Encourage children to read stories with Indian backdrop
–says Nilima Sinha, one of the best known children’s authors of mystery-adventure stories.
Children book author Nilima Sinha needs no introduction. Her published books include The Chandipur Jewels, Vanishing Trick at Chandipur, Adventure on the Golden Lake and SOS From Munia – all prize-winners for Best Fiction. Primarily an author for children, she has also written a variety of fiction, including historical fiction, fantasy, countless short stories, plays and biographies.
Her other notable books include: The Yellow Butterfly, So Can I, Rishabh in the Land of the Flying Magicians and four books in the Save the Earth Series. Many of her titles are included in the curriculum in schools. She has edited and contributed to anthologies such as Our Leaders, Triumph of Nonviolence, Together We Marched, Kamla’s Story, Mystery Stories- 1 and 2, M for Mystery-1 and 2, There’s Another Way, Stories From Across the Globe, Once Upon a Time in India, Road to Peace and Lighthouse in the Storm.
Nilima Sinha graduated from Delhi University and did her schooling from the Convent of Jesus and Mary, New Delhi. Married to a Member of Parliament from Jharkhand constituency she has lived in the area and is familiar with the problems of rural India.
At the same time, extensive travels abroad have widened her horizons. Here, Nilima Sinha in conversation with Smita Dwivedi, on a rainy winter morning divulged her love for words…books…plants…places… and politics at her warm and cozy study.
Read…Read… and Write
On asking about how this life-long affair with books started, she shared, “I love to read books since childhood. I read Enid Mary Blyton all my childhood. She was an English children’s writer whose books have been among the world’s bestsellers since the 1930s, selling more than 600 million copies. Blyton’s books are still enormously popular. Later, I graduated to both English and Hindi classics books. I studied literature and started teaching English in Blue Bells School Delhi. There was always a wish to write stories just like Enid. In 1979, Children Book Trust organized a story writing competition, I participated in it and luckily won first prize.
This provided me with lot of enthusiasm and since then I am continuously writing stories and books.”
SHANKAR’S efforts and support
As a translator, editor, researcher and storyteller, she has been an active member of the Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children (AWIC), the Indian Section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
Currently she is president AWIC and actively involved in many activities and projects targeted to improvise children literature in India. “On March 7, 1981, AWIC was founded by the eminent writer and cartoonist K Shankar Pillai, executive trustee of Children’s Book Trust. It provides a forum within India for those interested in the development of children’s literature, it encourages writers, illustrators, translators, librarians, editors and publishers, and co-operates with individuals and associations abroad with similar objectives.
The Association organises writers’ workshops, book exhibitions, literary discussions and sessions with publishers and editors.”
Expressing her gratitude to Shankar, she added, “Who has not heard of Shankar? To the common man, Shankar is the synonym of laughter, made possible through his cartoons and the journal Shankar’s Weekly. To children the world over, Shankar’s name is familiar through the international competition for writing and painting organized for them for over half a century. To the world of books, his name is familiar as one who pioneered children’s literature in India through the Children’s Book Trust (CBT).
And I am thankful to him for supporting us always and today, Shankar’s son Ravi Shankar is also helping AWIC by providing office space and facilities within the CBT premises.”
Nilima grew up reading books and wanted her children to enjoy books as much as she did. Fortunately they turned out to be great readers, but since children’s books those days were mainly from the West, she found her kids losing contact with their own culture, ethos, and traditions. To counter this alienation, Nilima tried to create a book as exciting as any mystery-adventure from the West. The fact that it won a prize for Best Fiction from the Children’s Book Trust encouraged her greatly.
Subsequently she wrote a variety of books, including historical fiction, biography, picture-books, plays, and short stories.
On asking about how, it feels today to write for kids, she smiled and added, “Well, when I was young I was full of enthusiasm, could finish my book very fast. Also, I was in touch with children of that age group.
Now even my grandchildren are grown up, so it becomes bit difficult to write a book for children, I guess that might be the reason wrote my first book for adults.”
India inspirations Her writing remains set firmly in the Indian milieu.
She feels that there are endless possibilities for good literature to be created by delving into our rich and colorful heritage, that we have enough material to write about – exotic locales to set adventure stories in, precious gems from our ancient history to base stories on, folk tales to be revived, epics and mythology to dive into to create the most magical tales of fantasy, and incidents galore from the lives of great as well as ordinary people to build upon.
“Inspirations is somewhere deep inside me, I have been a big reader all my life. I read to my children and even my grandchildren. Do feel story writing is part of me. So it’s natural in me. And recently written a historical fiction based on 18th century India set up. I find this time very interesting as Mughals lost their power and British were trying to gain power. I prefer to bring India close to every Indian child.
Moreover, I have been visiting my husband’s constituency Hazaribagh in Jharkhand during the last few years. And this has also inspired most of my stories and books,” shared Nilima.
On asking about what else, she loves to do besides books and writings, she shared, “I always help my husband and now my son during elections campaigns. We spend time in our constituency and interact with people. I love to do gardening, as one can see a lot of greenery in my house. And, above all I love to spend good time with my grandchildren.”
Acche Din for Indian children literature
Feeling enthralled with growth in kids books segment, she said, “There was not enough happening but now there has been quite a spurt in children literature. And reason for this is promotion of reading skills by people like us and our organization. There are many NGOs like Katha and Pratham, who are encouraging reading habits and help us in organizing events like Bookaroo etc. I would also like to mention CBSE as well; they are also encouraging reading habits in school. This all has created a good atmosphere for books. That is the reason; there are many big publishers and authors entering in the segment of children books.”