Books

Hope, fun and passion

Asha Nehemiah. Photo K. Murali Kumar

Asha Nehemiah. Photo K. Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K_Murali Kumar

Children's fiction writer Asha Nehemiah enjoys writing for children. Her books have been translated into various Indian languages, and she tells Sravasti Datta that she is happy they enjoy a wide readership

Any child would take to author Asha Nehemiah. There is nothing in her manner that gives one the inkling that she's one of India's most read children's fiction writer. She speaks with humility and a knowledge that is shorn of ego or condescension. One of her first collection of stories, “Granny's Sari” has been reprinted nine times. Her stories are Indian in their scope and nature, what with interesting names such as “The Mystery of the secret hair oil formula” and “The Rajah's Moustache”.

“All my stories are original. I don't like to write on hackneyed themes or indulge in the retelling of stories.” Asha always keeps a notepad handy to scribble down any idea that might catch her fancy. “I get ideas from everywhere — while travelling, conversing with interesting people or overhearing snatches of conversation, which often leads to a story emerging naturally.”

Writing for children has its challenges; writing the story in an engaging way to hold the child's attention, for instance. “Children aren't quite set in the reading habit, so you have to think of creative ways to draw them in. It's quite a responsibility for writers and illustrators.” But Asha chooses writing for children over other forms. “I've always been interested in writing. I began my career writing advertising copies. Then I moved to freelancing for newspapers. It's only later that I gravitated to children's fiction. I eventually decided to focus only on children's fiction.” Her decision paid off. Over ten of her children's books have been published so far and many have been translated into several Indian languages, including Bengali, Assamese, Hindi and Tamil.

Asha prefers to write humorous stories that are a heady mix of fantasy and mystery, peppered with eccentric and quirky characters. She busts certain misconceptions about writing for children. Contrary to what most might think, writing for children isn't just a straightforward narrative that's about simple characters and storylines. “There's more scope to writing different stories in children's fiction. Children are very receptive to any story. One has to ensure that the books are well packaged and marketed.”

With the Harry Potter phenomenon storming the world of children, what's made India lag behind in the race for good writing in children's fiction? “It's a vicious cycle. If a publisher makes money from a children's book, they promote it. Somehow, we haven't yet got it right. There are so many excellent text books that are hardly imported. It's true that people do have a misconception regarding writing for children.”

Asha is content that her books are being well-received in India“I prefer focusing on the Indian market because I'm in direct contact with my readers. Besides, writing for Indian children is satisfying because they are so accepting of different ideas.

It's because the Indian culture is so rich and diverse that readers are so adaptive.” She's happy though that her “The Mystery of the secret hair oil formula” is available as an e-book reader, which means that readers across the world have access to it.

Nurturing readers is important for Asha, but isn't it a challenge to encourage reading among them with so many other forms of entertainment vying for their attention? Asha doesn't look upon this as a bad thing, necessarily. “The television and Internet have made children so much more aware, they're exposed to so much. So there's a lot more scope to writing more interesting stories.”

Asha agrees though that leisure time has shrunk considerably. “Writers must ensure their books fit into that scheme of things.”

Speaking about travelling being one of her passions, Asha tells of one such fascinating experience she had in Vellore. “I once visited a unique fort there. It has a temple, church and mosque. I was so enamoured by that fort that I decided then and there that I'd set one of books there.”

Her most memorable moment was when her first book was published. “It was an absolutely fantastic feeling,” Asha breaks into her charming smile and continues, “There's a website called saffrontree.org, where young mothers share information on books for children. My books have been reviewed there and it's just so nice to see how many people have written in to say that they loved my books. That keeps me going!”

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Printable version | Feb 16, 2020 1:45:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/hope-fun-and-passion/article2369333.ece

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