Learning should be fun…in today’s GOOGLE age

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says Nita Berry, well-known author in conversation with Smita Dwivedi Nita BerryBetter books make better human beings” – this universal truth was recognised a long, long time ago in India. Long before there were even any books! 3000 years ago, we had no books but our ancestors recognised story as an ideal tool to impart knowledge and wisdom and to shape ideas and attitudes in accordance with certain social values. The storyteller had a special place in Indian society. With these initial views about children literature, Nita initiated candid talk about books with Smita Dwivedi.

A born author!

On asking about how love for books actually started, she shared, “I think I was always a writer! I scored well in school essays and wrote for the school magazine. We had a Young Journalist’s Club at Springdales School where Rosalind Wilson, my English literature teacher was the editor, and I was made the student editor in my final years. So my love for writing was honed in those far off days! Later, I wrote short stories and features for the popular Target Magazine where Rosalind had moved to become the editor. There was so much I learnt from her! In college at LSR, where I did English Honours, I wrote articles of literary interest for every issue of the college magazine, on topics like Virginia Woolf and The Stream of Consciousness, Anita Desai, etc….”

To be a good author, one has to be a good reader first, on asking about her favourites, she added, “Always a bookworm, I loved reading Enid Blyton, Jennings and Nancy Drew in my school days. Later I had a lot of favourite authors like Somerset Maugham, Lawrence Durrell, Ayn Rand and many others, and loved their literary style and ideas.”

Spinning a tale!

Nita has written over 20 books for kids – picture books, fiction, non fiction, even a Crossword Crazy series on thematic crossword puzzles where she did the illustrations! She also co-authored a play called Children of the Magic Pen which was directed by Feisal Alkazi and performed to packed halls in Delhi and Gurgaon. So, what was her tale of becoming a kids author and she shared,” I lived on a ship for over 5 years after I got married into the merchant navy, crisscrossing the oceans. My son didn’t go to school till he was 5. It was a rather alarming situation and I carried along several KG textbooks. To my horror I found that little kids were expected to remember a lot of facts from text books that were uniformly drab and dull. So sitting in the midst of nowhere I began to create little stories – of Heera the fat caterpillar who ate so much that his skin burst, of Chintu the tiny tadpole who grew into a handsome frog, of the little seed that grew into a flowering plant and many others. These characters were all taken from the school syllabus. Learning became fun!”

When she started writing children books, it was not easy to get published. She had her share of refusals and rejections, before she got acclaimed as an author. She narrated, “I sent a set of ten of these stories to a few publishers in Delhi. In those days it was difficult to find anyone interested in children’s books and it needed much persistence. A few years later Frank Educational Aids turned some of these stories into delightfully illustrated picture books and I became an author! The Fat Caterpillar, still in print after 25 years, remains one of my favourites!”

Writing today!

Nita still feels that India is a breeding ground for stories; we have great folktales and literature, which can be retold in number of different ways, this is the reason she prefers Indian touch in all her stories, “I always prefer Indian names for my characters but many publishers, with an eye on global markets, change the names to western ones. For instance, Heera the caterpillar became Furry,” she shared.

Sharing further about children books, she added, “My writing has mainly been non fiction to make learning fun. Children are expected to know so much these days! The most challenging part is to present facts in a fun-filled way. If you remember, the story was traditionally the vehicle of instruction for our illiterate masses centuries ago. Our ancient oral tradition of storytelling handed down stories that were moral, religious, mythological, didactic and entertaining. That is how lessons were taught. The hardest part of writing non fiction is the research work involved. Years ago there was no internet or Google and one had to write copious notes in musty libraries. Of course that is all a thing of the past now. I wrote a lot of full length non fiction for Children’s Book Trust like The Story of Time which won the Shankar’s Medal for ‘Excellence in Writing’, The Wonder of Water and The Story of Writing etc. Each of these books took about 6 months to write – 4 months to research and about 2 months to actually write. Of course writer’s block is all too common and writing and rewriting is all part of the process.”

Reader’s instinct!

On asking about what she prefers to read now, she disclosed, “I’m fond of reading historical fiction and I’ve just finished ‘The Twentieth Wife’ by Indu Sundaresan on Nur Jahan. I found it awesomely written, well researched and most engrossing. Indian writing today has really come of age and we have a lot of talented young writers in different genres. It’s been an interesting journey since those faraway days on a ship!”

Sci-fi by a 12-year-old author!

Sapna Book House organised the release of ‘Jaka in Kakoon’, a book by 12-year-old author J Manaswini from Coimbatore. She is a Class 8 student of BVM Global School @ Karpagam campus. The book talks about how the world would be in the next century. Talking about the book, chief guest of the event, Dr. Manivannan, writer and professor, Tamil Department, Govt. Arts College, Ooty said, “Reading and writing are taking a backstage in this era of technology. It is interesting to see how a young author has managed to create an interesting story in just 35 pages.”

Dr. Eric Miller, founder and director, World Storytelling Institute, who was also present on the occasion said, “I found Manaswini’s book to be a science fiction as it involves a time machine. While at the same time, it also presents a viewpoint about today’s education.” He also added that writing is a very heavy responsibility.

Speaking on the occasion, Manaswini revealed that she has been writing from the age of seven. “I mainly did so to present my point of view. But now I don’t want to merely write books. I would like to inspire people to write too.” ‘Jaka in Kakoon’ is published by Sapna Ink. -Janani Rajeswari

7th reprint for a novel by a debut author!

I Am Dead But My Heart Beats, debut novel by Priyank, a 23-year-old author from Jamshedpur, and published by Teenage Publishers (Delhi) in June 2014 witnessed its 7th re-print in January 2016. The amazing response of this book can be analysed from its sales figures, which has already crossed 15,000 copies in just one and half years.

The seventh edition of I Am Dead But My Heart Beats was unveiled by popular TV celebrities, Dilip Joshi & Amit Grover, from the SAB TV show ‘Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma Fame’ on their sets at Film City, Mumbai. Based on inter-community love & marriages, issues of communalism in India, Muzzafarnagar Communal riot & with a love story in the core, inspired from real life incidents, this book has struck the chord with the readers.

Priyank is all set to come up with his second novel this year.

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