International Women’s Day 2018

International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th March worldwide. While Italians celebrate it by giving women yellow mimosas, some countries celebrate it with gifts and cards. Did you know it is a public holiday in China for women only?

In 2018, the UN is observing it as Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.

The Time is Now to do so many things –

  • To acknowledge the contribution of women to the betterment of this world.
  • To say No to abuse of any kind
  • To say Yes to adventures of all sorts
  • To lead from the front.

Growing up in India, in a society where a woman’s place was a few steps behind a man, I had always rebelled. The women in my life were both caring and strong without actually taking credit for it. But they let me rebel without fussing too much.

My mother wanted me to conform to norms because she was a woman of her time. Ironically she was proud of me every time I broke a rule, or pushed the boundaries. She wanted me to have the opportunities she never had. But then she also led by example. For someone who was from a conservative Hindu family, she did a lot of social work outside the home, she wrote and acted on stage, even if it was her local neighbourhood community theatre, she did one-woman monologues dressing up in homemade costumes. She pushed the boundaries in her own way and she shouldn’t be surprised when I followed suit.

Even today as I write books and go into schools and perform in festivals, she lives her own dreams through me and cheers me on. She reads every book I write and she reads it to my nephews and her pride keeps my energy going.

So on this International Women’s Day 2018, I want to say thank you to all women who lead by example, who encourage others with a smile, who push boundaries and who hold the gate open for others to come through.

I want to say thanks to Mum, who has gave me rebellious genes and infinite dreams.

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.

Lists, editor’s choice and more

This week has been brilliant so far. I’m recovering from a bout of flu and I need all the good news I can get.

Earlier this week we found out that Pattan’s Pumpkin, published by Candlewick Press in the US has been added to the 2018 Notable Social Studies Book list! It’s an amazing honour and also I’m glad many schools and children will be able to find out more about this wonderful story.

Then a casual glance at last year’s round-ups of books published in the US led me to this wonderful list. The School Library Journal had created a 2017 list of folktales and fairytales and Pattan’s Pumpkin is featured in that too.

And some exciting news about my upcoming title with Lantana Publishing. You’re Safe With Me has won a lot of praise for its wonderful artwork and the stunning design. Fiona Noble has chosen it as her editor’s choice for the 2018 May releases of this year in The Bookseller this week!

You’re Safe With Me is also chosen as an empathy read by Empathy Lab. Find out more here.

And if you have missed this news from before A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice is on the shortlist for the Surrey Libraries Children’s Book Award.

When a Writer Goes to Work…

Most of you  know I have a day job. That means I’ve to operate in the real world like a real person. I can’t daydream endlessly or treat my day job as a school visit. Of course if everyone who likes my books reviews them, puts stars on them on online retail websites and recommend to their friends, soon I could stop going to work and write all the time.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to tell you how my boss at the day-job gets exasperated with me when I forget I’m not a writer on those three days.

PLEASE DON’T TALK IN RHYME and other exasperations!

© Chitra Soundar

Chitra, you cannot write business requirements in rhyme
and you cannot autograph business contracts with Keep Reading.
Chitra don’t ask your colleagues to join in the chorus in a meeting
and NO! That  video conference was not for making #readoutaloud videos
The above video was made at home! Full disclosure!
Chitra please don’t correct sentence structure in every business email
and please don’t ask your staff to imagine an alien and a cow during work hours
Chitra please don’t read out minutes of the minutes like a story
And don’t illustrate your meeting notes
Chitra please don’t clap your hands when you want attention
And don’t organise team meetings into groups of 3
Chitra, please can you stop staring out of the window
and get back to your boring paperwork.

Well, I try most days to be good. Some days, I scribble on the side and some days I get grumpy because I want to be somewhere else. But I should say I have the most understanding day-job ever. They support my writing in very big and small ways. So this is just a tongue-in-cheek poem I wrote, on the way to work.
In part this is inspired by a post that Sarwat Chadda posted on 17th May titled “Shane’s World” about a Walmart employee (from Thunder Dungeon).

Summer Holidays are Here

Summer break just started in the UK and I’ve been thinking about my own summer vacation when I was a kid. Our summer vacations were perhaps not that big a deal because we lived in joint families. Dads went to work as usual and Mum and grandparents looked after us. I’m sure we drove our mums mad whatever we did.

We didn’t have the pressure of planning a holiday. Those days people rarely took time off and went away somewhere. If they did, it would be to visit family in another part of the country. There was no hint of camping or theme parks or seaside holidays.

My typical summer holiday before I was turned ten would have consisted of – holiday homework, Hindi class, play Trade (or what the rest of the world calls Monopoly), play Indian board games – hand-drawn Ludo, traditional snake and ladder, Carrom and other traditional games. Everyone participated – uncle, aunts, visiting relatives, friends.

Then a mandatory nap in the afternoon followed by a snack. We used to hover around the kitchen bothering our grandma for something special. I picked raw mangoes from our tree and ate it in the garden so I won’t be spotted.

We had chores to do too. Garden the plants, sweep the front yard, sort out your old school books and holiday homework. If we had run out of home work, she would ask me to copy out the newspaper or the dictionary – to learn new words, to get a better handwriting or generally keep busy so you won’t bother the grownups.

When the evening sun starts to set, it would have been cooler to get out. Every week (I think Tuesday or Wednesday) Mum took me on the bus to a lending library where she spent her personal savings on getting me books to read. I brought back bound copies of comics and lots of different books.

This is 1/10 the size now compared to what it was in the 80s

What time I didn’t spend time outside in the garden or running from one friend’s house to another, I spent reading. Especially from noon to four pm there was absolutely nothing to do except read as the summer sun scorched outside.

Later when I was older, I put together a team of friends and we create a newsletter. I wrote more in my early and late teens. But as a 9 year old, I read a lot. That was what summers were for.

I wish we had libraries and summer reading challenges. I wish we had the ability to borrow 16 books at a time that we could return and get more. We didn’t. But the reading I did during those years – transported me to another world – be it behind in history or forward in science fiction. Sometimes I wouldn’t understand a word or a sentence or even a cultural reference – but that didn’t stop us having fun.

How much of P G Wodehouse can a 9-year old lower middle class, south Indian girl get? How many of the jokes worked and how many didn’t? Who cares? I read P G Wodehouse, enjoyed it immensely and chuckled away in the corner of the room.

Summer holidays to me are full of


In reading nooks.

Board games

And card games.

Random snacks

Chill and relax.

Summer holidays to me are full of


and lending libraries.


And drying papadums.


And more housework.


What was your summer holiday like? How does it compare to today? What do your kids enjoy?