Where is February, I ask. It has been a whirlwind of activities in London and rest of England, armed with a bag of books and props, often looking like a bag lady on National Rail Service. And it was mostly fun even when rain poured through dark skies and sleep was a rare commodity.
This February has been extra special – having been invited to the prestigious Imagine Festival at Southbank to run workshops and to the Chester festival of half-term fun and to the South London’s favourite bookstore Tales on Moon Lane’s half-term festivities. Half-term ended with wonderful storytelling at Discover Stratford.
World Book Day ran almost back to back with Half-term across England and my story train barely stopped between the two. I was on the move, constantly checking my orange National Rail tickets and printed maps just in case my phone runs out of juice. Between the boroughs of London, I moved from East to West to North to South, testing TFL’s quality of service.
When I was bereft of sleep and missing home-cooked dinners, there is one thing that kept me going. My engine was fully powered by the stories I tell and the stories the children were inspired to write. We made up wonderful stories with the children and in some schools we told them and in some we wrote them down. Either way, there was no limit to their imagination. That’s the primary reason I go into schools and do events – to fire up the imagination of both children and parents alike and at the same time, be absolutely enthralled by the stories the children create.
From Greek gods to aliens, pigs to fishes, our stories were full of adventures, mishaps, journeys and cartloads of fun. Here are a few stories children jotted down during the workshops.
If you want to be part of the next workshop, do sign up to my newsletter so you can find out about an event near you or if you want to invite me to your schools, do get in touch.
Having a double book launch ought to be a once-in-a-decade kinda thing. But it happened in October 2016 and it is happening again in January 2017. And I wasn’t expecting it then and I was sure not expecting it to happen again.
Farmer Falgu Goes Kite Flying is out at the Jaipur Lit Festival on 20th January. Click here to find out more. Along with that, Karadi Tales, my publisher have confirmed that Book 4 in the Farmer Falgu series – Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela will also be released at the same time.
Kumbh Mela is a special occasion in the Hindu festive calendar. It occurs once in twelve years and thousands of people congregate in Allahabad for a holy dip in the confluence of three rivers. It is one of India’s an the world’s largest religious gatherings.
Farmer Falgu decides to visit this festival and of course typical of all his trips, this too is fraught with unexpected problems. There is one difference in this book though, the bullocks come with him only until the railway station. And then he takes the train to Allahabad – which is great because I love trains.
Check out a video about Kumbh Mela here. It is noisy, colourful and full of music and religious fervour. It is a congregation of peaceful humanity. Now why would Farmer Falgu encounter problems here? Well, you have to read to find out.
While Farmer Falgu Goes Kite Flying has special connections to Rajasthan and Jaipur, Farmer Falgu Goes to Kumbh Mela will have connections to Allahabad and its festivities.
Kanika Nair has created brilliant illustrations for both the titles. Her colourful yet minimalist style conveys the busy-ness of India without actually overwhelming the reader. I’m sure children everywhere are going to love these two stories full of colourful imagery from India.
The festival bookstore is run by Full Circle Books who will be stocking my other titles too. So if you are coming to the festival, you have a double treat in store. Both the titles will be available to buy and I’ll be signing your copies too.
If you’re familiar with the Farmer Falgu series (published by Karadi Tales) that I write and Kanika Nair illustrates, you will notice that Farmer Falgu is always going somewhere.
It wasn’t planned – it just happened that way. And now, given my mild obsession with patterns, I always send him off somewhere.
I have a childhood reputation of “going somewhere” all the time. And even now as a grown-up people think I’m always on wheels. But in reality, I’m a homebody. I love staying at home and doing stuff, cooking snacks, reading a book. If I can help it, I won’t leave my cave for days. My alter-ego Farmer Falgu adds to the myth of my “wandering spirits”.
The trouble is Farmer Falgu’s trips are filled with surprises, some nice and some not so nice. But Farmer Falgu never loses his cool – he resolves them the best he can.
Keeping up with tradition, this time for the third book in the series, Farmer Falgu would be going somewhere too. This time too, not so far. But intensely exciting. He’s taking his daughter Eila to the kite festival.
In Rajasthan and in many parts of northern India, kite festivals are part of the Sankaranthi celebrations. The colourful kites adorn the winter sky adding more colour to the celebrations.
When Kanika made Farmer Falgu a Rajasthani farmer, I wanted to do a book that was unique to the land he was from. The book is full of Farmer Falgu’s charm – he takes his friends and Eila is having loads of fun despite the troubles.
Eila seems to be following in her father’s footsteps in helping and sharing and I like her for that. When Eila is devastated, Farmer Falgu of course has to save the day. He is her dad and we want dads to chase the monsters and bring order to the world. And that’s what Farmer Falgu does. And all’s well in Eila’s world.
Want to find out more? Want to listen to the story? Come to Jaipur Literature Festival and buy the book! It’s a free event. So drop in. And on your way back you can always fly a kite.
When I wrote the first Farmer Falgu story, I had specific goals.
I somehow wanted to convey that this earth is never quiet and Quiet is not necessarily a fun thing.
I wanted to write a story about an Indian farmer
I wanted music and dance in the story.
The quiet and noise thought has been rattling around my brain for years and I didn’t figure out how to tell that in a story until I found Falgu.
Falgu didn’t start out to be a Rajasthani farmer. He was a north-Indian farmer simply because I had chosen a Hindi name. I should thank Kanika Nair, the illustrator for giving him a setting, a place of his own and all the joy and colour of Rajasthan. You can find out more about the creation of Falgu here.
Like always I put something of myself into every story. Whether it is finding a home in Where is Gola’s Home? Or my Grandma in Balu’s Basket, there is a bit of me in every story.
In Falgu, I gave him my courage to plod on in spite of circumstances. He has an unbroken spirit, he is always thankful he’s got a glass, whether it is half-full or half-empty and he’s off somewhere doing something.
The music element of the book came from my desire to be a Karadi Tales author. They were traditionally an audio publisher and I thought musical elements in the story might pique their interest. Cunning of me? Sure!
When Karadi Tales accepted the first title Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip, it was like a dream come true in many ways. I was a KT author now, Farmer Falgu had a home – not long after he had set out in his trademark bullock-cart as a manuscript.
Then of course, the spirit of Falgu lodged in my brain and thoughts. He was a real person. And I wrote another story for completely different reasons.
I always believed – I think my grandparents and my parents taught me – to turn problems into opportunities. What can you do with the situation you’ve got? And my dislike of eggs and my fascination towards omelets.
I grew up hating eggs. But the thought of an omelet always fascinated the chef in me. I can see why an Indian omelet can be a great treat – it’s got all the spices, chillies, tomatoes and onions. I came close to eating an omelet so many times – simply because I liked it as a recipe. Alas, I don’t like eggs. The next best thing – put it in a story. Find out more about this story here.
And so, Farmer Falgu set out to the Market. With eggs. And of course all picture books believe in the power of three. So Falgu had to take with him – white eggs, brown eggs and duck eggs. I researched duck eggs a lot – I didn’t know what colour they were. I realized they come in all sorts of colours. I’m sure Kanika wasn’t too pleased with my egg choices.
Now there are 4 Farmer Falgu stories. The third one is almost ready and the fourth one is still being created by fabulous co-conspirator Kanika Nair. Look out for the cover reveals and the story behind the story right here at www.chitrasoundar.com soon.
So Farmer Falgu as far as I’m concerned has already gone places, right? From one story to four, from paper to real life, he has come to life for me in so many ways.He is a real person with a twitter account and all. Follow him @FarmerFalgu. But that’s not all.
Farmer Falgu captured more hearts at the various trade fairs where my publisher Shobha showed him off to lots of people. Her love for Falgu is second only to mine, I’d think. She’d argue it is the other way around.
Et croyez-le ou non , il est là en Europe continentale trop , en France.Maybe I should set a new story in Paris for Farmer Falgu. The power of bullock-carts and his positive spirit has brought him to so many countries.
The kids in Japan and Paris are lucky – they’d have Farmer Falgu in their own languages and can enjoy the stories just like the kids in India do.
And here is a hopeful thought – he might be coming to Germany too. Couple of weeks ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I dropped in on Falgu and Shobha at their stand. And lucky me, who was there? The German publisher who wants Farmer Falgu to come to Germany. Fingers crossed, the bullocks would take him across the continent to Germany.
What would he be called in German? Would Farmer Falgu have the same name? Or a different one? Who knows? Whatever he’s called he’d be still Falgu to me and he’d still be the same positive spirit he always is.
From the 14th to the 16th January of this year, India has been celebrating the Harvest Festival. Called Pongal in Tamil Nadu to mean “brimming with the goodness” to Makara Sankaranthi in many other parts of India, it is an important festival to mark.
India is predominantly agricultural – but this festival is not just for farmers – although Farmer Falgu seems to be having a whale of a time being invited to homes across India.
In TamilNadu where I grew up, the festival has four days with special significance to each day.
The 14th – Bhogi which is the first day of Pongal celebrations is actually the day to mark the end of the previous month. The last day of the OLD before we welcome the NEW. Bhogi prepares the homes and minds of people to welcome the new. Houses are freshly painted, perhaps a wedding is being planned soon and even new pots are bought for the celebration of the festival itself.
In the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, kids get showered with money – well it is a mix of ‘regi-pallu’, flower petals, pieces of sugarcane, coins and jaggery – the quick-witted ones would pick up the coins quickly!
Bhogi is loud with banging of drums and smoky with bonfires across the villages and neighbourhoods. Bhogi is fun as you rifle through old stuff, end up being distracted with memories and then having to rush to finish the cleaning.
15th Jan 2015 (for this year, as this is based on the Lunar calendar) is the first day of the new month and also the most auspicious month of the year. It is the day of the Pongal celebration.
Wedding halls are filled to capacity with one wedding party leaving as the next one arrives. It marks the harvest, the bounty, without forgetting to give thanks. The entire festival is focussed on giving thanks, first to the Sun and then to Mother Earth and to everything and everyone who helped harvest the bounty. It is a day of joy, music, laughter, good food and good old family time.
16th January is Mattu Pongal where I come from – the day we celebrate the bulls and cows. The bulls are washed, their horns painted, the carts and the ploughs painted. And in the southern most parts of Tamil Nadu, it is also the day of the bull-fight. Many lives are lost every year – but the challenge of overpowering a bull never seems to lose its charm to the young men wanting to get the attention of pretty girls in the village. Last year when I was researching stories about sports, I came across a story and retold it here – about Jallikattu – the bullfight. (Not for kids, though).
17th January is Kaanum Pongal – the day of sightseeing, visiting family and friends who do not live near you. Most fair grounds, beaches and cinema are filled with people. It is the day when you relax and have fun outside home, spend your money, see the sights, eat fairground treats and come back home tired and smiling.
So many things are symbolic about this festival – the pumpkin flowers that adorn the drawings made with rice flour outside each house, the tall stems of sugarcane stacked in the shops, and tied to the pillars in houses, mango leaves as buntings in most doorways, new pots that line up the market and of course Pongal – the rice-pudding made with jaggery and ghee (clarified butter) with crunchy cashewnuts and juicy raisins.
One last thing though – Pongal celebrations in cinema-mad India (cricket is only after that) is not complete with a new movie release. And all our movies are muscials. Here is a song you might like. I couldn’t find one with sub-titles. But the visuals will give you an idea about what we do during the festival.