Meri Bindi, by Anu Anand and Lavanya Karthik (Hachette India) is a new Hindi – English bilingual release with a difference – apart from the usual two lines in the respective languages, we have an additional third line to help with the Hindi pronunciation. Aimed at 0+, Anu Anand’s lucid text is short, crisp and playful, and the premise is charming. Lavanya Karthik’s exuberant paper cut art work is gorgeous. An overall winsome combination!
Which is why I’m thrilled to present these interviews with the creators of this book! (See Lavanya Karthik’s here).
(image source: http://anuanandjournalist.com)
Author Anu Anand is a journalist with BBC World Service Radio, and splits her time between New Delhi and London. I took the liberty of deleting several endearing personal bits from her bio on the press release because much of it seeped into this interview in a lot more intimate way. (For loads more on her, hop across to her website.)
Anu, a warm welcome!
RJ – Did you have the Indian diaspora in mind while coming up with the idea for this book?
AA – Yes, initially. The Indian diaspora is gargantuan and spread right around the world, from the far-east, Australia, Africa, Russia, the middle east, Europe and North America. Indeed, I’m part of it, as my parents left India for the US when I was a year old. I certainly wanted to create something that would be useful to parents of very young children living anywhere, struggling to pass on their language. But to my surprise and delight, I’ve found that the audience is not limited to the diaspora. So many foreigners are now married into Indian families, are half-Indian themselves, are living or working in India or visiting, and are generally interested in the culture and language. The world is still very limited in terms of bilingual resources. I’ve searched far and wide, and outside of Tulika in India (which most NRIs and foreigners may not have access to), the only bilingual resources tend to be English-French, English-German, English-Spanish and very occasionally, English-Mandarin. And these are generally translations of the same three or four fairly-tales (The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, etc). There are far too few original bilingual Hindi-English picture books aimed at young children, which seems crazy, given the need.
RJ – The second line of the text on each page is a novel concept in Indian picture books. Why did you feel the need for it?
AA – Meri Bindi was inspired by my own struggles as a parent to pass on my mother tongue to my son and daughter (now 7 and 4).
I grew up in the US with Hindi speaking parents who insisted I use the language at home. Thanks to them, I still speak Hindi fluently and can read and write it — albeit slowly. I had in mind friends and family in the US, many of whom are now parents themselves. They grew up speaking Hindi but never had the opportunity to learn formally. Still, they highly value Hindi and want to pass it on. I wanted my book to be accessible to them, so I added a line of phonetic Hindi. After I started to show the book around, many non-Hindi speaking foreigners told me they loved this idea too, as they wanted to engage in the language of their adopted home, and couldn’t find any resources.
After my son was born, I really struggled to get him to speak Hindi. At first, I naively thought that simply by living in India, my kids would pick up the language by osmosis. But I quickly discovered that I had to actively and consistently use it with them to have any impact. Researchers now say language forms in the first six months of life — indeed, I can see this with my kids. My son came to India at the age of 18 months and still struggles slightly with Hindi sounds. My daughter was there from the first few weeks of life and sounds totally native. One golden opportunity for us to use Hindi inevitably came at bedtime, when children are ripe for books and stories. But at the end of a long hard day, I’d struggle to spontaneously translate English books, or my kids would reject the change in language outright. So I decided to come up with my own book, featuring a simple, imaginative story. Key to my vision was that the book should have rich, original and hand-made (not computer generated) illustrations. I was extremely lucky to find the amazing Lavanya Karthik. Her cut-paper illustrations have turned Meri Bindi from 15 simple lines of text into a whimsical story, exquisitely visual, with many many objects on each page that parents and children can name in Hindi.
RJ – a resounding aye aye to that, Anu! Here’s a fab interview with Lavanya on her take on this book. Moving on, how will the book be positioned – as a read alone by a child or a read aloud by a parent/ caregiver?
AA – Publishers will have more expertise on the physical positioning on bookstore shelves, but as a parent, I value the book’s flexibility. Of course an adult can read the text out loud using the Hindi or phonetic text. But even older children learning to write in Hindi for the first time can use it, as well as non-native speakers. Children are so imaginative, hand almost any of them a book, and they’ll narrate a story without being able to read a word. I didn’t want the book to be obviously about learning language. The idea was to show them a world related to Hindi – featuring Indian characters, animals and scenes — that were so fun they’d use Hindi because they wanted to, not because they were being made to. And I wanted parents to enjoy the experience of diverse books, different from the usual western settings in which mostly middle-class, white children with Christian names feature. The world is so much bigger and wider, why shouldn’t children’s books reflect that?
RJ –What are the other books in this series?
AA – The idea of the series is to introduce more basic words in Hindi so I’ll be using more simple settings and sentences to do that, with Noor, Neel and Moochhar Singh all featured in each book. I have a list of ideas as long as my arm and as my children grow, the need for material also grows, so the series will only be limited – I hope – by popular demand!
RJ – Amen to that, Anu! Why bindis? Are you fond of wearing them?
AA – Who’s not fond of them?! Let’s face it, bindis are one of India’s most unique exports — they are tactile, visual and fun! I saw a group of 2 year olds responding to an adult handing out bindis and that was the moment I thought it would be a brilliant vehicle for a picture book.
RJ – How much of your own children do we see in Noor and Neel?
AA – My kids don’t play as nicely as Noor and Neel!! But both my kids – like Noor, Neel and children everywhere – are brimming over with imagination. So when Neel puts the red bindi on his nose like a clown, well, that’s exactly what my son might do. And that’s where Lavanya’s talent shines through — not just in the literal rendering of images, but in weaving elements I’d thought up randomly to create characters, places and a story that has become so much bigger and more imaginative than a red dot on a forehead!
RJ – I love the way the animals have been paired with the type of bindis. Were they a part of your manuscript or did Lavanya come up with those?
AA – This was entirely Lavanya’s genius. Lavanya did as much to create this book as I did. Her work made me realize just how central illustrations are to books and how vital it is to work with a creative and passionate illustrator to get the book right. I was extraordinarily blessed to find her and truthfully, her illustrations pushed me to take what began as an amateur personal project to a book that’s actually in print.
RJ – As a journalist with BBC World Service Radio, you’re used to playing and dealing with words all the time. How different was the experience of writing a picture book?
AA – If I told you that writing a children’s picture book has made me a better broadcaster, you’d probably laugh. How can simplistic sentences about bindis have any bearing on relating complex global events? But in truth, different forms of communication boil down to respecting and engaging your audience, and picture books are actually a more complex medium than live radio. Children have a lot to teach us about effective communication. You don’t need big words, long sentences or complex grammar to explain things. Creating this book was definitely a literal lesson in one of journalism’s most basic and cherished objectives: ‘show, don’t tell.’ It’s a great rule to work by whether creating a picture book, or explaining the Syrian civil war.
RJ – And finally, which of the bindis in the book is your favourite?!
AA – That’s the toughest question I’ve been asked so far…! If vanity prevails, then it’s Chanda-Mama’s bindi because it’s so classically gorgeous. Otherwise, it’s a three-way tie: I love the banana bindi for its sheer cheekiness, the snake’s bindi because how cool is that?? And if you look on the cover (or on the vocabulary page) you’ll see that the fish is wearing bubbles as bindis… that image sums up for me the endless charm and genius of bindis: they are only limited by our imagination!
Anu, what a pleasure it’s been talking to you! Readers, she did this email interview while she was bang in the middle of moving house. With every email exchange, I could picture her sitting amid a bunch of half open cartons and (if she’s anything like I am) stuff strew all over, reading out Meri Bindi to her children! Wishing you many more titles in this series.
For details of the book, click here.