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Vaishali Shroff inside
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.
I have read that your grandmother was the one who inspired the story. Can you begin by telling us that story?
I was very close to my Dadi, Mrs Padmaben. She was an avid reader and she made me fall in love with books – not by pestering me to read – honestly, she never asked me to read. She would just pick a book and sit in her favourite chair and read for hours and I used to watch her, then go pick my own book, sit next to her and read, while making furtive glances at her every once in a while. Before she left to be in a better place – I bet it’s a heavenly library – she told me how she travelled as a kid and would have loved to travel a lot more as she grew older. I thought, this story would be a fitting tribute to her and hopefully, through this story, I could do my bit to show her a world that no one ever has!
My Nani, Mrs Labhuben, who is Padma’s grandmother in this book, is one with poise and grace and wit. I could not think of a better way to immortalise her than creating the character of a loving and wise woman by the name of Labhuben in this book.
When you set out writing this story, did you anticipate it would be a mix of fiction and non-fiction? How was that decided?
Not at all! I wrote this story at the fossil site itself, sitting near a rock with embedded fossilized eggs! It was a very instinctive story - the first two chapters of this book make the original story, ‘Padma and the Mythical Makaras’. When HCI asked me if I could do a book (non-fiction) on Indian dinosaurs for them, I was thrilled because I had just visited a fossil graveyard in India and I was raising two dino crazy kids in the house. But, what about my story? How do I weave that in the scheme of things? I ran the idea of building my story with the publisher - the story would cover entire gamut of Indian dinosaurs while having an entire section that is like a fact file on everything to do with the dinos. I absolutely did not expect that she would love it. Hence, the combination was born. Fiction, followed by non-fiction.
Relatively which one is more challenging?
Non-fiction, hands down. So many challenges - finding the right information sources, copyright issues, photograph credits, validating the accuracy of the information, ensuring you have covered pretty much everything, checking the manuscript for any technical errors till the moment it goes to press! After all, I'm no dino expert. Unfortunately, this is not a very well documented subject in India. I studied whatever books I could find on Palaeontology, pre-historic life in the world and in India, got in touch with palaeontologists, read umpteen scientific papers on the discoveries, and the toughest part of all - steering clear of Wikipedia! That's the first thing Google throws up in its searches and the most unreliable of all!
The story (fiction) is a part of you - you can't go too wrong with it.
Can you share with us how the name Bluethingasaurus came about? It’s quite fascinating!
Thanks! I’m so glad you like the name.
I wanted to introduce a dinosaur character that the kids would love and relate to. And I wanted to give the dinosaurs colours - it’s not possible to determine the colour of the dinosaur from their fossilised skin. I’ve always imagined them to be colourful and not the drab dull greys they are portrayed in - for instance, if millions of years down the line, if someone were to find the fossils of a tiger, they will never know how beautiful it looked, with the golden yellow and black stripes...they will only get their skeletal structure from the bones that they discover. They would even call it something else!
To know how Bluethingosaurus gets its name, you have to read the book. I don’t want to give spoilers. J
Your stories always have a beautiful, humane, highly sensitive element in them. Raindrops, Ari - both had it. Is this one in the same vein?
This is such a thoughtful question, Harshikaa. I’m a sentimental (fool or not, I don’t know) person and that reflects in my stories. My stories always ride on some emotion or another. As the cover page suggests, this story, too, talks about the bond that Padma and Bluethingosaurus build on their journey along the Narmada.
I love to explore emotions and relationships in my stories. Rather, they invariably become a part of whatever story I am writing – I feel it helps children to connect with people and have more faith in them. As an ‘introvert’ child, reading books that spoke about relationships – whether they were friends or a mother and a child or anybody else – helped me to get over my people anxiety! That’s just one aspect of it…
Please tell us about the special things you've added in this book...after the story gets over?
After the story gets over, the book seamlessly transitions from fantasy to the real world that existed 250 million years ago. This information-packed section puts the spotlight on the true heroes – the dinosaurs, the incredible palaeontologists who discovered their fossils, and some really astonishing facts about them. The stunning illustrations by Suvidha Mistry only add to the magic of it all!
There are also some fun chapters – some of my favourites include a chapter on ‘how to name dinosaurs’ and another on ‘how does a Palaeontologist actually go about discovering the fossils’. It talks about the tools, the process and everything you need to know about it.
For children who aspire to take up Palaeontology as a career, there’s a chapter on courses and institutes they can join to pursue the subject. There’s also a beautiful India map that shows all the dinosaurs in the places they were discovered in.
Could you please give some writing tips to our children readers who aspire to become writers some day?
I’m sure most children are writing an essay on ‘A Rainy Day’ as part of their home-work now.
Many children get discouraged to write because of the mundane topics that are given in school – typically around seasons and festivals and iconic figures. While it’s important to be able to write about everything, this does not necessarily excite the children to write with fervour! You and I are writers but we write about entirely different things in entirely different ways! I feel sad that in a subject like creative writing, (most) teachers at school expect all the children to think and write in the same way.
So, to the children, I say – write about whatever you feel like writing – the caterpillar you saw on the wall, the pigeon feather you picked up while cycling, the cat that visits your building every day, your toy that’s lost and how much you loved it, a memorable trip, someone you miss, a song you love, your fantasy trip to the land of Nowhere! Anything!
Keep your sentences short and words simple. Imagine the scene you want to write about and then go about writing it – it will flow better.
Read a lot – there’s a lot to learn from the works of established writers. And, after all, they are the very books that inspired you to write in the first place.
What more books can we expect from you?
I’m on the final stages of proofreading and editing my next book. I’m particularly excited about it because it deals with a subject that worries and concerns all parents. I’ve been working on it for over three years now and am thrilled to bits to see it shaping up as a book.
Lastly, did you always want to become a writer?
A BIGGGG, RESOUNDING YESSSS! In hindsight, I wish I had taken up literature and not engineering, a special post-grad in children’s books than an MBA. But I feel, if you are determined and passionate about doing something, you will find a way and everything that you do only takes you one step closer to your goal.
So dream and then dream some more!
Thank you, Harshikaa, for your fabulous questions – I thoroughly enjoyed talking about The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur and writing. I hope many people pick up the book and read it – our country is a treasure trove of fossils and our fossil heritage is something we should be proud of. It’s a pity that we don’t have a Natural History Museum to showcase it. Though there are fossil parks and dinosauriums, I hope Palaeontology in India gets its fair due.
Copyright: Book Trotters Club