Celebrating International Mother Language Day

United Nations says,

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.

At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.”

My mother language is Tamil and I never learnt it formally. I learnt Tamil at home – to speak, to read and to write. I read every magazine and book my parents were reading and of course Tamil Cinema had wonderful songs that was full of poetry.

Every year in January, during festivals and holidays, we listened to debates and poetry in Tamil and often went to see plays and movies in Tamil.

My first poem was in Tamil when I read a poem by Poet Suratha. Find out more about how Suratha inspired me here.

I continued to write in Tamil and one of the teachers, who was also our vice principal and was a scholar in Tamil helped me in the library outside school hours. I then wrote a puppet show about Economics in Tamil and wrote a long poem about India’s warrior poet Subramania Bharathi.

But we also learnt English right from kindergarten and slowly, by the time I left primary school I had started to think in English. I read both Tamil and English fiction relentlessly, but with more English than Tamil.

Then when I was in my first year at university I entered a state-wide competition on the state of education in our country and I wrote an article in Tamil for this. I was so worried because I had never written anything formal in Tamil and one of my friends, who knew her grammar and spellings, helped me edit it. I won the first prize in that competition. But sadly that was my last published work in Tamil.

Now I write in English and rarely write in my mother tongue and I agree with the statement from United Nations. Forgetting your language is much more than forgetting the language, we lose the culture, literature and even social norms, proverbs, adages and more.

In Nelson Mandela’s words,

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. 
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

As an aunt of mixed race nephews, I’m constantly thinking about how I could show them the beauty of their mother language. They listen to music, and hear us talk but they live here. And they don’t often get to explore the language the same way as we did growing up in India.

And it is possible to forget your mother tongue if you don’t use it. This article at Babbel explains the research behind it.

Here is a beautiful poem Jesus Never Understood My Grandmother’s Prayers by Mikeas Sánchez, who writes in the Zoque language.

My grandmother never learned Spanish

was afraid of forgetting her gods

was afraid of waking up in the morning

without the prodigals of her offspring in her memory

My grandmother believed that you could only

talk to the wind in Zoque

but she kneeled before the saints

and prayed with more fervor than anyone

Jesus never heard her

my grandmother’s tongue

smelled like rose apples

and her eyes lit up when she sang

with the brightness of a star

Saint Michael Archangel never heard her

my grandmother’s prayers were sometimes blasphemies

jukis’tyt she said and the pain stopped

patsoke she yelled and time paused beneath her bed

In that same bed she birthed her seven sons

—Translated from the Zoque by David Shook

Check out my bi-lingual books that help many children read both in English and their mother-tongue.

Are you a young person whose mother language is different from the one you speak most of the time? Go and find out more about your language. Learn about poetry, proverbs and stories from your mother language and find ways to listen to it being spoken. You won’t regret it.

World Book Day event at HippoCampus Chennai with Tulika Books

I celebrated World Book Day event with Hippo Campus, Chennai and Tulika Publishers. A hoard of kids were ready to listen to stories, sing with me and absolutely ready to spring with answers to any questions I had for them.

I read from Balu’s Basket and Where is Gola’s Home? and we had a great time singing all sorts of things and drawing everything from house to basket to an eagle when we finished reading and listening to the stories.

I met a lot of young people growing up in Chennai today as I grew up here many decades ago. I got to meet some of my friends and family with their little ones.


My mum and Dad came with me too, proudly commenting on which parts of the session elicited more response and how smart today’s kids are. 


The Belated Book Launch Update

Balu’s Basket was launched by Tulika Books, India in September. In the United Kingdom, Balu deserved a launch. So we decided to do a book launch party at my place. This was my first planned book party. For my previous two books I didn’t know I could do Book Birthdays, Book Parties and Book Lunches. I’m learning.

Balu's Basket Eng-Tamil F.pmd

So I invited a lot of friends, my entire family and their little ones. Friends came from far away towns and cities. Friends turned up with little ones and it was a real party. We talked about the book, about how I started writing and a lot more. We laughed, we made jokes, we ran around the little ones trying to draw on white walls.


In all the hosting and the discussing of books, I forgot to take pictures of my guests and people buying books. We had a lot of interest in my other book from Tulika – Where is Gola’s Home? as well.


We can’t have no photos after the launch? So I hatched a plan. All my readers sent me a photo of them reading the books. Hurrah!


Here is one!

For more of these photos, do visit my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ChitraSoundarAuthor







You can also buy my books from this website here. 

If you quote “LaunchAtBlog”, you will get a free surprise gift with the book.

Balu’s Basket – the journey

Balu’s Basket is the first book where I’m going on a journey from the germ of an idea to actually marketing the book – of course, all in under two years.

Before this when a book came out, I was naive and inexperienced to do anything about it. Sometimes my books would come out only in some countries and I wasn’t sure what to do on the day of the launch, if I found about it.

This time though, I think I’ve picked up some tricks and tips along the way, I should say, thanks to SCBWI and its wonderful family – where people talk about how they do things so you could learn from them.

So, back to the story that I came to tell.

Balu’s Basket was an idea based on my eternal themes – I keep coming back to grandparents, villages, fruits and Indian motifs. I wrote the first 20 lines and I really liked the shape of the story.

Tulika accepted it early this year and confirmed that it would come out in 2013. Hurrah!

Lucky for me, this year I also had plans to go home to Chennai in India. Guess what? Tulika, my publisher is based in Chennai too. The last time I had been to India was four years ago and I thought this was divine coincidence.

People at Tulika were absolutely amazing to me. Right from the receptionist who said, “You’re Chitra Soundar, I recognised you from your photo.” to the publisher Radhika Menon who gave up her valuable time to talk to me.

Deeya Nair the editor who I’ve been working with, since my first book with Tulika introduced me to the illustrator who was working on my book. Uttara a digital design student and an illustrator was right there in the next room working on my book – giving it finishing touches.


That was fun – I could see her originals – she flipped through them. She is an amazing artist and so young. This was her internship project and what wonderful work she has produced.

When Deeya gave me the original contracts to sign, she remarked that this was the first time a contract was being signed in the office by the author and witnessed by the illustrator. A good first, I’d say.

Then I met with the amazing duo – Aneesha and Pallavi. Aneesha manages marketing for Tulika and she is very positive about Balu’s Basket as she loves my first book too. She is my partner in crime, as we plan marketing across two continents.


Pallavi had literally joined that week, but was no stranger to Tulika. She’s going to spread the Tulika word in the UK and US and gearing up for it.

[Pallavi (far left), Aneesha, Uttara]


So from manuscript to illustrations, the first part of the journey is almost over. While Aneesha plans the book launch in Chennai, here I am planning the book launch here in London.

Here is the sneak preview of the coversBalu's Basket Eng-Tamil F.pmd Balu's Basket Eng-Hindi F.pmd! I love the colours, don’t you?

The first one is the English-Tamil version

and the second one is the English-Hindi version.

And of course, this time I am also doing events in the UK where I will sell all my Indian books.  The full circle – from being a writer to an author to a full-fledged author-machine. I kid myself – I’ve just begun this new aspect of my unknown courage. I have signed up to the book launch, I am telling stories to young children (we all know how intimidating that can be) during autumn and winter of 2013.

And guess what the next book will be out in early 2014 from Karadi Tales and the whole thing will start again. I’m excited. Perhaps this book came out at the right moment of my maturing author life. Perhaps the wind was blowing in the right direction.