Meet Manjula Padmanabhan:
an author-cum-illustrator par excellence
Being an author and illustrator of books is rarely a series of simple decisions. Rather, it’s a series of accidents, some of them happy and other times not-so-happy. Here, Manjula Padmanabhan shares her journey as an author and illustrator.
Manjula Padmanabhan is a well-known playwright, journalist, comic strip artist, illustrator and author. “Most of my books are for adults, however, I have written and illustrated a number of books aimed at children,” she says.
Being a writer/illustrator…
“It’s quite difficult to explain how many steps there are between wanting to write a book and actually getting it published! It is very rare that a writer or an artist just “has an idea” and very soon after that moment of inspiration, the idea gets published as a book! For most authors, the path towards getting published is a turning and twisting one which might begin towards one kind of life before turning in a completely different direction,” she shares.
“Being an author and illustrator of books is rarely a series of simple decisions. Rather, it’s a series of accidents, some of them happy and other times not-so-happy. One of the most difficult facts to understand is that authors and artists rarely make a lot of money, especially when they write or draw their first book,” tells Manjula as a matter of fact.
“As a result of this, most authors/artists do all kinds of other jobs before they finally manage to make enough money from writing or drawing before they can afford to earn a living from their books. Perhaps in this sense ,I have been a little unusual: I have in fact never done anything but write and draw. But most of the time, it was not for books but for magazines and newspapers,” she tells.
“I grew up outside India, then went to Elphinstone college in Bombay for my BA. I studied Economics while also writing and drawing cartoons for a small semi-political magazine called Freedom First. For my MA, I switched to History but simultaneously began working for another small magazine. This one was called Parsiana and it was about the Parsi community. I worked full-time at the magazine during the day and went to the MA classes in the evening. It was while working for this magazine and for its very idealistic editor Jehangir Patel that I was able to develop the skills required to be a writer and as an artist,” tells Manjula.
“During the late 1970s, I illustrated a couple of books for children. Early in the 1980s, I began drawing a comic strip in the Sunday Observer, in Bombay. Then I moved to New Delhi and for a short while I worked for India Today and in particular for the wonderful children’s magazine called Target. During this period, the mid-90s, I was drawing and writing for a number of magazines and newspapers. When I was 44, I wrote a play called HARVEST, which won an international prize that was worth a lot of money. As a result of the prize, I was able to write and draw books of the kind that I really want to. This includes books for children,” she adds.
On characters in her books…
“My books are often about characters who are a bit unusual in some way.Two of my children’s books, Mouse Attack and Mouse Invaders are about the adventures of a very intelligent little mouse called Arvee. He’s an albino, meaning that he’s got pure white fur and pink eyes. He has grown up in a laboratory but his story begins when he’s brought to live as a house-pet, in a human home in New Delhi,” tells Manjula.
“Another book, called Shrinking Vanita is about a young girl who has a very odd problem: she shrinks if she looks into the eyes of someone shorter than herself. There’s also book called Unprincess that’s about three different young girls, all of whom are very definitely not princesses,” she adds.
On languages and publishers…
“In the past ten years, I have written and illustrated for a wonderful publishing house called Tulika Books. They publish a very broad range of books aimed at children, including eight Indian languages aside from English. Some of my books for them have been translated into these other Indian languages,” she tells.
“One of the results of growing up in different countries is that I can really only speak one language, and that is English. I do not, for instance, speak either Hindi – which is considered the National Language – or Malayalam, which is the language of the state where my parents were born. I keep on trying to learn different languages, but I never succeed. The result is, I understand fragments of several languages but can’t speak in any of them,” she adds.
“My primary publisher is Hachette India, but over the years I have worked for quite a few others. These include Penguin India, Macmillan Children’s Books in the UK, Picador, Kali for Women (now Zubaan) and Tulika Books.I am currently working on a new novel, a collection of science fiction short stories and a compendium volume of my comic strips,” concludes Manjula.