Roopa Pai's series of books Taranauts transports kids to a fantasy world
Roopa Pai writes children's books for a very simple reason — that's what she loves to read herself. “It's not just that I like hanging out with kids; I love kids' books and writing,” says Roopa. “I don't have patience with most adult fiction — sometimes I think I have a bit of alien blood in me!” The alien blood might be the reason why the author has ventured into outer space in her latest series of children's books Taranauts — specifically to the glittering fictional universe of Mithya and its eight shining worlds that bob in the endless sea, Dariya.
The ultimate escape
In Chennai recently for the launch of the first book of the series, Taranauts: The Quest for the Shyn Emeralds, the lively Bangalore-based author explained that fantasy fiction was the ultimate escape, especially from the rigours of writing for Indian kids in English.
“Because almost all their entertainment comes from the U.S. or the U.K., Indian kids reading in English expect marshmallows over the fire and language such as ‘awesome!'. Indian situations — such as Amma making dosas — aren't cool to a 10-year-old,” she says. “Writing English the way it's actually spoken in India is tricky too. If I were to write in Hinglish, a child in Chennai may not respond to it, just as a child in Mumbai may not relate to ‘Come on da!'.”
Creating an entirely fantasy world such as Mithya has allowed the author to mine Indian mythology and tradition for her story, while retaining trappings of Western popular-culture (brightly-coloured sneakers and awesome superpowers) that will keep kids happy. “Adults will pick up on a lot of clues, beginning with the names of characters and places, but to kids it'll sound alien and cool,” she comments.
This book is the first of an eight-part series published by Hachette India, in which three kids with special powers — Zarpa, Zvala and Toofan — set out to save Mithya from the evil Shaap Azur. Fast-paced and filled with colour and action, this book takes its readers (eight- to 11-year-olds) on a lively ride of riddles and word games. The puzzle-solving and gentle messages of right and wrong might be embedded in the story, but the emphasis, Roopa says firmly, is on fun.
“My editor and I were very clear that we didn't want to sound preachy or ‘the-moral-of-the-story-is' at all,” says Roopa, who also has a four-part science series, Sister Sister, and two girl-power books, Kaliyuga Sita and Mechanic Mumtaz (written for UNICEF), to her credit. “The fun facet should override everything else — unless the book's fun, the kids won't even get to the message!” Roopa also regularly takes kids out on heritage walks as part of ‘Bangalore Walks', the company owned by her and her husband, and does freelance journalism. But her heart, as always, lies with children's writing, touching an emotional chord with youngsters, and firing up their imaginations. “Other things bring in the money; this is my passion,” she laughs. “It frees me of the adult need to posture, and lets me be a kid again.”DIVYA KUMAR