Writer Write-Up: Sowmya Rajendran

Sowmya Rajendran loves writing for children of all ages, from tiny tots to young adults. She beautifully weaves stories around topics that a lot of people might consider too adult for kids, but are very crucial for kids to learn about to help them develop into healthy, well-rounded individuals. Her writing style is laced with humour and thought-provoking, compelling readers to ponder about what they read for days. 

Her first picture book was Aana and Chena, and since then, there has been no turning back. Her readers have showered love and appreciation on her body of work, such as Power Cut!, Nirmala and Normala, The Lesson, School is Cool, Wings to Fly, and the Mayil series, among others. Sowmya received the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for Mayil Will Not Be Quiet. As per Sowmya, she has always loved playing with words and weaving stories, ever since school days; she feels she was destined to be a writer.

Her Mayil series is told as the diary of an Indian girl, and touches upon various sensitive topics such as gender discrimination, stereotypes, adolescence, and more. So how did the Mayil series come to be? Sowmya and her dear friend Niveditha Subramaniam, who is also the co-author of the Mayil series, used to have various conversations about gender issues. Various contemporary issues were not talked about at home nor taught to them in school. With a desire to create a resource book on gender for school kids, the two women set out to draft their manuscript, a much more serious take on the subjects they wanted to discuss. Unfortunately, this was shot down by almost every publishing house they approached, till finally, Radhika Menon, founder and editor of Tulika Books, suggested that they rework the manuscript into something more light-hearted and kid-friendly. The rest is history.

Talking about the Mayil series, Sowmya said that Mayil started as a character but later turned into a voice. Now, there are times when the authors disagree with Mayil but let her have her opinions. The diary form of writing also gave them the freedom to talk about a range of topics, including politics. The character is very much biographical in nature, with the authors deliberately letting Mayil make mistakes, judge people, be confused, and think through things at her own pace. The character has evolved and grown through the series, just like any child would. Watch the video to learn more about Sowmya and her journey, and hear a small excerpt from the book!  

#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.

Who Was Ilango Adigal?

Ilango Adigal was a Jain monk, a Chera prince, and a poet. Legend has it that when he was born, an astrologer prophesied that he would become king. But since his elder brother was alive, Ilango chose to become a monk instead, removing himself from the line of succession. Silappadikaram is estimated to have been written in the 5th or 6th Century, but it is set some centuries earlier. Ilango Adigal describes a rich and cosmopolitan culture, where people from many different backgrounds – Greeks, Arabs and Tamil people – mingle, living and trading in the cities of Poompuhar and Madurai. He talks about a great flowering of the arts, of music and literature, which people from all sections of society could enjoy and contribute to. Much of our modern understanding of the way ancient Tamil cities were built, organised, and governed can be traced back to Ilango’s work and to other literature from the period.

Unlike the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Ilango Adigal’s Silappadikaram is not the story of royalty, or of gods, but the story of ordinary people and their struggles. The protagonist, Kannagi, is in every way the equal of the king and queen, and even their moral superior, since they fail to provide justice.

Amar Chitra Katha’s take on Kannagi is available on the ACK Comics app and on all major e-tailers like Amazon, Flipkart and others.

Krishna Speaks #4

Maya or illusion constantly blinds us through three modes, which are sattva (purity), rajas (passion) and tamas (destruction). Stuck in the rut, we forget the highest truth that is He is immortal and He alone is the truth.

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Writer Write-Up: Asha Nehemiah

Asha Nehemiah is a renowned children’s author who has written several picture and chapter books, in a literary career spanning 20 years. She began her professional life as a copywriter in an advertising agency, but, luckily for her, a series of fortunate events took her from her copywriting job to a stint as a sub-editor for an academic publisher, to eventually writing her own books.

Her best-selling titles include Behind the Lie, Trouble with Magic, Granny’s Sari, The Village with a Long Name, and The Adventures of Mooli series. Funny characters, even funnier names and outlandish escapades are unique traits of her books. Interestingly, her love for food and cooking also seep into her writing; her books are peppered (pun intended) with references to local culinary delights, leaving you drooling at the mouth. When asked if this was intentional, Asha replied in the affirmative, saying she considers food to be a creative aspect of life, one that should be introduced to kids as soon as possible.

In her book Behind the Lie, Asha touches on the sensitive topic of domestic violence. We were curious as to what made her take up such a serious topic for her especially young audience. This was her reply.

“Books are a natural way to introduce kids to both the beautiful and ugly sides of life. Parents should not shy away from talking about these things with their kids, and setting the right context becomes very important.”

So what inspired The Village with a Long Name? The idea came to her from her real-life experiences living in Tamil Nadu, where villages really do have extremely long names. She wanted to introduce this part of India to kids and thought a picture book with a sprinkle of humour and a dash of craziness would do the magic. She was absolutely correct! A short storytelling session by the author was ample proof of this. Watch the video to learn more about Asha and her journey!

#ACKandFriends is an 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.

Premchand Stories We Love

By Mrinalini Manda

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

Munshi Premchand was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, who wrote several plays, novels, and short stories in Hindi and Urdu. He used his stories as a medium to address issues in the society such as patriarchy, caste barriers, injustice to women, and untouchability.

“Beauty doesn’t need ornaments. Softness can’t bear the weight of the ornaments.” – Munshi Premchand 

The beauty of Premchand’s stories lay in its simplicity. He would take everyday characters and build a world around it, shining a light on the vagaries and hypocrisies of various social practices. Most of his characters were never truly evil, instead, they were a product of their circumstances, sitting firmly in the grey area. Here are five of his short stories that we love.

Buddhi Kaki

As the title suggests, this story is about an old lady who is forced to depend on her selfish nephew to survive. Kaki had trusted her nephew and handed over all her property to him. However, after acquiring the property, her nephew, Pandit Buddhiram, starts to ill-treat her. Though the nephew and his family enjoy Kaki’s property, they don’t even bother to give her full meals. As old age catches up with Kaki, her food cravings grew. One day, when a function was hosted in the house, Kaki can’t control her hunger and decides to go to the kitchen in search of food. On seeing this, Buddhiram gets really angry and insults Kaki in front of the guests. Fortunately for Kaki, there is one sympathetic soul in the household who feels sorry for her plight. 

From deteriorating health issues to ill-treatment by family members, this story will make you empathise with the numerous struggles of old-age. The story is so simple and real that everybody can easily connect with it.

Eidgah  

Eidgah is a sweet story about a four-year-old boy, Hamid, an orphan who lives with his grandmother. Despite being poor and not having sandals on his feet, Hamid is always happy. On the day of Eid, while the rest of his friends are buying clay toys, drinking sherbet, and eating delicious sweets, Hamid controls his temptations and saves his money till he finally comes across a hardware shop. Here, Hamid buys a tong for his grandmother, so that her fingers won’t get burned when cooking. 

In this story, Munshi Premchand successfully brings out the best qualities a person can hope to have, through the eyes of a child. Compassion, maturity, and pure goodness are demonstrated through Hamid’s actions. Another take away from his story is one should be content with what they have. Hamid’s didn’t have much but he was happy with all that he had.

Thakur Ke Kuan 

The story revolves around Jhokhu and his wife, Gangi, who were from a low-caste family. When Jhokhu falls ill, Gangi fetches him water but soon realises it smells. Their only option is to get fresh water from a well, but the owners of the nearest wells won’t let her draw water because she is an ‘untouchable’. With no other way out, Gangi decides to sneak some water from the Thakur’s well. She is fully aware that if she gets caught, then Thakur’s men would probably beat her to death, but she still decides to risk her life, because she doesn’t want her husband to drink spoilt water. 

This story highlights the perils of the caste system, where people were deprived of basic necessities and looked down upon based on their caste. This story also features how women were treated in a patriarchal society, seen as sub-servant to the males in the family and outside. 

Poos Ki Raat 

Halku, a poor farmer and his wife, Munni, owe money to their landlord. Halku was saving up for a blanket so that he no longer had to shiver while guarding the fields at night. However, when the landowner comes to demand his money, all that Halku saved up had to be given away. Halku is then forced to spend the cold winter night in the field. Not able to bear the cold at all, Halku decides to light a fire to keep himself warm. After great difficulty, Halku falls asleep. Unfortunately for Halku, he wakes up to find his fields destroyed by the very fire he lit to save himself. 

This story depicts the tough life of a farmer. Even after an immense amount of hard work farmers are unable to pay off their debts. Their lives are taken for granted by many. Despite producing food for everybody, they are not able to provide basic necessities for themselves.

Do Bhel 

This story is about two oxen, Heera and Moti, who are best friends. Both are hardworking and very loyal to their master Jhuri. However, Jhuri sends them away to his brother-in-law’s farm. There, both the oxen are ill-treated. Thus, they try to run away. After several attempts of leaving the farm, they finally find their way back to Jhuri. Although Jhuri is happy to see them, his wife does not like it. She no longer cares for them and starts feeding them dry hay instead of the rich grains and green grass they would get earlier. Eventually, Jhuri is forced to drop both oxen back at his brother-in-law’s place, who decides to sell them. Will the oxen escape their fate? 

Both the oxen in this story give us a sense of loyalty that is there amongst animals. Heera and Moti were loyal amongst themselves as well as to Jhuri. This story also highlights how humans neglect the feelings of animals and abuse them. 


Amar Chitra Katha’s adaptation of Premchand stories ‘Two Oxen’ is available on the ACK Comics app, as well as Amazon, Flipkart and other major e-tailers.

India’s Freedom Fighter Poets

By Nitya Menon

During India’s freedom struggle, it was not only necessary to strategize freedom movements but also lift the morale of fellow countrymen. Many poets instilled patriotism and amplified the freedom struggle through their words. While there are many poets we know about such as Kalidas, Mirabai, Kabir das, Rabindranath Tagore, Harivansh Rai Bachhan, and Sarojini Naidu, there are many national poets who are now lost in the pages of history. Let’s take a look at some of them. 

Maithili Sharan Gupt

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

Rashtra Kavi and a Padma Bhushan awardee, Maithili Sharan Gupt, was one of India’s modern Hindi poets. 

As a child, like many kids, he did not like to go to school and gave up schooling in between. He was home-tutored in Sanskrit, Bengali, and English. A great devotee of Kabirdas, Maithili started writing poems since then. Born and brought up in Chirgaon, Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, he entered the world of Hindi literature by publishing his poems first in Indian magazines. His writing style was unique as he wrote in Khari Boli (plain dialect) while most of the others preferred the use of Braj Basha dialect. His works were mostly based on patriotic themes and revolved around the plots of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Buddhist stories and lives of religious figures.

His first poem published by the Indian press was, Rang mein Rang. His most appreciated work was Bharat-Bharati where he wrote about the freedom struggle. People were greatly inspired by his words. In fact, Gandhiji was so impressed by this that he honoured him with the title Rashtra Kavi. Another famous work of Maithili Sharan Gupt is Saket, Jayadrath Vadh, Kirano Ka Khel, and Yashodhara, among others.

Mahadevi Varma

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

Mahadevi Varma was not only a Hindi poet but also a freedom fighter and educationist from India. Once a secretive poet, now regarded as the modern Mirabai, she was a prominent leader.

Born and brought up in Farrukhabad, Agra, she was originally put in a Convent School, and later joined the Crosthwaite Girls College in Allahabad. Mahadevi initially wrote her poems in secret but her inner talent was exposed by her roommate Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. Both these young girls decided to write poetry together. They would often submit their poems to weekly magazines where they got published. They would also attend poetry seminars and meet eminent poets. Sometimes they also read out their poetry to the audience. Mahadevi Varma often writes about the time when a girl child was considered a burden to the family. She was grateful to be born in a liberal household where her mother was well educated and fluent in Sanskrit and English. Her grandfather envisioned her to become a great scholar. 

In 1903, she started her professional career by teaching at village schools around Allahabad. She was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s ideology and adopted his ideals. She became the headmistress and later the chancellor of Allahabad Mahila Vidyapeeth but she continued to write extensively while teaching. Her notable works include Yama, Mera Parivar, Path Ke Saathi and her famous childhood biography, Mere Baachpan ke Din. One of her heart touching stories is Gillu, the story of a little squirrel. Some of her works are also included in various board syllabi. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956 and the Jnanpith Award for her extensive poetry collection. 

Subramania Bharati 

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

Chinnaswami Subramanian Bharathi was a pioneer of modern Tamil poetry and was considered one of the greatest Tamil literary figures of all time. He was a revolutionary poet and due to this strong ideology, the British officials didn’t want to spare him alive. 

Born and brought up in Ettayapuram, Madras, he studied in M.D.T Hindu College. He was an excellent student and a proficient linguist. In fact, he knew up to 14 languages and his favourite was Tamil. Many wonder the reason for him wearing a turban and growing a beard. It was because he had a great admiration for Sikhs. 

His work started as a court poet for the Raja of Ettayapuram, but he soon began actively participating in the freedom struggle movement. He started to publish his writing regularly in Tamil weeklies and English newspapers, from hymns to nationalistic writings. He had strong ideals on the aspects of society such as the caste system in the Hindu society. Even though he was born in an orthodox Brahmin family, he regarded all living beings equally. His poetry was a collaboration of contemporary and classical elements. Few of his notable works are Panchali Sapatham, Pappa Pattu and Shakthi. His words were so influential that he faced the prospect of arrest by the British in 1908. To save himself, he had to flee to Pondicherry which was under French rule then. Later, the government of India established a Bharathiar University named after him in Coimbatore. Today, the Subramanyam Bharati Award is annually conferred on writers contributing outstanding work in literature. 

Ramdhari Singh Dinkar 

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

Another poet who is hailed as a Rashtrakavi and has given India some of the most inspiring poems is Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. He participated in the freedom struggle as a leader, poet and a member of the parliament. 

Ramdhari was born in Simaria in the Bengal Presidency during British India in 1908. As a young student, he was interested in history, politics and philosophy and had studied a multitude of languages. He was greatly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore and translated works of Tagore from Bengali to Hindi.  His poetry shows the impact of his poverty as unlike most of his peers he had to struggle due to his family economic circumstances.

One of his most famous works is, Sanskrit ke Chaar Adhyay  for which he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award. He wrote this in the context of values emerging from the freedom movement such as anti-colonialism, secularism, and integrated culture. A rebel at heart, he fiercely supported the youth, burning with the flame of vengeance against the British. His beliefs were strong and influential, giving voice to the freedom struggle’s more revolutionary movements. It is believed that his poetry created a sense of awakening in the youth, drawing allegories with heroes of the Mahabharatha and Ramayana, such as Karna. His work Rashmirathi is considered one of the best versions of the Mahabharata. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his inspiring patriotic compositions.

Who was Bhasa?

Like many early Indian writers, little is known of Bhasa – most of the information about him comes from references in other works and commentaries. Bhasa is reputed to be one of the earliest Indian playwrights. It is known that he was already considered a classic when Kalidasa started his career, for Kalidasa’s very first play, the Malavikagnimitram has the lines:

Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhāsa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra?

Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kālidāsa?

Based on this, Bhasa can be estimated to have lived between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE. Then, in 1912, the Sanskrit scholar, T. Ganapati Sastri, came across a palm-leaf codex in a village near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. It contained 13 plays, used in a theatre form called Koodiyattam. Among them was the Swapnavasavadatta, which was known to be by Bhasa. Sastri analysed the texts and realised that they were all by the same author, Bhasa.

Some of Bhasa’s most celebrated works are the Uru-bhanga and the Karna-bhara. Interestingly, both these plays focus on villainous and anti-hero characters like Duryodhana and Karna. The Uru-bhanga is staged moments before Duryodhana’s death on the battlefield, as he lies with his thighs crushed, repenting his actions. Such a moment of repentance never features in the original epic. Though Bhasa is fimrly on the side of the epic’s heroes, he is very sensitive in the portrayal of their opponents, painting them in shades of grey rather than outright black and white.

Kalidasa’s Heroines

His life remains a secret to many but his poems and plays are a muse to millions. Revered as one of the great Sanskrit writers of all times, Kalidasa gave Indian literature some of its finest masterpieces. Kalidasa’s plays were inspired by a variety of mythological sources. These plays are told and re-told to this day, adapted into stories, plays, and films. Here are three female characters created by Kalidasa, who will forever be etched in our memories. 

Malavika

Illustration: Sundara Moorthy

The story of Malavika is taken from Kalidasa’s earliest play, Malavikagnimitram. It recounts the deep love King Agnimitra had for our heroine. Agnimitra was a king of the Sunga dynasty and ruled over Vidisha, near Bhopal in present-day Madhya Pradesh. Agnimitra was completely smitten by Malavika, his queen’s handmaiden. His queen, naturally, was furious when she learned of it, and decided to imprison Malavika. 

Urvashi

Illustration: Sundara Moorthy

Urvashi is a re-telling of Vikramorvashiyam, meaning ‘Urvashi Won By Valour’. Urvashi was an apsara or celestial dancer who fell in love with a mortal king named Pururavas. Pururavas, well-known for his bravery, was a descendant of Shakuntala and Dushyanta’s son Bharata, and an ancestor of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Pururavas and Urvashi first met when Urvashi and her companion Chitralekha were kidnapped by demons. Pururavas rescued them, and that was when he and Urvashi fell in love. Back in heaven, Urvashi was so distracted by thoughts of Pururavas that she made a mistake in her steps while dancing. Her guru cursed her, banishing her from heaven. Taking pity on his favourite dancer, Indra, the king of the gods, modified the curse – Urvashi could go live with Pururavas but the moment he set eyes upon their child, she would have to return to heaven.

Shakuntala

Illustration: Sundara Moorthy

The story of Shakuntala is taken from Kalidasa’s classic play, Abhijnanashakuntalam, meaning ‘the recognition of Shakuntala by a token’. Though the story of Shakuntala is also found in the Mahabharata, Kalidasa’s play adapts the narrative into a lyrical romance, while in the Mahabharata it serves to describe the founding of the Kuru kingdom.

Abhijnanashakuntalam was the first Sanskrit play to be translated into English, in 1789, by Sir William Jones. 

Shakuntala was the daughter of the apsara, Menaka, and the sage, Vishwamitra. She was brought up in the forest by the sage, Kanva. It was there that she met Dushyanta, the king of Hastinapura. They fell in love and were married. But Dushyanta could not stay away from his responsibilities as a ruler for too long and had to leave for Hastinapura. He left his ring with Shakuntala, as a token of their marriage.

With Dushyanta gone, Shakuntala spent her time immersed in dreams of him. One day, as she sat thus, she completely failed to attend to the irascible Sage Durvasa who was visiting the ashram. Furious at being slighted, he cursed her, saying that Dushyanta would forget all about her, until he saw the ring. Shakuntala journeyed to Hastinapura, to meet Dushyanata. On the way, the ring slipped off her finger and was lost in a river. When she arrived in court, Dushyanta had no recollection of her. Heart-broken, Shakuntala returned to the forest. 

Have you read Malgudi Days?

Written by the legendary author R.K. Narayan, Malgudi Days is one book every Indian kid should read. Set in the fictional town of Malgudi, this book consists of 32 short stories that paint a beautiful picture of small town India in the ’60s and ’70s. 

Here are the top three reasons why Malgudi Days is a must-read for kids

  • THE WRITING STYLE: R.K. Narayan is known for his graceful and elegant writing style. His ability to juxtapose fiction with reality was truly commendable. He doesn’t indulge in unnecessary prose, and is able to paint vivid pictures with his words. The language he uses is simple and staright-forward, making it very accessible for kids.
  • THE PLOTLINES The set up of every story is so simple yet poignant that kids easily connect with it. Be it the story of the fake astrologer who manages to loot people by his wit, or the story of the blind man and his dog where money turns the blind man greedy, every story in the book has layers of moral and values hidden in it.
  • THE ILLUSTRATIONS: The book is solely illustrated by the legendary cartoonist, R.K Laxman, who also happens to be R.K. Narayan’s younger brother. The illustrations not only compliment the stories but also excites kids and keeps them engaged with the book for hours.

A quote from the book ‘Malgudi Days’. In one of the short stories, when the municipal authorities get orders to cut down Velan’s margosa tree, he rushes out and pleads to the authorities. 

Published in 1943, Malgudi Days was first mentioned in R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends. The popularity of the book can be estimated from the fact that the book was adapted into a series by actor and director, Shankar Nag in 1986, and then a movie by his co-director Kavitha Lankesh in 2004.

R.K. Narayan was awarded the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan for the indelible mark he left on Indian literature through his works. 

The Lion and The Jackal

Once upon a time, there lived an old lion called Kharanakhara who was finding it harder and harder to find food. One day, after not being able to find anything to eat all day, the lion decided that he would have to find another way to find food. He came upon a large cave and thought to himself, “I think my dinner lives inside that cave. All I have to do is wait patiently for it to return.” And so Kharanakhara quietly hid inside the cave.

Now the cave belonged to a clever jackal named Hasya. When Hasya came back to his cave, he noticed giant paw prints going inside the cave but none coming out. “Ho ho ho, I think there’s someone waiting for me inside, but I’ll need to confirm it!” thought Hasya to himself. So he bellowed, “Why, good evening, cave! How was your day?” When the cave didn’t respond, Hasya  yelled out, “Why aren’t you replying, cave? If you don’t answer, I’ll go elsewhere.” On hearing this, Kharanakhara started to get worried.

Illustration: M. Mohandas

Not wanting to take a chance, Kharanakhara blurted out, “Hello, jackal. It’s all right for you to come in. Please do!” The clever Hasya immediately took to his heels, yelling out, “Silly lion! Since when you have heard caves talk?” The impatient Kharanakhara had to go hungry yet again.

And that’s why silence is golden and patience is a virtue!

You read more stories like this in Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘The Brahmin and the Goat’, available on the Amar Chitra Katha app as well as Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.