Writer Write-Up: Deepa Balsavar

Deepa Balsavar is a writer, illustrator and educationist, who has many award-winning books to her name such as ‘The Seed’ and ‘The Lonely King and Queen’. She has spent many years working on putting together material for a variety of educational programs including UNICEF’s empowerment series for children as well as the Avehi-Abacus Project. 

Deepa’s love for words and pictures started at the tender age of five when she could first make out what a stop sign said on a road trip with her family. Even as a kid, she would spend many nights wide awake, her nose glued to her book. Through her work, she now aims to invoke that love and passion for the written word in as many as kids as possible.  

Nani is a popular character among kids who Deepa created as a composite of all the people she is truly fond of and all the values that are important to her. Her latest Nani adventure ‘Nani’s Walk to the Park’ not only highlights these values but also helps kids discover everything that is Mumbai. From travelling in the double-decker bus to looking at piles of lychees on a fruit vendor’s cart, the book helps kids explore the real Mumbai, encouraging them to find beauty in their own surroundings. Deepa finished the book in record time too, working long hours in the day to meet her deadline.

“From the final story being given in to the final approval, the book was completed in four months which is nothing. I worked on the book for 12 to 13 hours a day, but I really wish I would have given a few more months to the book. Now when I look at it, I feel there is so much more that I could have added to it.”

The phenomenal writer also finds beauty in scrap and tatter. She is a fabulous papier-mâché artist. Her 3D models are the definition of cute and have developed a cult following. 

“I want to learn to make stuff without using any kind of chemicals and reusing all kinds of waste that I can find around at home. I use all of those to make these 3D art models of various things that I get inspiration from.” 

Watch the video to listen to Deepa read an excerpt from her book ‘Nani’s Walk To The Park’ and learn more about her journey. 

#ACKandFriends is an online talk show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. Watch Season 1: Click here 

Stay tuned for Season 2 coming soon.

Who Wrote The Panchatantra?

Illustration: Pradeep Sathe

A long time ago, there was a king called Amarashakti. He ruled the kingdom of Mahilaropyam in southern India. He had three sons, Bhaushakti, Ugrashakti and Anantashakti, who were not the sharpest tools in the shed. This was something the king wanted to change, so that they would become worthy of ruling the kingdom someday. However, there was very little hope of this happening, as the three princes were quite averse to the idea of learning.

One day, the king heard of an Indian scholar named Vishnu Sharma. With hope in his eyes, the king approached him and asked if he would take on his sons as his students and teach them some valuable life lessons. Vishnu agreed to the king’s plea and promised to educate them in six months. When Vishnu started the princes’ education, he quickly realized that traditional modes of teaching will not work with them, given their rather limited attention span and tendency to get bored easily. So, in order to make them learn, Vishnu Sharma decided to leverage the power of storytelling. He wrote down simple moral stories, segregating them into five books that he called the Panchatantra, pancha meaning ‘five’ and tantra meaning ‘principles’. 

Illustration: Pradeep Sathe
Book One: Mitra-bheda – The Loss Of Friends

The longest of the five books, this book contains thirty fables. They talk about the importance of the different causes that lead to breaking up of even the strongest of friendships.

Book Two: Mitra-labha – The Winning of Friends

This series contains ten fables, which convey the importance of allies. It shows how the right friendships can circumvent all odds and help us prosper in life. 

Book Three: Kakolookiyam – On Crows And Owls

Comprising 18 fables, this series focuses on war and peace. The stories underline how a battle of wits is mightier than a battle of swords. 

Illustration: Pradeep Sathe
Book Four: Labdhapranasam – Loss Of Gains

This book contains 13 fables and is in complete contrast to the first three books. If the first three books talk about ethical behaviour and what to do, the fourth book and its successor talk more about negative personality traits and what not to do.

Book Five: Apariksitakarakam – Ill-Considered Actions

With 12 fables inside, this book talks about the ill-effects of decisions taken in haste. 

Every story in this collection spoke about different moral values that an upstanding citizen would abide by. His stories were so powerful, even today, millennia later, the lessons conveyed in each of these can be easily applied to various real-world situations. As for the three princes, they were so enamoured by Vishnu Sharma’s stories they inadvertently ended up learning a lot, fulfilling their father’s wish of becoming dependable leaders.

Read the vivid retellings of Panchatantra tales from our huge digital library now accessible on the ACK Comics app and Kindle. 

Profile: Salman Rushdie

By Nitya Menon         

Illustration: Mala Narwani

Salman Rushdie is a storyteller and the author of 13 novels including the critically acclaimed Midnight’s Children and the highly controversial The Satanic Verses. He has contributed to literature in a big way, while always standing by his beliefs and maintaining his firm stand on the necessity of free speech and expression.

Born on 19 July 1947, he studied in Cathedral and John Connon School in Bombay, and further went on to study History at King’s College, Cambridge. He then moved to Pakistan with his family in 1964 where he worked in television for a while, later moving back to England to work as a copywriter for an advertising agency. During this time, he started working on his first novel Grimus which was published in 1975. Even though the response to his first novel was not overly enthusiastic, he continued to write, publishing his second novel, Midnight’s Children, which created history by winning the Booker Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. 

Salman Rushdie’s style of writing is a combination of magical realism and historical fiction. His books mostly involve connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilisation. 

For example, Midnight’s Children is about the life of a child born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence, who is gifted with special powers and has a connection to other children born in this new age and the birth of a modern Indian nation. Shame, which was published in 1983, talks about the political turmoil in Pakistan. Then there’s The Satanic Verses, which depicts the identity crisis and alienation due to migration from India to the west. This book earned him the ire of Islamic fundamentalist groups, with a fatwa being issued against him.

Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

However, Rushdie was unfazed as he firmly believed that the production of art requires the confidence that an artist can freely express the vision that is in him, without suffering retaliation from society. He is often questioned on how he reacts to criticism against his literary works and he says that the best answer to someone trying to silence your voice is to speak with greater confidence. If offence becomes a criterion that prevents the expression of a certain idea, then there will be no expression. He believed there were other dangers, such as unnecessary self-censorship and excessive anger that would lead to revenge books, viewing both as ultimately self-destructive.

As an accomplished author, his message to young writers is that you wake up every day with a nudge of creative juice and you can either choose to use it or waste it. 

“One must always imagine a novelist as a long-distance runner, and there’s a marathon. With no means is the marathon runner more gifted than a sprinter, but it’s just the kind of athletics where one has to chip away and let the mark post get by, and trust that, one day, the finish line will come.”

During the course of his career, Rushdie has received many awards such as the Golden Pen Award, Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Literature Award (Harvard University), Booker Prize for Fiction, Commonwealth Writers Prize and many more.  

Profile: Jhumpa Lahiri

By Mrinalini Manda

“Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is always not so serious, so formal, so complicated.”

– Jhumpa Lahiri

In the world of post-colonial literature, one of the most prominent and strong Indian voices is that of Jhumpa Lahiri. Her works have paved the way for many to understand and accept one’s identity in a foreign land.

Nilanjana Sudeshna ‘Jhumpa’ Lahiri was born in a Bengali family, who immigrated to the United Kingdom, eventually settling down in Rhode Island in America. Lahiri’s mother wanted her and her siblings to grow up sticking to their Bengali roots. One way that was made possible was by frequent trips to Calcutta to visit their cousins. Lahiri has claimed that those trips did eventually play an important role in shaping her characters for her various short stories.

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

‘Jhumpa’ was a nickname her family called her by, one that escaped the four walls of her home and stuck with her professionally as well. Growing up, she wanted to focus on English Literature, so she enrolled at Barnard College in New York. Over the years that followed, she earned three master’s degrees, and then, a doctorate in Renaissance studies at Boston University.

In 1999, Lahiri released her first book ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’, a collection of nine short stories. The stories give a glimpse of an American-Indian family’s life when they come to India for a vacation.

Then, in 2003, she released a second book, ‘The Namesake,’ which explored the life of a Bengali couple who moved from Calcutta to the United Kingdom after an arranged marriage, and finally settled in the suburbs of Boston in America. The Namesake was adapted into a film in 2007 by Mira Nair, starring Irrfan Khan, Tabu, and Kal Penn.

Jhumpa made a comeback in 2008 with the release of another book, another series of short stories titled ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ which was ranked number one on The New York Times’ best-seller list. The book revolves around a Bengali family and their immigrant lives in America, where they evolve their identity amidst racial disruption. In 2013, she released her second novel, ‘The Lowland’. The book was inspired by a true story she heard about two brothers while growing up, one who chose to become a researcher in America and the other took part in India’s Naxalite movement.

Covers: Amazon | Artwork: ACK Design Team

Most of Lahiri’s work focuses on immigrant stories, and the dichotomy of having to adapt to a new culture while still clinging on to your own. In the book ‘Interpreter of Maladies,’ it could be noted that her characters are relieved to have adjusted to their new world, but still carry a hint of regret for being detached from their original identities. There is the recurring theme of loss and isolation that can be traced in her work. She has stated in interviews that her experiences in Calcutta nourished her interest in seeing things from different perspectives.

Recently, Lahiri relocated to Rome and couldn’t be happier about the shift.

“Here, I’m able to accept myself in a way that I haven’t ever able to in the United States or India, because these two sides were always at war. I feel I could never please either, and it was always a battle and a loss.”

After the move, she has started reading and writing exclusively in Italian, releasing her first work ‘Dove mi Trovo’ in 2019. The book is a compilation of 40 Italian short stories, written by 40 different Italian writers, that she translated and edited. As of 2015, Lahiri also teaches Creative Writing at the esteemed Princeton University in New Jersey, America.

“I’ve uprooted myself not only from a physical place but also from a linguistic place. This double uprooting is artistic freedom and it’s dizzying. Once you taste that you can’t give it up.”

Memories of Uncle Pai 

On September 17, 2020, we will be celebrating our founder Anant Pai’s 91st birth anniversary. To mark the special day, we asked three stalwarts from the Amar Chitra Katha team some of their fondest memories of the legend himself. 

“It was 1994 and our office had been destroyed in a massive fire. We had lost everything we had – our library of 3000 reference books, all our copies of Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, three huge files of ready and approved scripts and three huge files of artworks ready to be scheduled for Tinkle. It was a devastating loss and we were a little paralysed. The Mirchandanis, who owned IBH and us, stepped in and immediately gave us space in their Mahalakshmi office. Mr Pai saw to it that all of us were settled in and as comfortable as possible. I was 35 years old at that time and the assistant editor of Tinkle.

The following day Mr Pai called me into his office and said, “The next issue of Tinkle has to go to print in 20 days. What are we going to do about it?” I looked at him and remembered what he had told me when he was relating the story of how Amar Chitra Katha had become such a big success. He had said, “If I had listened to all the criticism and discouragement I would have failed. You have to believe in yourself and what you have to do.” Without thinking I said, “Don’t worry, Mr Pai. We will send the next issue of Tinkle to the press in time. The children will not miss an issue.”

Brave words but how was I going to do it. I have learned that when you have your back to the wall that’s when the best ideas come. I got the team to sit down and write fresh content for all the special pages like Tinkle Tells you Why and Super Quiz. We quickly scripted single page Suppandi stories and sent them to Mr Ram Waeerkar who drew them in record speed. I wrote to all the artists to complete and send any assignment they had been given along with the scripts (no we did not have computers or backups). Once that happened the team worked at top speed to colour, letter, proof and edit the pages. In 19 days we had all 32 pages and the cover of Tinkle ready for print. Mr Pai was the happiest man that day. He congratulated the team. Besides, he said something that I hold dear to my heart even now. “If Reena says she will do it, I know she will do it.” Appreciative words, encouraging words. More importantly, words that increased my self-esteem ten-fold.

Mr Pai knew how to make one realize one’s own potential and work towards it. That was what was special about him. He was a real guru and the perfect mentor.”

“Uncle Pai for me has always been this larger-than-life Santa Claus like figure. He brought to me and thousands of other kids the gift of stories and comics that filled the pages of Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha. So when I decided I wanted to make my career writing stories I went hunting for one of those who had sparked my imagination. However, I couldn’t meet him. But a couple of years later I got my opportunity when I applied for a writer’s position in answer to an ad for a researcher at Amar Chitra Katha. Yeah, wonky, but it got me my break six months later when a vacancy in Tinkle opened up! Plus! I finally got to meet one of my idols. Yes, Uncle Pai! It so happened that the editor of Tinkle who was to take my interview was not in yet and while I waited I got to meet Mr Pai. He was as gentle and kind as I imagined him to be. But… he wanted me to join ACK as a researcher whereas my heart was set on becoming a writer for Tinkle. It was a hard choice… it was Uncle Pai asking! Thankfully the editor of Tinkle came to fetch me for my interview and I ended up getting my dream job. 

Do you know what was the icing on the cake? The day I joined happened to be Mr Pai’s birthday! And I began the day and my journey with Tinkle with sweets made by Mrs Pai whose birthday it also was and a shloka recited by Mr Pai in his inimitable style.”

“When he asked me, “What is it that you love to do best? Is it copywriting or drawing?” This question hit me like a thunderbolt because I had never thought of it earlier. And with a bit of hesitation, I said that I liked to draw. And then he said, “Join us as a staff artist in the TINKLE team”. Mr Pai had the ability to spot talents and nurture them with a lot of patience. With me having no qualifications or formal training in art he put that complete belief and faith in me through those formative years in Tinkle. And the day when he called me to his cabin to tell me that I will have to take up illustrating Shikari Shambu as Mr Halbe was to retire. This was a huge responsibility and I was petrified but he was sure. “Oh don’t worry,” he said with a wave of his hand. “You will be able to do it!”

That was Uncle Pai who believed and never gave up!”

Writer Write-Up: Jerry Pinto

Jerry Pinto is one of India’s most celebrated writers, contributed some iconic books to Indian literature. In 2016, he won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Windham–Campbell Literature Prizes for his bestseller ‘Em and The Big Hoom’. Jerry’s words charm audiences of all ages alike. Interestingly, the secret to his captivating style is keeping no rules in mind while writing.

“The purest form of writing is putting down your ideas on paper without thinking about where it is going to flow. Thus, doing it for the sheer fun of storytelling.”.   

Jerry’s popular title ‘Tickle me… Don’t Tickle Me…’ is a collection of humorous poems. In fact, one of the poems was created out of miscommunication between his sister and him. The author prefers poetry over prose, tracing his preference for verse to the womb.

“The first poem you ever hear is your mother’s heartbeat. It is the basis of all music you will ever hear. We pray in poetry and sing in poetry. Poetry is words set to music. Sometimes music plays and turns it into a song and sometimes the music is hidden, leaving it a poem. Keeping a poetry book by your side and reading one each day softens you, shapes you, and also makes you a better person.”

There weren’t many Indian writers who wrote exclusively for children back when Jerry was a boy. However, Mahatma Gandhi has been a childhood inspiration. Gandhji wrote letters to many people. He always spoke his mind and never shied away from owning his mistakes too, a trait Jerry truly admired. So how does he get such wonderful ideas?

“The world is the same for all of us. A writer just views it from a different perspective. For me, what starts a process is a series of ‘what ifs’. What if this happened? What if it turned out that way? It is all about the unusual angle a writer sees and presents in the story.”

Watch the video to learn more about Jerry’s journey so far, and to enjoy watching him read an excerpt from his book ‘Tickle Me… Don’t Tickle Me…’.

#ACKandFriends is a weekly live show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. 

Krishna Speaks #1

Leading from this, one understands the body is a medium for the soul to perform its duties. When the soul is immortal, we should not let the material realm overpower us.

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Profile: Arundhati Roy

By Mrinalini Manda

“There’s really no such thing as ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” – Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is an influential Indian novelist and political activist, who became popular via her first novel ‘ The God of Small Things’. The book highlighted themes of Indian history and politics, forbidden love and social discrimination, receiving the Booker prize in 1997. She has a confident voice and is not hesitant in sharing her opinions, no matter how unpopular they may be perceived to be. Her later work has mostly concentrated on raising awareness about political issues and bringing new perspectives about them. She is a keen critic of the USA’s foreign policy and a representative of the anti-globalization movement. Additionally, she disapproves of India’s policy towards nuclear weapons, economic growth, and industrialization. Along with another activist, Medha Patkar, she campaigned against the Narmada Dam project because the building of the dam would displace half a million people and they wouldn’t receive any compensation in return. Arundhati Roy donates her earnings from her books towards the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan.’ 

”For me, now, the only protection one has is to travel and to speak, to build protection of readers because things have become so difficult. My readers are my protection.”

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

Arundhati was born in Shillong, Meghalaya to Mary Roy, a women’s rights activist and educationist from Kerala, and Rajib Roy, a tea plantation manager from Calcutta. Arundhati was homeschooled until the age of ten by her mother, after which Arundhati was sent to a boarding school eventually doing her graduation from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi. 

Once college was over, she began to teach aerobics for a living, alongside improving her writing skills. From being an architect, she moved to the film industry where she wrote screenplays and acted in a few films. Although she was not a popular writer as yet, she had already started standing up for what she felt was right. One such instance was when she rallied in support for Phoolan Devi, who she thought was being misinterpreted in the film, Bandit Queen.  

After the controversy of Bandit Queen, she took some time to focus on her writing, and released her first novel ‘The God of Small Things’ in 1997. The book was extremely successful, earning her half a million pounds as an advance. When the book won the Booker Prize, she notably became the first Indian to win it. ‘The God of Small Things’ looks at a tumultuous ill-fated romance set against the backdrop of the caste system and the political stage.

Although her book was a hit, she received criticism, accusing her of imitating Salman Rushdie’s writing style. Nevertheless, she continues to write books, slowly but surely evolving her own voice over the years. 

Arundhati Roy calls herself a disciplined writer and claims that she loves writing fiction. She believes it’s a connective tissue between many things that are looked at or studied in isolation.

In an interview, Roy has stated,

Much of my non-fiction writing is an argument, but fiction is where you create a universe through which you invite a reader to walk. It is much more complex. For me, it is the most satisfying thing. When I write fiction, I feel like I am using all my skills, it delights me the most.”

Over the years, her writing has earned more and more laurels and recognition, her treatise on how societies are affected by tyrannical governments won her the Lannan Foundations’s Cultural Freedom Award in 2002. She also received special recognition at the Global Human Rights Awards as a Women of Peace in 2004. In 2004, she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for her efforts in bringing in social justice and conflict resolution by campaigning and promoting non-violence. India’s academy for Letters awarded her the Sahitya Akademi Award for her essay ‘The Algebra of Infinite’ which talks about present global concerns like nuclear disarmament. However, she declined the award as an act of protest against the Indian Government for continuing inflexible policies towards industrial workers. In 2011, she was awarded the Norman Mailer Prize for her distinguished writing.

She has also won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay in 1989 for the movie, ‘In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones’. However, in 2015 she returned her award in protest against religious intolerance and the increasing violence by right-wing groups in India. Interestingly, the film also features a young Shah Rukh Khan in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role.  

Arundhati Roy has written and released several essays regarding global politics and culture. In 2017, she released her second book, ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. This novel was nominated for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. This novel has been translated into over 50 languages including Hindi and Urdu. 

Writer Write-Up: Shachii Manik

Shachii Manik loves to play with words, that’s how she came up with her impressive body of work. Over the years, she has made up jokes, puzzles, limericks, rhymes, and stories for kids. Her transition from the corporate world to writing for children was not planned though. It was after she became a mother that she first heard the call to tell stories. To keep her kids entertained, she started cooking up tall tales, and since then, there was no turning back.

Shachii has also developed a series of activity books for kids called ‘Inside India’. She recollects the great fun she had while creating the book because she researched all sorts of unusual things from different cities of India and compiled them in the form of fun activities in the book, accompanied by some fascinating factoids. 

Her observation skills have greatly influenced her writing. Whenever she can, she tries to overhear the conversations of little ones around her to get a peek inside their world view.

“It is very important to see the world through the eyes of a three-year-old. They find joy in little things. We have to be like them and talk their talk if we want to teach them something.”

That’s how she realized that kids enjoyed poetry over prose, and made a conscious switch to writing in verse. 

So how did her first book happen?

“My husband is my partner in rhyme. He’s my co-author on the book as well. We had gone to Goa and were hanging out at the pool, when our kids kept nudging us to narrate stories. My husband and I were on a roll too. That’s exactly how the story was developed. When we read it out to our family and friends, they really enjoyed it. Then the thought of putting it in rhyme and publishing came to us.”

Watch the video to learn more about Shachii and her creative journey. Shachii also does a short read from ‘The Magic Potion’ that is sure to get you excited about reading all of it! 

#ACKandFriends is a weekly live show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. The show airs every Friday at 5:00 pm on our Facebook and Youtube channels.

An Open Letter About Piracy

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Dear Amar Chitra Katha Reader,

We know how much you love Amar Chitra Katha. For so many Indians, including me, reading ACK comics is an irreplaceable childhood memory, with nearly our entire knowledge of Indian mythology and history coming from ACK. Amar Chitra Katha is indeed a route to our roots.

Surprisingly, many people seem to think the company isn’t active anymore or that we are just re-printing/re-packaging old comics. Nothing could be further from the truth! Each year, the ACK editorial team, headed by the amazing Reena Puri, an ACK legend in her own right (she has been with the company for nearly 30 years) creates about 25 brand new comics. The new bestsellers include a fabulous six-part Ramayana series and titles like Saptarshi, Shakti, APJ Abdul Kalam, and Rama’s Ring, a beautiful book that contains lesser-known and rare stories from the epics. So, why am I sharing all this with you? To sell more books? A PR piece? No.

Last week, I received a forward on Whatsapp. It was a Google Drive folder with almost 30 titles of ACK, scanned cover to cover. The accompanying passionate but sad message said that since ACK content is no longer available, this is the only way to enjoy these stories. Every now and then, such messages get circulated and unsuspecting readers who believe these titles are put out by the company, download and read these.

Illustration: Savio Mascarenhas

Dear ACK fan- this is piracy, plain and simple. It is using/owning a product without paying for it, akin to stealing. Our sincere request to you is that please do not entertain these forwards, don’t open these links, don’t share and forward them. Tell the person who sent them to you, that what they are doing is both unethical and illegal. Our digital apps are reasonably priced and give access to our complete library of titles. We have nearly a million readers across our ACK and Tinkle apps. We are also on Kindle, Magzter, Alexa, GetLitt, Googlebooks and multiple paid, legal, digital platforms.

Amar Chitra Katha Pvt Ltd is alive and kicking, with lakhs of copies selling in India and around the globe. The company employs nearly 100 people, and we spend our days (and sometimes nights too) writing, illustrating, editing, printing, selling and marketing our books and magazines under three brands- ACK, Tinkle and National Geographic. Our founder Mr Anant Pai, devoted his entire life to creating this incredible body of work – a comprehensive treasure trove of the nation’s stories. We, the employees of the company today are working hard to keep his legacy alive and striving to make our content relevant for a new generation. We can’t do this without you, dear readers.

Please don’t encourage piracy. Don’t download that PDF. Don’t forward that Whatsapp message. If you come across an illegal website with pirated content from ACK, please do forward it to us at stoppiracy@ack-media.com

Let’s keep the ACK tradition going. You and Us. Together.

– Preeti Vyas,
CEO and President, Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd.