BTC In Conversation With

  1. How did you think of the name Xerxes?

The name had to lend itself to a taunt and so I came up with Xerxes, which could become Xero and Xerox etc….and why did I think of Xerxes is because I am not very good with names and in my family I’m known as someone who can make something simple into something needlessly complicated like giving circuitous routes for directions instead of straight ones and inventing aflatoon new words for passwords which then naturally I can’t recollect! So, it’s no wonder that I came up with a name with two ‘x’, which are pronounced ‘z’!

  1. Did you always think of making this a story about Parsis? I haven't read any other book featuring Parsis.

No, I didn’t always or ever think of making this a story about Parsis. As I said, the name came first and then I knew it’s a Parsi name so it became a Parsi story! I didn’t intend or really want it to be seen as a book featuring Parsis. In fact, I’m wondering why everyone’s talking about seeing it in terms of a story about Parsis! It’s a story of a family and an ageing grandparent, which happens to be set in a Parsi household. We tend to get stuck on names and communities. When we read Spiderman we don’t refer to his community. We say superhero story. Not that my book is anything like Spiderman, just saying! And it’s surprising that there aren’t more fiction books featuring Parsis given their immense contribution to the shaping of Bombay and their philanthropy. There’s so much fodder for stories there! Or I may be wrong. Often, there are books and we don’t have access to them because they’re not in English. Who knows if there’s some treasure trove of stories featuring Parsis in some other language just waiting to be discovered!

  1. Why did his mom want Xerxes to become like JRD Tata and not any other great person from the Parsi community?

Because I was familiar with JRD Tata! On a more serious note, it’s because in her generation, it would be JRD Tata who would be seen as a pioneer. She also feels that there are similarities between JRD Tata’s mother and herself, which are elaborated in the story and hence wants her own son, too, to be like him.

But it’s interesting you ask why not any other great person? Imagine what a totally different direction the story would’ve taken if Xerxes wanted to model himself on “Hunterwali”, a film from yesteryears, played by stuntwoman Nadia! Sonji would have had a fit! Nadia was not a Parsi but was married to one - Homi Wadia who made films with his brother JBH Wadia under Wadia Movietone!! Before you ask, no, I’m not writing that story. It was idle speculation, which I love to indulge in much more than actual writing!

  1. Why was Xerxes' mom so strict while his Mamavaji so loving?

Hmm. Sonji is based on an actual mother I saw as a child. You can read more on this on the Duckbill blog

But why are two people being compared at all? Sonji being strict doesn’t mean that she’s not loving or that Mamavaji being loving is not strict with Xerxes. For instance, he does pull up Xerxes for mimicking his mother. And who knows, maybe Mamavaji was very strict as a parent to Sonji! Equations change depending on roles and age. Being a grandfather is very different from being a mother. I feel that we want mothers to be portrayed in a certain way. I feel no matter how mothers are, they will never receive approval. For instance, if Sonji switched with Mamavaji, I’m sure her loving nature would be seen as spoiling Xerxes! It’s just perceptions I feel.

To try and answer the question, Sonji is strict with Xerxes because it’s a way of feeling in control because she feels helpless that her father’s getting very old. So, she projects all her anxieties about her father’s creeping illness on to Xerxes and wants him to excel as if to ward off what she can’t handle. That’s absolute rubbish, by the way! I like to sound like I know everything when I know zilch about why I write what I write! To put it simply, I’m not Sonji’s counsellor so I can’t really say why she is so strict! She just is!

  1. Did you have a great relationship with your grandparents too?

My grandfathers weren’t around when I came into the world. So, I invented one. As for grandmothers, I wasn’t very close to either of them. More than my grandmothers, it was their homes with which I had a great relationship! From my mother’s side, my grandmother had this chawl room with all these dark corners and I’d scare myself silly imagining people lurking around waiting to jump at me! Then there was this board, a kind of slat near the door, which would be removed to shut the door only at night. I loved playing with it - pulling it up and letting it back down with a bang. Then my grandmother from my father’s side lived in a house in a small town that had a rope between floors and I had super fun swinging up on it or trying, too, as I was too small and I could barely reach. All these pursuits naturally got me a scolding from respective grandmothers!

  1. What is the message that you want to send to people with your book?

I just wanted to write a witty story and make people smile. Smile. Okay. Please.

  1. What new books are you writing now?

As someone said, “All writing is re-writing”. I’m usually dusting off old stories and trying to make them new! So, I’m basically jiggling and juggling a Marathi picture book, a series on a girl with a hatke mind, a short story collection and a non-fiction book for adults! The story of the hatke girl requires research into the subjects kids are studying so maybe I’ll come and interview you next!

Once upon a time lived a…bluethingosaurus! Did you know that story ideas can take root while sitting on rocks at a fossil site? So goes the story of Vaishali Shroff’s latest book, The Adventures of Padma and the Blue Dinosaur. Catch Vaishali Shroff in conversation with Harshikaa Udasi as she reveals her inspiration behind the story and tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Indian dinosaurs.

The incredible Shruthi Rao in the house! Shruthi’s Manya Learns to Roar, a Children First winner by Duckbill Books, made people sit up and think about stammering as a disability too and feisty Manya swept readers off the ground. Now, she’s back with a story about Susie, the girl with a lisp who gives up speaking – Susie Will Not Speak. Both of Shruthi’s books entered in the Children First contest were selected by Duckbill for publishing. Shruthi speaks to Harshikaa Udasi about sensitizing young readers to various speech problems and writing both these books almost simultaneously, a challenge most wonderfully handled.

The matchbox girl is at the club and she’s firing up! Listen in to the conversation as Sonal Gupta Vaswani, illustrator-animator, speaks to Harshikaa Udasi about her love for colours and the magical universe that inspires her.

How would you describe someone who loves her samsosas as much as she loves her fitness regime?  Someone who can wow you with her poems and with her cobrapose alike?  A writer, an illustrator and a quiet sort of a livewire (meet her to know how!), Lavanya Karthik is at Book Trotters Club !  One of her youngest fans, seven-year-old Krishang Udasi interviews her about his favourite Ninja Nani series! And other books. But  mainly  the Nani  with the chops.
(PS: Keep your screens at a distance. I warn you there are flying kicks strewn all over this interview.)

Last week, she was at the Asiatic Library in Mumbai trying hard to control her giggles kids rolled on the floor laughing while she regaled them with an excerpt from her book Shah Jahan and the Ruby Robber. Her March of the Mughals song was declared an instant hit by one kid too! Natasha Sharma is undoubtedly one of the best and the most popular authors of children’s fiction we have and ta-da! She’s at Book Trotters Club this month, in conversation with Harshikaa Udasi.

The prolific writer Ramendra Kumar has 31 books to his credit in about 20 years, out of which 27 are children’s books! An engineer and marketing maangement graduate who keeps a full-time job as well, Ramendra is thrilled with the buzz his latest book by Duckbill Publications has created. Against All Odds is about his biggest love – sports. He speaks to Harshikaa Udasi about how disability cannot be an impediment even in this space.

What’s in a dream, you ask? A lot, thinks Saurabh Nayyar, the boy from Jabalpur who always dreamt of being an actor but ventured into engineering. Here’s the inspiring story of a man whose musical for children Sur VS Asur is not just super entertaining but also creates awareness about classical music from around the world. And the most intriguing part? It happens in a dream! Saurabh has become one of the sought-after names in not just theatre but also television thanks to the one dream he didn’t let go of.

When you have a chequered career spanning banking, accounts, and shipping and logistics, would you think of writing for children? Yes, if you are Nalini Sorensen, the amazing author of the recent books The Star That Saved The Day and Dada's Uselss Present. Harshikaa Udasi misses a coffee date with the writer but catches up over an email interiew with the Australia-based Nalini.

Arefa Tehsin is our hero at the book club! Why? Well, for starters she has been a forest warden. If that isn’t reason enough, we are awestruck by the fact that she gets to live admirably close to wild animals and writes books about living creatures we know very little about! This year has been extra special for the lady. After her book The Elephant Bird became Pratham Books’ choice for PBChampions, to be read across 3200 locations simultaneously in September, Arefa has scored another hit with her book Wild In The Backyard. She has been shortlisted for The Hindu Young World – Goodbooks Best Author Award 2017 to be announced in January. Harshikaa Udasi brings to us the story behind the forest warden, the writer and the wanderlust.

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