When Paro writes a story

Whether it’s No Guns At My Son’s Funeral, Like Smoke or The Other, Paro Anand chooses to address head on the difficult topics — war, terrorism, sexual abuse, mental illness and more — that most adults would want to hide from children. “It has to be done,” she says, when I meet her at the Kovai Bookalatta earlier this month. “As an adult, one can choose to be an ostrich. But, while you may think your child is not talking about it, she actually is; just not to you. The sooner we realise that, the better we and our children will be.”

She narrates how her son’s teacher pulled him up for talking about “diapers”. “So he said, ‘we were talking about sanitary napkins that girls use when they have their period’.” She laughs and continues, “I agree, a conversation about periods with boys in class four is not easy. It has its challenges, but should we not take up that challenge?”

Paro Anand recommends
  • I re-read John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas recently. So subtle; yet saying so much
  • Nandhika Nambi’s Unbroken is a honest, raw and completely unapologetic voice
  • Siddhartha Sarma’s Year of Weeds and Grasshopper’s Run. The latter is now 10 years old and still bang on relevant
  • When Morning Comes by Arushi Raina is a lovely book
  • Mrs C Remembers by Himanjali Sankar is not really a YA book but I know many youngsters who have read and enjoyed it

Paro firmly believes that we underestimate children by believing they don’t know/understand or can’t deal with. “They can,” she says, her soft voice emphasising the ‘can’. And tells another story to explain her point. Her story ‘Grief is a Beast’ in The Other is about a dying mother written when her own mother was in her last days. When the book was released, Paro says she wondered if she’d done right by putting the story in a collection meant for teenagers. Then at a school, she was asked to read the story and she couldn’t; she was overwhelmed by her feelings. The next day, the children asked if they could read it and “collectively we wept,” she still sounds surprised. “They spoke of dealing with grief and sorrow and feeling overwhelmed.” Which only underlines her point that “I have never once had a child say that something I wrote was inappropriate.”

Speaking of appropriate reading brings us to the whole age-appropriate debate. As someone who grew up in an open-shelves environment, Paro agrees that labelling books according to age is “limiting” and refers to Puu, a picture book on manual scavenging published by Scholastic India. “Who would have thought we could have a book on such a topic for very early readers. Children are a lot wiser than we give them credit for.” If the book seems too much, a child has the option of either picking up something else or asking for information. “I read Spartacus as 12-13 year old; it was too much. When I read it later as an adult, my take away was different. But that doesn’t mean I should not have read it as a child.”

Forthcoming works
  • I am working on four projects simultaneously and crazily
  • In September, it’s Being Gandhi. A novel not on Gandhi but about the relevance of Gandhi for today’s kids. It features a young angsty brat of a city boy who becomes almost Gandhian
  • In November is The Quiet Girl probably for very early readers
  • In January is A Very Naughty Dragon, co-authored with nine-year-old Sarah Rose, about a dragon in Komodo Island, his aspirations and adventures
  • Then there is Nomads’s Land, a story of displacement and roots. It has two girls: a Kashmiri Pundit and a tribal. I made up the history, geography, language rituals, customs, names... everything for the tribe. And the story is about how they deny their roots and then rediscover them
  • I have one more buzzing in my head but I won’t say much except that it has a tiger

Finally I ask whether she sees a difference in writing for and writing about children. “I don’t intellectualise my writing process or stories,” she says. “I write the story as it comes to me.” Then more reflectively, Somehow I find the voice of young people is the correct one for me.... the skin I can inhabit, the voice I can speak... But is it for children? Sometimes even I wonder. But the children have never felt that way.”

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 6:07:41 AM |

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