A banker with a keen interest in mythology? That would make for a very interesting title for a resume! And if you add 'Mom and Writer of 11 books' - well, you'd have them floored! Wondering who this Amma of multitasking is? Drumroll, please, for Bhakti Mathur, writer of the mythological Amma Tell Me… series who speaks to Harshikaa Udasi about her latest book Amma Tell Me About Durga Puja 

Bhakti, how did you think of writing children's books, on mythology, made a series out of it, and still managed 2 full time jobs - I am counting your banker's job too, besides motherhood :)

I enjoy my career as a banker.  I think doing one task at a time with all your concentration is what works for me. The issue is to find time and in that regard I have to say I am lucky! I have a supportive husband who is also a doting father - happy to take over caring after the kids when needed. I also have very good domestic help, which reduces the time I have to spend with household chores. And I don’t watch much television.  That certainly frees up a lot of time.  So helpful husband + good help at home + no TV = Time!

How did you develop a love for reading and then writing?

I was born and raised in Delhi in a middle class family.  My biggest childhood influences were my mother, my grandmother and my nanny. 

My mother was an avid reader.  In my childhood I remember being ‘read to’ much more than I read myself. One of the first books I recall hearing is Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss while sitting on my mother’s lap.  I fell in love with it.  My mother worked as a librarian and as a result I landed up spending several hours in the library as a child.  I suppose libraries are great and inexpensive babysitters!  I remember spending entire summer holidays in the library devouring books.  I think that’s where the love affair with books first started.

I studied at Modern School, Vasant Vihar, and obtained my graduate degree in Economics and my postgraduate degree in Finance from Delhi University. In 2000, my husband and I moved to Hong Kong, a city which is very much home now.  Both our sons were born here in 2008 and 2009.  I currently work for a major Swiss Bank.  I am an avid reader, a long-distance runner and a yoga enthusiast.

While I enjoyed my work, I always had a longing to do something else with my life, something more, something bigger, and something more fulfilling.  For years I could not figure out what that was.  I finally had my Eureka moment in December 2010.  Holi was around the corner.  I was looking for a good book to explain the festival to my older son who was two years old then.  I couldn’t find anything that I liked and got an idea to write one myself!  I decided to make it a series and called it Amma Tell Me.  I set up my own publishing company and called it Anjana Publishing after the mother of my favourite God, Hanuman.

Indian mythology is so rich, so many stories, so many characters, and so many reference points - how did you chalk out the Amma Tell Me series?

I wrote about the stories and festivals that I had grown up celebrating and hearing and that I wanted to share with my children. As a mother of two hyperactive young boys, who otherwise cannot sit still for a minute, I know that the only way I am going to hold their attention is with a good story.  And stories from Indian mythology never fail me in this regard.  How can they? Which modern tale can boast characters of the stature of mythological ones – the gods incarnate, the mighty kings, the learned sages, and the fearsome demons, placed among the most memorable and momentous of settings? Or match the substance of the plots that invariably involve a challenge faced, an obstacle overcome or a difficult question resolved? These are perfectly crafted stories as otherwise they would never have survived the ages, passed on from generation to generation, many a time in warm beds similar to ours, for thousands of years.

But the biggest reason that I find myself going back to Indian mythology is that the stories serve as a wonderful parenting tool to highlight the values that we want our children to imbibe.  These are the universal values of courage, determination, perseverance, generosity and morality, of what is right versus wrong.  There is a big difference in showing someone the way and telling them the way and these stories “show” the power of these values in a manner that is easily apprehensible and most of all, non-preachy.   And these stories are equally applicable to us adults who in the busyness of life’s routine fail to think about what really matters.

You're now ready with your latest to the series - Amma Tell Me About Durga Puja. The goddess takes centre-stage! Was it a conscious decision to bring the powerful goddess to the fore?

Durga is a Goddess who has always fascinated me. She symbolizes the feminine power to me – Shakti and Prakriti.  As a mother, wife and daughter she is calm and gentle.  As a warrior goddess she is terrifying, fierce and powerful.   She is the modern woman – who wants to take care of her family and also go out into the world and pursue her own passions and be independent. As a mother of two boys, it was a conscious decision to write about her. To tell my boys and boys everywhere that women are powerful and should be respected.  Gentleness should not be confused for weakness. If we want a world in which there is gender equality then we need to raise our boys to respect women and need to raise our girls to respect themselves.

How did you decide to write in verse versus prose?

As a child one of my favorite authors was Dr Suess. I was inspired by his stories to write in rhyme.  I thought it would be fun for children to read.  I realised a while later that I had made things tough for myself as I had to learn about meter and rhyme.  Eleven books later I would like to think that I have gotten a bit better at it.

Self-publishing. How was that experience? Most writers are worried about taking their book to market single-handed.

Self-publishing was my biggest challenge – learning to run a business. I found self-publishing difficult.  It was one thing to write the book but it was a completely different ball game to find an illustrator, get the book printed, find distributors and retailers, and do the marketing and the PR. I was thrown into the world of learning how to run a small business. It has been hard work, but at the same time a great learning experience. The biggest reward of the journey has been the warm reception that the books have received around the world and the response that I have received from parents and kids telling me how much they liked the books and who their favorite characters were.  Knowing that I have been able to create a special moment for someone has been very fulfilling.

Are your sons your sounding board for new concepts/stories?

Yes! They are my guinea pigs and rather blunt story consultants (much more than I would like them to be!)

Will you write for older children too? Now that your sons have outgrown the Amma Tell Me Series!

Luckily my sons (8 and 6 now) have not outgrown the series so far.  But I know that they soon will.  Yes, I do plan to follow their ages and write for older children. But for now am focusing on the Amma Tell Me series.

Have you planned any events in India for your new book launch?

Have launched a few books in India over the years – Amma Tell Me About Holi and the Hanuman trilogy.  Launched them in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. Was fabulous meeting so many parents and children and getting such a warm reception! I had not done a launch in Hong Kong for two years and thought it was time to do one here again.

Can you tell us about Room To Read and your association with it? Does it have an India chapter?

I am proud to be a writer ambassador for Room To Read, an innovative global non-profit which seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in 10 developing countries through its holistic Literacy and Girls’ Education programs. Room To Read resonates with me on so many levels. I believe that developing the habit of reading among children and supporting the education of the girl child can be part of a powerful grassroots movement to combat poverty, violence and gender discrimination in our societies across the world.  I try to raise funds for and awareness about the work that they are doing. Yes, it does have an India chapter as well.

Copyright: Book Trotters Club

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