्नु का नहाना is currently available in Hindi and Marathi. You can translate this lovely tale into English, Tamil, Konkani, Telugu, Gujarati or any other language you like and make the story available for many more children to read and enjoy around the world. Come be part of our exciting multilingual journey!