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A tale of buddies

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JUMBO TALES Anita Nair's book is on the bonding between a child and an elephant
JUMBO TALES Anita Nair's book is on the bonding between a child and an elephant

ANITA NAIR now has a cute little story for children in `Living Next Door to Alise'

Anita Nair, the author of three novels and a short story collection, now has a children's book in her kitty. `Living Next Door To Alise,' is an engaging tale of a lonely eight-year-old who befriends a talking elephant. The duo even take off into the forest and track down an ivory poacher. Excerpts of an interview with the author:As a writer who's published novels and short stories, what was it that prompted you to write a book for children?I didn't set out to be a children's writer nor do I see myself as one. This is really a detour. I had just finished a very demanding book `Mistress' about artistic success, relationships and Kathakali and there I was in Kerala during a school term and my sister-in-law was having trouble persuading my nephew Siddharth to eat. To get him to eat, I started a series of stories about an elephant Alise and a boy Siddharth.Why did you choose to "humanise" or "civilise" the elephant? Was it to swing with the fantasies of the child? Or was it to push the imaginative boundaries of today's child who spends most of his time in front of the television? Lonely children have imaginary friends. To get my nephew to instantly fall in love with the characters of the story, I created a boy who was a combination of him and my son, the older cousin he looks up to, and a talking elephant who became a sort of companion for him beyond the story. As you put it, I knew I could get him to stretch the boundaries of his imagination if I filled it with enough commonplace happenings. It was his faith in Alise's existence that prompted me to take it beyond that first episode. And finally, elephants, scientifically proven, have an intelligence quotient which is almost on par with humans. If they were to speak their thoughts about how they are treated and what they see, what would they say? My sense of fun wanted me to give them a voice. Do you think there is a serious lack of literature for children? True. It is sad that marketing techniques and advertising space shape what readers ought to read. It's not just children's pages but fiction and poetry and long essay journalism that seem to have been ousted out.In terms of what there is for children to read, I think regional publications seem to allot a little more space for children and there are many more books for children published in regional languages than there is in English and at very affordable prices. However, they seem to be all for children below nine and there is very little available for pre teens and early teens.For a woman writer of your generation, - a generation that can take many things for granted - what do the struggles of women who paved the way mean to you? What are the compulsions of a woman writing now? Does the "guarded tongue" factor still work in subtle ways?If the writers who came before had to fight for a place in the literary establishment, women writers now have to work very hard to be taken seriously. Writing by a woman is considered perhaps not that important enough or expansive or deep enough as compared to male writing. It is a bane women writers have to live with. Worse, the literary world very often dismisses women writers as inconsequential if their works appealed more to women than men. I can't speak for others but the guarded tongue factor does still exist and not just in subtle ways. Since my books do question some societal norms, this always comes up for discussion... and speculation. DEEPA GANESH

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