What happens when an author visits the setting of her book, Fatehpur Sikri

What happens when an author visits the setting of her book, Fatehpur Sikri

In a recent visit with family to Fatehpur Sikri, our excellent guide was rather befuddled by an over-excited woman, screeching with joy when she saw the Durbar hall, the Anup Talab, Akbar’s bed and the Buland Darwaza. “Yes, yes madam. Would you like a photograph? There as well? And there? And here again? Yes, it is all quite exciting.” As we entered the first garden and space where Akbar would hold his durbar, the guide pointed to a plain, flat platform raised two feet off the ground, against the backdrop of a columned corridor. “That’s where the king and Prince Salim were weighed on their birthday against gold, silver and other items.” “AAAAAHHH!” screeched the woman, madly flipping through a yellow-covered book with a gilded title, Akbar and the Tricky Traitor, to an image of Akbar being weighed against the very items mentioned, beautifully detailed by the illustrator of the book, Vandana Bist. Whipping out trusty phone, she stretched her arm out with book, framing the scene with the platform in the backdrop, and clicked. “And over there is the Darbar-i-Aam where the king held court…” “EEEEHHHH!” yelled the woman, flipping to another page in the book in which Akbar stands holding court while searching for his Super Six amidst the lot. Hand outstretched… click! “That was Akbar’s gigantic bed…” “OOOOH!” Flip flip flip… click! The ten-year-old and the eight-year-old offspring of the woman were soon influenced by the fervor of discovering new facts about the place and of photographing every nook and cranny of Fatehpur Sikri that echoed in the book, having read it multiple times themselves. “What’s...
Books, finances and an appalled ten-year-old

Books, finances and an appalled ten-year-old

My ten-year-old (TYO) has, in the past year, developed a healthy concern for understanding finances. It has resulted in a rather conscientious spender. However, it does lead to funny conversations. Most nights, bed time is the moment when my children remember all the day’s activities and pose questions designed specifically for long conversations. One such discussion happened a couple of nights ago. TYO: “How are your books doing?” Me: “They’re doing well.” TYO: “Are you in profit or loss?” Me: ” I’d say profit since I haven’t travelled for readings at my own cost, as I have done at times in the past. (And because I can’t just let things be) There is the notional cost of time and effort that goes into writing and publishing a book, which is hard to quantify. But yes, profit.” TYO sounding happy: “Great! So of our family income, would the split between what papa and you earn be 70-30?” Me: “Ummm. Not quite.” TYO: “80-20?” Me: “Not really.” TYO, sounding increasingly appalled: “90-10?” Me: “More like 99-1…” TYO, jumping out of bed like a scalded cat: “WHAAAAT? But you’ve written eleven books and you work really hard and and and… it’s not fair!” Me, trying to calm him down: “While that is true, I do have the joy of doing something I love, which is more than what many people can claim. It is a blessing. Also, I get to have all the flexibility to be around you two monkeys. I get to discuss my work with you and hear your opinion, which is quite special.” TYO: “And my friends think you are...

The joy of home turf

There is something special about reading in a familiar space, on a familiar platform – home turf, if I may. My reading this Saturday at Kitab Khana bookstore as a part of the Children’s Literature section of the Kala Ghodha Arts Festival was one such. With the excitement of limited edition early release copies of my fourth History Mystery, Razia and the Pesky Presents and accompanied by a very tall, very crazy fellow writer, Parinita Shetty as the Wazir and my enthusiastic daughter as a stable hand as we enacted one scene, it was a session I thoroughly enjoyed. From the efficient trio of Lubaina, Parinita and Rukhsar there with hugs of encouragement to knowing my space for the next hour – where I need to leap off an elephant back (a chair stood in for it), the placement of the makeshift palki, where partners in crime need to run to in order to pinch my nose… the stage is familiar ground. There are usually a few known faces amongst the children and new ones who bring much joy with an opportunity to introduce them to my books. From Mr.Jagat and other sales staff who wave out and tell me which books are moving well, always encouraging, always supportive, to the promise of cheese toasts and sweet and sour apple tea as a reward to self at the cafe, Kitab Khana and the Kala Ghodha Arts Fest brings much joy, year on year. I’m hoping to have another juicy book to tempt them into inviting me again next year. And while non-Mumbaikars need to wait till June for Razia and the Pesky...
What I’ve learnt in 50 readings

What I’ve learnt in 50 readings

I conducted my 50th book reading, yesterday!  I can still recall, rather vividly, the sheer terror that threatened to overtake me at the launch reading of Icky, Yucky, Mucky! at the Kala Ghodha Arts Festival in 2011. The moment when the tremor in my voice stopped and I was enjoying being Maharaja Icky, juggling rosogullas. Since then, I’ve published eight books across different age and genre and tailored readings to suit different groups. It has been a tremendous learning experience and even though I still get collywobbles the night before, the moment I am in front of a group of kids, everything else falls away away and I’m there to have fun.  So what have 50 readings helped me learn? School readings work differently from readings at festivals and in bookstores. In schools you read to a group that is homogenous in age, in a controlled environment conducive to a reading and where the children are in their comfort zones. At festivals and in bookstores, you have to account for a varied age group, a kid crying for his mother, late arrivals, kids kicking each other and higher ambient sound. Hence, they need to be planned differently. For readings at festivals and bookstores, I simplify, plan for it to work across a broader range of ages and work in shorter activities that I can pick from, during the reading. Unless you have an assistant, plan something you can manage yourself. However, don’t hesitate to ask for help from teachers and parents in distributing activity sheets, pencils, wobbly eyes and such. Have a backup for everything, even when you have asked for it –...
Maharaja Moochh cupcakes!

Maharaja Moochh cupcakes!

Look what I rediscovered as I was browsing through the Icky, Yucky, Mucky blog that was started when my first book released! Wonderful (if I may say so myself) Maharaja Moochh cupcakes that I had created back then. Inspired at the time by Maharaja Icky, they fit the role of Vandana Bist’s portrayal of Akbar in Akbar and the Tricky Traitor rather well! In fact, since many of our maharaja’s had moustaches of all forms, moochh cupcakes can quite easily work for the entire History-Mystery series! As you scroll down to take a look, for those who are cooking and baking inclined, here is a idea for your next food creation. In Mauryan times, brightly coloured beards were a fashion statement amongst men. How about trying out a cupcake-la-beard? Please share photographs if you do try. Take a look at Akbar’s and Maharaja Icky’s moustaches on the book covers. Aren’t they wonderfully full and perfectly curled? The boys were thrilled to munch away on the Maharaja’s moustaches. Back then, the girls decided to do a messier version of fairy cupcakes till we could get around to a nibbly Maharani cupcake. A closer look revealed that those crescent things on top could well be Maharani Yucky’s nibbled off nails instead of fairy wings! Share...