Books Vinitha Ramchandani’s accidental foray into writing for kids has resulted in ‘Kerala Mystique.’ This collection of tales has been heavily inspired by her childhood vacations spent in Kerala, discovers K. Pradeep

Every time you picked up and read a children’s book you must have said to yourself ‘Well, I could have written better than this.’ After all there is no pursuit for new words, just simple thoughts, and colourful illustrations. But ask any children’s writer and they’ll tell you that writing for kids is much harder than writing for adults.

Vinitha Ramchandani, the children’s author should know. She chucked many journalistic jobs as she found ‘no soul’ in what she wrote. But writing stories for children was no easy pie either.

She wrote her first story when she was at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Written for her little niece this one was first printed in a children’s magazine. It was then bought by Madras Primary Education Board and printed in their children’s English textbook. Vinitha continued to write for the children’s and youth pages in various magazines before landing up her first journo job. “Writing for those magazines was fun and good pocket money. But taking up journalism was reactionary,” reveals Vinitha.

Vinitha had won a scholarship to go abroad to pursue her post-doctoral in Gender Studies. But her father did not want her to do this. Nor did he want her to become a journalist. “I was a sort of rebel. I decided if I was not going abroad I was going to become a journo. She started with working as a reporter with a tabloid and then went on to working for some reputed print and television brands. “But journalism never bought the satisfaction that writing for children did,” says Vinitha. Vinitha’s link to Kerala, its culture, myths and countryside was always restricted to vacations to her native place. “My father is from Kochi and mother from Kannur. We used to come down for holidays, which were divided between these two places. Her latest ‘Kerala Mystique’ series, a collection of nine stories, is a recollection of her memories and the stories that he mother used to narrate. “My mother Sujatha is a great raconteur. She has a story for everything. Even something like the regular visit to the market turned into an exciting story. All the tales she told us about Kerala, snakes, jungles and the sea fired my imagination.”

She married her friend and support system Rajesh Ramchandani and Mumbai, where she was born and brought up, became permanent home to this Malayali girl. Vinitha’s first huge break as an author of children’s fiction came when she was part of the editorial team employed by IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services) to write stories for children on themes that varied from Science, History, Geography and the Environment. The IL&FS has an education and technology services wing that offers content and training modules for schools and colleges. “Mainly designed for fun reading, these books touched upon topics from the curriculum. For an educational project contracted by Unicef we travelled to remote villages, stayed with the people there and wrote stories based on their real life. They were all centred on the various subjects. I must have written around 12 stories, informative and mapped to curriculum. They were in different regional languages and it had a great impact.”

Not all fun

Kerala Mystique, the series recently published, a perfect sample of Vinitha’s art, are not the usual fun and adventure stuff. They reveal a profound understanding of children, subtle insight into human relations and often hold a mirror to her life. ‘When The Mountains Laughed’ is about six-year-old Unnikrishnan who has to deal with his dark skin. Being made conscious of the colour of his skin makes his world crumble and he decides to leave home. “There is a strong personal overture. I was quite good when it came to arguing. I could talk hard and loud. Arguments with my sisters were quite common. But very often they won merely by calling my ‘blackie.’ The moment they did this I felt deflated, defeated. In India we are so prejudiced about colour. And it starts from childhood. My story is a sort of message to kids, to believe in themselves. It is also a message to the parents.”

One of Vinitha’s stories, titled ‘Waiting’ has been picked up by Jacob Varghese, a Canadian-Indian filmmaker. “This unpublished story tells an incident as seen through the eyes of a child. I’m also working on my first novel. I can’t tell you what it is about. All that I can now reveal is that it is inspired by Hindu mythology. It is again for children between 10-12 years of age. I’ve also just finished working on classic Japanese stories for Mango, the children’s imprint from DC Books.”

“Even today children’s writing is not all that popular here. Getting a publisher for your stories is quite tough. Children’s stories have to be written with much more in mind than whether a couple of kids enjoy them. You need to love and enjoy what you’re doing. You need to be patient. To be able to recollect, relive childhood experiences of all kinds, from exhilarating to hurtful or scary is important. Spending time with children and listening closely to them can help,” Vinitha winds off with a smile.