Two girls, fresh out of college, co-wrote a ‘resource book’ in 2006, to introduce gender for children aged over eight years old. It took them five years to find a publisher. “Almost everyone we approached rejected it,” recalls Niveditha Subramaniam, one of the authors and the illustrator. The book, Mayil Will Not Be Quiet (Tulika), which she wrote with Sowmya Rajendran, grew to be hugely popular amidst children and adults alike. The book recently won the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar 2015 award.
Niveditha recalls the birth of Mayil. “The book was intended to have various chapters, with chapters for questions for teachers and parents,” she says. The theme, being a sensitive one, the authors felt “fiction would break the discomfort.” When Tulika wrote to them, the authors were asked if they could rewrite it like the diary of a young girl, with the same characters. Niveditha adds that it was the idea of Tulika’s Radhika Menon.
And so, Mayil Ganeshan, took shape. In the endearing way of a pre-teen, she takes readers into her world. Adolescence is a period where the mind is on overdrive, seeking answers for everything. The body changes, so does the mind. Mayil records it all in her diary, that’s interspersed with doodles (‘Me as Mayil Batgirl’, ‘Maddest Mayil Ganeshan’) of the big-eyed, two-braided 12-year-old.
Sowmya says that she’s happy that their book received the award, more so because when it came out, there were very few of the kind for children in the market. Mayil Will Not Be Quiet was followed by Mostly Madly Mayil , also by Tulika, and the authors hope to write the third in the series if they find a publisher. This time, Mayil will be an older teen, explains Sowmya.
Niveditha and Sowmya have grown with Mayil, having taken the book to various parts of the country through book readings. “We’ve been with the characters and ideas for a long time,” feels Niveditha. She recalls how children in a school in Faridabad “connected” to Mayil, despite the cultural differences between themselves and the characters – Mayil’s story unfolds in a typical South Indian household with amma, appa, thatha and her brother.
At another event at the city, “more boys lined up to buy the book,” observes Niveditha.
This was, perhaps, the biggest success of Mayil. “We didn’t want it to be branded as girly,” she adds.