- Why Farmer Falgu? Why that name?
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.