Palakala Seetarama Bhatt, the winner of Kendra Sahitya Akademi award for Children’s Literature, was a teacher for 37 years. The endearing writer who’s written over 121 works for children, says it was his aunt who launched him into the world of stories
“There’s no profession that’s as fulfilling as teaching. I retired a good 24 years ago, still I dream about the school at least hundred times a year,” says children’s writer Palakala Seetarama Bhatt, wistfully. This quiet writer, living in Palakala in Moodabidre, is the recipient of this year’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi award for Children’s Literature. The 81-year-old writer — who’s works were greatly appreciated by senior Kannada writers like G.P. Rajaratnam, Govinda Pai, Dr. Siddiah Puranika, Kuraadi Seetarama Adiga, Kaiyyara Kinhanna Rai and several others — talks to The Hindu about his life and literature.
How did you develop a love for children’s literature?
I can’t say it was exactly for children’s literature. There are two reasons for my love of literature. One is my father’s sister Chennakka, who lived with us. After her husband passed away she came to live with us as she had no children. She was a treasure trove of stories. Even if she told us stories everyday of the year, she was left with a lot more – wonderful and ethereal. It used to be similar to what we call ‘grandma’s tales’. We loved her more than our mother. If only I had collected them, they would have made ten anthologies now.
At school, we read poems and stories of Panje Mangesharayaru. We had a Christian teacher who would brilliantly enact his stories – Gudugudu Gummata Devaru, Bitti Basavayya, Kaage Sattu Henu Badavaayitu… so many of them. We were simply in love with Nagarahaave and Tenkanagaaliyaata for its rhyme and rhythm. How they came alive in his classes! I was deeply attracted to Panje’s writings, he became my role model as to how one should write for children and how a children’s book should look.
You tried your hand at other genres of literature. But how come you settled down to make children’s literature the most important aspect of your literary personality?
In 1945-46, when I was studying in Moodabidare’s Jain School, there was a children’s journal called Aruna. I wanted to write for it. I converted a personal experience into a story and it was published in the journal. That was my first story, Hottenovina Bhoota. After this, I began to write small stories and show it to my teachers. I had wonderful teachers like Kanta Rai and Raghuchandra Shetty who would read it with patience and make suitable changes. My sister’s teacher Ra. Mo. Vishwamitra guided me in my literary ventures and my stories were published in Kathavali, Chandamama, Navabharatha and other magazines.
In 1954, my collection of poems Chinnara Haadu was published. Within three months all the 1000 copies were sold. In about a year from then, came Makkala Muddu and Kiriyara Kinnari. In 1955, all the three works received a special prize from Madras Government. This was a big incentive for me and I continued to write.
Your poems and stories appeal to children of all ages. How were you able to understand a child’s mind?
The first requirement to become a children’s poet is to love children. You must be a keen observer of their talk, their behaviour, and their mannerisms. You must learn a child’s language to become a children’s writer. For instance, no child will use the word “joyous”, it will say “happy”. We must be sensitive to the vocabulary of a child.
Which writer had a big influence on you?
In my middle school, I was charmed by Panje’s writings. He set the standards for children’s literature. I don’t think there will be another like him.
Then came G.P. Rajarathnam. 1979 was International Children’s Year. There was a big children’s mela in Shimoga. I was fortunate to spend the entire day with Rajarathnam. Once, when I was in Bangalore I had gone to his house – and he had treated me with milk and bananas. He even wrote the Foreword to one of my books. He was an iconic figure for me. The other person who made a big impact on me was Kavyananda, Dr. Siddiah Puranika. In our exchange of letters I used to call him Siddanna. He used to call me ‘brother’. He had a lot of affection for me.
How do we get the next generation interested in literature?
There should be a Kannada environment at home to love books. If parents love books children will automatically love books. Just as you buy biscuits and chocolates for children, buy them books as well.
All children of the state must study Kannada till class 7, only then will we be able to make children read our literature.
(Translated by Deepa Ganesh)
"My aunt was a treasure trove of stories. Even if she told us stories everyday of the year, she was left with a lot more -wonderful and ethereal"