“What children like to read when is as uncertain as life itself”
What inspired you to write for children?
Writing has an attraction just like any other forms of art. (So) I could not stop myself from writing and I started.
Have you noticed any change in the nature and trend in Hindi children’s literature, since the time you’ve been reading children’s books?
There has been a lot of changes in Hindi children’s literature. Earlier, writing for children was not considered writing in the true sense of the word. One could not have an identity in the field of literature if one wrote only for children. No publisher of Hindi books was interested in publishing children’s books on quality paper with good illustrations. Today the scenario has changed.
With reference to children’s literature/ writing for children, what is fundamental to it?
For the sake of saying, one can say that one must have an idea of children’s psychology, their interests, what they like at a certain age. Let’s presume, one knows all this, but cannot write; or what one is writing is not qualified to be literature, then what? And, what children like to read when is as uncertain as life itself. Secondly, it is not true that one would need different topics/things to write about for children and adults. And there is no formula for writing. So I would not be able to say what are the essentials while writing for children.
Have any of your books been translated into any other language?
‘Cycle ka Sapna’ has been translated into Mundari. ‘Jhoolta Raha, Jata Raha’ has been translated into English. Some people have asked for permission to translate other books as well, but I have not received them yet.
Which is your favorite book? Please tell us briefly about it.
Alok Dhanwa’s, ‘Duniya Roz Banti Hai’, a collection of poems, is my favourite book. It touches new heights in terms of the language and recitation of Hindi poetry. These poems have an attraction like nature itself.
Who is your favorite author and why?
My favourite author is Leo Tolstoy. He has written very touching and vibrant descriptions of life with a beauty and objectivity that has rarely been made possible by anyone else. His literature is so sublime, epic and vivid that (reading it) one feels he has recreated the world.
Which experience has been the most precious in your writing career?
I have to travel to various parts of the country for work. When I hear one of my songs being sung or my poems being recited there, I feel really good. Or when I see children publishing my poems in magazines with their names on it, it feels good to know that they have accepted this play of words as their own.
According to you, what is the role of awards in encouraging or promoting children’s literature?
The question is, how much the credibility or reliability does the award have? Otherwise, by way of an award, a book or author comes into the limelight, through that there is a dialogue and discussion on literature. An atmosphere for thinking and reflecting is created.
Do you work with children? If yes, has that influenced or helped your writing?
I have worked in an organization for two years with children and done many workshops and I have two children of my own and I was once a child, so all those memories are still with me. Some really interesting experiences of the time I worked with children, have come in my stories. They always wanted new poems so I would write, make a tune, sing with them. The poems and songs of ‘Paaniyon ki Gaadiyon Mein’ and ‘Ghumantuon ka Dera’ are from that period. Some stories of the book ‘Amiya’ are based on incidents from my childhood and some are based on incidents from my daughter’s childhood.
What can be done to strengthen children’s literature in our society?
Till very recent decades, we have been people with an oral tradition and some large areas still are. Enjoying the written form of children’s literature is still very new to us. Something should be done so that the culture of reading and writing grows in homes, intervention at the school level should happen so that the reading habit develops in children. Post-independence, there was a period when there were community libraries in small towns and till the 70s and 80s readers used to frequent them. They should have spread to the villages, but instead of that, even those which existed, began to die – we should think of reviving those.
How can we encourage young writers to write children’s literature?
We now have a very good example of this for Hindi. Sushil Shukla and Shashi Sablok of Ektara, organize regular workshops for children’s writers. Here, along with great Hindi writers, there are new writers as well. Some people bring what they have written, some write there (during the workshop). Then they read out their work, listen to others’ work and discuss. And all this is done, assuming that neither will these participants become writers nor will something great be created. Instead, it is done, in order to prepare a ground for writing – once there is a ground, then there is always the possibility of something sprouting and then blooming.
Would you like to comment on the comparison between regional literature for children in the West and that in India? What is the situation of illustrated children’s literature in regional languages in our country?
I (am able to) read books from the West only through translations. Just like we have some very fine books and some really bad ones, same is true for books of the West. In India, language that Vinod Kumar Shukla created, those heights of language are extremely rare anywhere (in the world). The magic of Premchand, Tagore, R.K. Narayan’s stories is still prevalent today. In the oral tradition, I have not heard of or seen any other books except Folk Tales of Ukraine and the Rajasthani writer, Vijaydan Detha’s, ‘Anokha Ped’.