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‘Don’t shelter children from the harder truths’: Nandana Dev Sen

Nandana Sen with children Photo PTI   | Photo Credit: PTI

Serious about pursuing her love for writing, actor and activist Nandana Dev Sen has come up with her second children’s book. Published by Puffin it is about a shy little monkey, Mambi, who is full of imagination, energy, curiosity, fears, trepidation besides being capable of courageous feats. The adventures of this spunky monkey evolve into a journey of self-discovery.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

What inspired you to write children’s books?

My mother and grandmother who wrote extensively for children and adults had a great influence on me and growing up in the midst of this enormous collection of kids’ books must have something to do with it as well! Drawn to freedom, fantasy and fun that children’s literature is suffused with, I wrote my first novel, most precociously, when I was ten years old. My mother still has that manuscript!

Writing for children grew naturally out of having worked with kids for years, in child protection. Children, no matter their history, bring such wonder into your life, and make you re-think so much that you take for granted. So many stories built up in me over the years, that I knew I had to consciously make the time to start writing them down. I’m also blessed with seven wonderful nephews and nieces (to whom Mambi is dedicated), who are a constant source of inspiration. I wrote my first book ‘Kangaroo Kisses’ for my oldest niece Hiya who never wants to go to bed!

How did “Mambi And The Forest Fire” come into being?

Mambi came into my life in a room full of amazing children in a shelter near Kolkata. Wanting to encourage the kids to express themselves creatively we found that as most had a traumatic past they were initially shy. Struggling to break the ice, I found myself conjuring up Mambi on the spot, the shy little monkey who wants to be like her older, ‘cooler’ jungle friends but is more heroic than anyone else. At the end I was playing with a delightfully raucous, utterly irrepressible bunch of kids. It was the most incredible transformation I’ve ever seen in one day and one of the loveliest days in my life.

What are your thoughts about child abuse in India?

It is very important to stop denying, neglecting, or condoning it. We must truly prioritise protecting all the children of India and for this we need to stop passing the buck and start holding ourselves accountable.A paradigm shift is required to view every child as our own and make child protection every citizen’s responsibility. Yes, it is a start to make good laws, and we have passed some excellent one, like POCSO, but there is still such limited awareness of it. We must do more to let children and adults know what their rights are – and make sure the laws are implemented in an urgent and time bound manner. We must all realise that nothing in the world is more important than protecting every child’s right to have a childhood.

Your views on the role of art initiating discourse on social issues…

It has a very important role not only in starting a discourse but also in healing. In fact, after Prithvi Theatre opened ‘30 Days In September’, based on ground-breaking research on child sexual abuse by RAHI, a girl from the audience embraced me in tears saying watching me was like looking at her own self in the mirror. That was the first time she had ever spoken about her repeated abuse by her uncle, and soon after, this brave girl confronted him too. It was one of my most rewarding experiences as an actor. The play spread awareness and inspired many to break their silence and prompted a viewer to start an NGO.

Plays, films and books have the ability to change the way we look at the world, and in doing so, they can go a long way in changing the world. Children’s literature has the unique capacity to use fantasy to sensitise children to a larger reality, a reality to which privileged children may not always be connected. I don’t equate the world of fantasy here with an idealized, idyllic world. I see it as a world of imagination full of characters that a child can relate to, a world that can make a child more aware of topics, even difficult ones which they face on growing up.That’s why the first Mambi book focuses on finding the courage to help others in need, and discovering your own unique voice while celebrating diversity. I don’t believe in sheltering children from the harder truths. As authors we can find inventive and emotionally safe ways of making kids more aware of the world they live in.

Will the audience get to see you soon on the screen again?

I hope so! I’ve read many scripts in the last year since the release of Rang Rasiya butas an actor I’ve always had a rather eccentric taste in films and I must admit this has just got worse lately! At this point, I’m keen to work only in films that I’m so passionate about that I’d happily take a break from all my writing commitments – the four children’s books and two adult books I’ve promised to write, and a screenplay I’ve completed recently that has gained a lot of traction. So, as an actor, I’m choosing between two such promising projects, one in India and one in the U.K.


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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 2:43:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/%E2%80%98Don%E2%80%99t-shelter-children-from-the-harder-truths%E2%80%99-Nandana-Dev-Sen/article14028744.ece

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