Bookaroo had begun. It was the 29th of November 2014. The launch of Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market was scheduled for 3 pm. I had a nice lie-in and then decided to go to the pool to write and prepare for the event.
But it wasnot to be. The lovely pool manager decided that I might enjoy some blaring music at 10 am and switched on the loudspeakers. I retreated to the safety of my room which was a good thing because I decided to tell the story and practice the song.
The cleaners were on the corridor and must have been terribly confused by the noise coming out of my room with nursery rhymes and sounds from the story.
I reached Bookaroo venue quite early and met up with my editor Nithya who had come all the way from Chennai for the event. We took charge of The Stage 30 minutes before the event and started getting ready.
The crowd was building up and we started at three with a massive countdown with the support of the audience. Then we sang Farmer Falgu Had a Farm – a remastered version of the Old MacDonald had a Farm with AiyaaahyayyyaYo! Then we told the story from the first book Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip.
Each child in the audience was given a raffle ticket and we put the tickets in a hat and pulled out a number. The lucky winner was the receiver of the first book of Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market.
After the official launch, we counted down in Hindi this time and then I told the story of the second book ending with a fantastic recipe for an omelette – we chopped, we broke eggs and we sizzled under the warmth of the winter sun in Delhi. Then we sanga new song that I had written for the second book.
A very big crowd, a very participative audience of children and parents and a good queue for signing – what else does an author want for a launch?
I’m new to Bookaroo! But I felt right at home the minute I walked in through the gates. I was a bit early – you can tell when I am over-enthusiastic that I couldn’t sleep longer and couldn’t hang around the hotel more.
The grounds were getting ready, volunteers were arriving and soon bus-loads of school kids were brought in and let loose amongst authors.
I had met some of the authors the previous evening at a SCBWI India event organised by Anushka Ravishankar of Duckbill books. And I met more on my first Bookaroo event day. I met with Anita, the wonderful editor and publisher at Young Zubaan and met with one of the most wonderful illustrator Priya Kurian – the illustrator of Where is Gola’s Home?
I met writers and illustrators from India, Sweden, Australia, Germany, Singapore and of course UK too. A lot of names to connect with on Social Media and meet in future festivals.
I was thrilled and honoured to meet Eileen Brown and Jamila Gavin. I am proud to say Jamila even bought Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip and I signed it for her grandkids.
My session was in an open space on the grounds and apart from the kids and teachers from the German school, I also had a visitor with feathers – an eagle. I had two wonderful volunteers who were so excited, they joined in eagerly.
We talked about long python like stories and tall giraffe like stories. We made up tall tales and every student and teacher in the audience was able to participate. We had loads of fun because we were all good at making up stories and tall tales.
The session was filled with stories too. I told them the story of “catching the hound” from Mississippi and the Counting Story from India and of course Farmer Falgu paid a visit too and told them about his trip to find silence.
After a great lunch we all were packed into three cars and taken to see Old Delhi. We went through narrow streets, walked into old buildings, shamelessly took pictures of selling beads and old doors and brightly painted windows. The street was filled with so many tiny shops and each shop was filled with millions of beads in hundreds of bags. Then we walked through a tiny street selling food where they deep-fried bread with fillings twice – and then went to the spice street.
After inhaling a lot of smoke and spice filled air, we left the streets to the safety and comfort of our air-conditioned hotel rooms.
Day 0 ended with a wonderful party organised for all attending writers, illustrators, editors, publishers and sponsors.
Tomorrow is a special day. Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market will be launched at Bookaroo. I received my first set of copies on Thursday of the new book. More tomorrow after the launch itself.
Firstly why not? I wanted an Indian farmer going on a journey meeting lots of Indian characters in the story. That was the start of it. In picture booksI cannot set the scene with a lot of text. So giving him to the title Farmer would be a shorthand to explaining who he is.
Falgu I made up originally – close to Falgun, but not that word. And then closer to when the book was coming out I realized Falgu was a river in Central India and has significance to Sita in Ramayana. What a wonderful coincidence.
And then when Kanika Nair did the pictures, she made him a farmer from Rajasthan – perhaps because she was living there at that time. We love Farmer Falgu with his turban and on his bullock cart. We would be introducing his wife too in the later books.
Isn’t the concept of a farmer story more western? Is it because you are British?
This is the second most frequent thing I’m asked about, in India. Especially by other people in the publishing trade.
I grew up in India and left India only when I was 28. My grandparents came from small villages and their families still have land in those villages. I have lived near a small village and have visited farms. I am not a farmer myself, but I know a little about them. I am city girl myself. So I am fascinated with farms.
India is a bigger agricultural country than Britain. So why can’t we portray a farmer in children’s books in India? Don’t we have even urban farmers with chickens? We have farmers who have cows and bulls and bullock carts?
I wanted to bring the joy of Farmer Duck and Mr. Gumpy’s Outing to Indian readers in my own way.
Aren’t farmers in India suffering in poverty and are not as joyful and happy as your Farmer Falgu?
In today’s world – we have suffering everywhere. Do we always have to focus on the suffering? Or rather when we write for children, should we tell them, not to try harder because the world is full of suffering anyway?
There are farmers and potters and artists and so many other professions struggling to rise above a certain economic level. But who is to say they are not happy and brave and resourceful? If we are suffering, should we all be in despair as well?
Farmer Falgu is not rich. Neither does he live in a big house. Farmer Falgu is happy; he is resourceful and he has the spirit of seeing the best in all situations. He is a glass-half-full kind of guy. He doesn’t let the situation of subsidies, the water problems in Rajasthan or the local panchayat elections get in his way of being happy.
Like me, Falgu too, believes in the following words of William Henley.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip is about finding silence. Why did you write a book about silence? Isn’t this too complicated for children to understand? Why that ending?
The theme of the book originated in my own experience that the world, this earth, this universe even, is never silent. Silence in a vacuum is not real and not good. Silence is absolute and Quiet is not. Joyous things are loud – like a baby being born would cry. Even a giraffe makes sounds that humans can’t hear but its own family can.
There is a time to be quiet and there is a time to reflect. But that is not silence. That is just quiet. Like the morning quiet that is filled with bird noises. Like the night quiet that has lizard sounds and a distant sound of a bark from a street dog.
I like both. I like the laughter and noise of a busy and happy family. Like a big Indian wedding and I like the quiet of sitting in a corner reading a book. I wanted children to understand that.
Children get it. When I perform in schools and libraries, we all make a lot of noise and we all stay quiet. Children are quick to point out sounds that they hear in the night when everything is supposedly quiet. Some don’t. Some sleep deep and do not hear anything. That’s fine – everyone’s different.
The book is about Farmer Falgu having a moment of busyness in his head and he escapes from it. But not for long because the old man plays his drums and the snake charmer plays the pungi and the dancers tap their feet. The bullocks are trotting noisily too. What Farmer Falgu realizes is that his farm is not a difficult place to live – just joyous. Sometimes you just have to get away from everything to realize what you miss.
Children don’t just enjoy the words and sounds. They get the theme. Granted 2 year olds might not understand it rightaway. But this will emerge later on when they could grasp it. My little nephew Isaac loves the book and he loves the ssssh part of it and the noisy part of it. Those adults who listen to the story and listen to the inner theme like children do, also get it.
But it is okay not to get it too. You don’t have to understand, relate to, enjoy or even feel good about every book you read. Reading a book is like meeting someone. Maybe Farmer Falgu is not someone you love. That’s okay. Maybe you like Mr. Magnolia. Maybe you love both of them in different ways. Art is subjective, stories are personal and books are therefore what you make of them.
Why isn’t there a moral in the story? Is the moral – you have to make noise? Is it a moral for the parents?
Moral is different from theme. Do we need moralistic tales all the time? I know much of Indian publishing has an educational focus.
But many books are being published especially by publishers like Karadi Tales that are for the joy of reading.
Books are meant to enrich your life. They show you different aspects of life – be it a small topic like silence and quiet of the natural world or about looking at a situation positively. But that enrichment and theme is after the joy of the story. The story, the words, the sounds, the pictures should bring joy first. Then the underlying theme (not moral) would emerge slowly like a seed that is planted.
This book doesn’t have a moral. It has a theme that I intended when I started. It has interesting characters, words, sounds and beautiful pictures by Kanika Nair. It is a joy to look, read and listen to. That’s what matters.
Is Farmer Falgu a series?
Yes, the second book Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market is out on 29th November at Bookaroo Literature Festival in New Delhi.
Again this book is about Farmer Falgu being resourceful, looking positively at life and dealing with a situation that most of us worry about.
We are hoping there would be more stories about Farmer Falgu from this team. In the same spirit of Falgu, I think positively about the future and what it might bring.
I don’t like to eat eggs as eggs. Mix them up in a cake and if I can’t smell it or taste it and I ‘m fine.
But drape an egg over fried rice like they do in Singapore and Malaysia, or on top of a pie or layers of thick eggs in a pastry or a frittata – no thanks!
As a south Indian Iyengar, growing up, my only experience with eggs was traumatic and pehaps once fun. I had some weird nutritional deficiency called Primary Complex. Sounds like the old building in my school. So I had to eat more protein.
I can hear my gym trainer Jay say – you could never get the protein you need from just lentils. True enough when I was 6 or 7, the doctor said I had to eat eggs. Perhaps he didn’t mean raw. But I was in an orthodox Brahmin family which doesn’t cook eggs or go to a restaurant that does.
So whether or not the doctor said it had to be raw. Because it was an egg, it couldn’t come into the house. The eggs were purchased by a maid and brought in to the bathroom via the backdoor. Bathroom was the place you could wash off impurities before entering the house.
So the maid would crack open the egg, pour it raw into a glass of milk (I repeat glass of milk, not a tumbler we normally use – because this is egg, we can’t use household things), and made me drink it.
That put an end to any kind of love affair that could have blossomed later in life with eggs. I hated the smell of it. I couldn’t swallow it without screaming and crying.
Then when I was 11, I foolishly entered the egg-shell painting competition. It was foolish in hindsight but as usual impulsive and adventurous for me – because I didn’t realize I had to crack the egg a little and take all the stuff out and of course I had never painted anything before – I didn’t even own a paint set.
So I dragged my religious mum to the big hall where this was happening, and we cracked open eggs, poured the goo out all the while my mum muttering why I never check with her before entering competitions like this – but she was good natured about it and then I copied what others did as they painted.
That’s it – by the time I encountered eggs was much later when I was in Singapore working in a bank, for long hours and going to the shop opposite my office for some dinner – and the man brought vegetarian fried rice with a fried egg on top.
The white waters and the yellow island – that fascinated me. I still love to see the yellow blob float in a cup when I make cakes. I love the sizzle of chillies and onions, the mixture of coriander and the how the egg turns into an omlette.
Visually it is a treat. That’s it. The rest of it – I don’t like. I don’t like the texture of a fried egg. I don’t like to eat them. But I love to make them.
And that fascination found its way into my next book Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market.
There are eggs in this story. There is coriander of course. And tomatoes, and chillies. A sizzling pan too. And there is an ……
You have to read the book and find out what happens next!
And of course you’re invited to the launch party at the 7th Bookaroo in New Delhi on the 29th November (just 8 days away…)
We have songs as usual, all Farmer Falgu books have songs. We will introduce everyone to Farmer Falgu’s friends from Book 1 too.
It is children’s Day in India today and I thought I should ponder over it and share my thoughts with you all.
What constitutes Children’s Day – I think many countries celebrate this and perhaps for different reasons and with a different focus. Children’s Day in India is celebrated to honour Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime-minister who was born on 14th November because he liked spending time with children and he always had kids over to his office to talk to them.
It is not a public holiday obviously – there used to be performances, competitions, more relaxed timetable at school and having events like debates and speech competitions at school. I think one such event I participated was in the Egg-Shell painting competition. That was adventurous for me because I had never touched an egg before that in my life.
For me though this day was a bit more special– both my mum and sister celebrated their birthdays on 14th November. We always had sweets and special prayers at home and we used to tease my sister saying the whole country was celebrating her birthday.
For me Children’s Day should inspire people to do better for their children. For India, that means – providing education and food to so many children who do not have a childhood. This year India and Pakistan won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly by two people in their own ways has furthered this cause. We should support and help Kailash and Malala to do more – the collective strength is greater than the sum of its parts.
I love the flags, the roses and the sweets that politicians distribute on this day.
But I want them to stop doing token celebrations and do something in their own circle of influence. Even teach for a day, find out which kids amongst their party followers don’t go to school and provide free schools for the people who work in their parties. I want politicians to stop making gestures and get stuck in, get hands dirty.
Today I am a writer and I write for children. I love spending time in schools and enjoy telling them stories and listening to their stories. As an author of children’s books, as a writer who wants to connect with children and inspire them –what is children’s day to me and what should it be?
I want to be a role-model. I want to teach children to read, write and listen to stories. Every child is creative, imaginative and capable and I want in a small way to be part of that process.
I have been pondering about the charity Room to Read – I want to do a bit more than fund-raising or donating money. They too won accolades this year for bringing books, schools and education to girls across the world. Perhaps it is time to join them and get stuck in myself.
I’m not doing enough yet. Children’s Day has turned into more of a family celebration time given the two birthdays we celebrate. One of my math teachers is also born on this day. But I think it is time I celebrate Children’s Day in a more meaningful way – and I am going to spend the next 12 months until the next Children’s Day putting some ideas into action.
Do you have ideas? What do you think we should do for Children’s Day wherever you live?