As a businesswoman, a social activist, an educationist, a writer and a grandmother, Shamim Padamsee wears many hats. The best thing about her multifaceted personality? Books that tell us stories as diverse as that of a bonda-loving prince, of Olympics for birds, of APJ Abdul Kalam or of the mystical world of Warli paintings. In conversation with Harshikaa Udasi, the amazing wordsmith tells us what she loves about writing. And just to whet your appetite, the Bondapalli story was really conceptualised over a plate of piping hot bondas!

From being the Honorary Consul of Indonesia to working towards social parity with the Aga Khan Development Network to being director at Eagle Flask Industries, you seem to have seen it all, Shamim. How did you gravitate towards writing?

Whilst all those 'avatars' meant great experiences, great enjoyment and of course, great responsibility, writing books for kids had been something I always wanted to do -- sometime, someday. The desire stayed dormant in the deep recesses of my mind, like a little butterfly, awaiting the opportune moment to burst out of its cocoon and find its place in the sun. And then, one day it just happened. I put my pen to paper and there was no looking back.

How much of your previous experience do you weave into your writing?

The good thing about growing older is that one has had a lot of experiences, both good and bad. As, most of one's writings has its genesis in some experience or the other--places visited, people encountered and emotions experienced, they are bound to creep into one's work.

However, as many writers have experienced, the moment one starts writing we may have some roadmap in our heads as to where we want to go and what we want to narrate, but often the subconscious mind hijacks one's plans and takes off in totally different direction. Thoughts emerge that one was not consciously thinking about. For example, when I was researching bird attributes for another story, I amazed at the feats of strength and endurance of birds and The Great Birdywood Games was born. A story in which the birds decide to have their own version of the Olympics.

You have written some of our most favourite books - Dancing on Walls and A Silly Story of Bondapalli, besides many others. Could you tell us how you went on to create these two stories?

Dancing on Walls was my very first story to be published. It was born when one day, I was idly gazing at the full moon and it seemed to me that the moon's rays looked like tiny stick figures. Having recently been to an exhibition of folk art, one of which was Warli Art, the two thoughts merged seamlessly to form a story.

As for the Bondapalli story; once, on a very rainy day, as, my sister and I gobbled sizzling hot bondas we wondered what would happen to our figures if we were to eat them morning, noon and night. Wham! There was a story staring me in the face, just waiting to be written.

How challenging is it to write for children and what are the specific aspects that one needs to work on?

That depends on the age of the child. If one is writing a picture book then the language has to be simple and precise. One has to have great economy of words, so that children are encouraged to read on and relish the story. Most picture books are too wordy and actually act as a deterrent to children to want to read on.

Also, with so many distractions these days, it is important to grab the child's attention from the very first sentence. if, the book does not grab him in the beginning, chances are that the child will abandon the book, "It's boring" they say, and worse, they may come to the conclusion that, "Books are boring."

You also run a website which is a great resource for educationists, parents and storytellers - Young India Books. How did the idea for this one come about?

My motto for my website Young India Books is Read India. Love India. We hope that by reading India-focus books, children will understand and appreciate the country's amazing diversity--its people, its flora, fauna, biodiversity, arts and crafts.

Later, as adults, this connect will lead to making them protectors of the same, thus ensuring that future generations are mindful of their rich heritage and the crying need to support and protect it.

To create greater awareness on Indian books, Young India Books has been conducting an annual competition for schools titled the Leading Reading Schools of India Awards. This year will be the fourth year and a very special one as we are celebrating India's 70th birth anniversary - the theme for which is India Meri Hai!

Recently your book, A Silly Story of Bondapalli, was presented as a play by Gillo. How did you find the experience, firstly, of watching your story come alive on stage and, secondly, a story that was very different from yours? Do you think there is a need for more such children's plays based on books by Indian writers?

It was lovely to see the book come alive and although it was an adaptation, it was very sensitively done. And, I agree with you totally when you say that there is a need for more such attempts. As, I said earlier, we have to find ways to connect children with India. If they grow up thinking 'foreign', India will be the loser.

What new books are you pulling out of your hat this year?

My most recent book is a biography of A.P. J. Abdul Kalam by Scholastic. It is part graphic novel and part text. Also, coming soon is a biography on Ruskin Bond also from Scholastic.

Copyright: Book Trotters Club

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