Children’s Day in India

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. nehru1Children’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.

The Universal Children’s Day is celebrated quite close to the Indian one – on 20th November since the mid-50s. Almost every country has a date dedicated for this.

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. eggshellpaintingI 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. P1000199We 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.roomtorread

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?

Swept Away in Stories

events 270414 090Storytelling came into my life long before writing. I told my first story in public when I was seven. I told more stories as I grew up to my sister, cousins and children younger than who I was tutoring.

But as a gawky teenager, as a girl who was unsure of herself, I moved away from storytelling. Though I wrote those days I was not ever close to it. Never thought of writing stories. When I started writing, it was due to the need to tell stories – my own stories, made up ones. I also wrote stories that had been passed on to me and that didn’t feel like writing – that felt as if I was recording a piece of my past, my culture, my inheritance on paper.

Writing felt and still feels as if it suits me. I can be on my own, in my head. I can write in my room, write on a bus, write so I could be amused more than anything else. But I think the storyteller in me wants to get the story published so I could tell it out loud. Writing like storytelling is a performance art – though not in the same way. For a writer in many ways, having a reader is gratifying. Having a reader who likes what you’ve written is redeeming. And it is performance – I’m so glad you liked this story – did you get what I wrote there?

Storytelling needs a listener. An audience. And I was afraid of it. It is more immediate. In storytelling I have to sit in front of you and enthrall you – otherwise you are going to boo me, throw tomatoes and rotten eggs at me.

But there is only a subtle difference. If readers don’t like your story, whether they are editors, publishers, the person who bought the book, the child who is read to – it is the same. The rotten tomatoes still come – but perhaps more in virtual reality. Maybe I don’t know about them. I still have to fear it and I do.

So when I braved myself two years ago to join a weekend course in storytelling – I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. It felt as if I needed a new distraction. New courses to go to instead of going on holidays like regular adults. New courses I could learn in, having exhausted all the courses in writing and there was nothing more to learn except write.

But the course felt like homecoming. I love folktales, always loved it and there was a joy in discovering a story that had the wisdom of your ancestors. I had escaped from falling in love with storytelling for almost 20 years. And there I was in this course – thinking maybe I have to do this more seriously.

In that weekend course, Abbie Palache asked to look up some storytellers on youtube or out in the performance arenas and one that stood out for me was Jan Blake – storyteller extraordinaire. snap_apr_jan_blakeFor the next few months I cyber-stalked her – well I looked her up, listened to all her youtube videos, tried to find performances that I could go to and of course see if she was teaching a course that I could join.

I made connection with Jan in one of her performances and she said she was doing a one-day course in West London. I couldn’t believe my luck – I booked my place and there I was in front of one of our master storytellers. We had a day practicing storytelling with Jan Blake and 3 other students – and we got tips about posture, presence, voice, enrichment and more. I was hungry for more.

Jan tells a lot of stories – her repertoire is quite wide and varied. She tells to adults and to children. But the fascination for me was that she told folktales from her own culture. She told to children as well as adults. And I wanted to learn from her – even if only 1% would rub off.

I wasn’t sure I was good enough though. I always have big doubts about my abilities, even in my successful day-job – it is good to be insecure about yourself someone told me a while ago – it keeps you alert on the job. But I am always anxious about my writing and now I am anxious about my storytelling. If I had a shrink, his kid’s college fees would be paid for.

Jan told me I had it in me to become a storyteller – yes, I have to learn a lot of things – but I had the spark that could turn into something bigger if I nurtured it. I reluctantly believed it.

One day Jan announced that she was going to run her masterclass which she taught 12 years ago – it is 4 weeks, one week a month covering various aspects of storytelling. I messaged her and said I’m in.

As the course neared its start date, Jan told me there wasn’t a lot of participants for module 1. In fact due to pre-half term dates, it was just me. So I had a one-one coaching with Jan Blake (can you believe it?) last week.


Right from my story choices, to my eye-contact, my expressions, my telling, my presence – I was up-close and personal with my coach for 3 days. I learnt about voice, emotions of the characters in the story, how not to tell it and to demonstrate what I was doing wrong, Jan would tell my story in her own way. What a treat that was.

And when I tophoto-4ld her my stories, she would remember a similar story from Africa or another part of the world (a treasure-trove of stories in her memory) and I would listen enthralled, but also trying to capture and observe how she was telling it – even though she was telling to one person, not in performance mode.

And if this was not treat enough, after the third day of the course, Jan Blake was going to perform at the British Musuem with another veteran storyteller Tuup and she took me along with her as her guest. What an honour that was.

Ben Haggerty (another British storytelling stalwart) asked me “Was it intense?” – Yes it was. Here was a tsunami of a storyteller in my living room. How could it not be intense, powerful and radiant? It was harsh in some ways – because I had to no place to hide, no backbench distractions, no waiting for someone else’s turn to tell – I was there alert and under her intense coaching.

I helped out with the carrying of props, I listened to four storytellers discuss the upcoming performance, met people I would have never been able to meet and I got to listen to gothic horror tales from the Caribbean. If that wasn’t a grand finale to a course, what could be?

The next module is on 10th November in Southwark in London. Then there is a module in December and one in January. I’m hoping to attend all of them – hopefully nothing would come in the way.

While I am still preparing for telling stories in schools, preparing a repertoire based on Jan’s advice and would be posting details of my school programme soon, I have my first hurdle to overcome – tell a story to a camera with confidence and post it on my web and my youtube channel. Can I do it? Would you come and watch it? Do you like stories?

My first story workshop at Blue Anchor

I volunteered recently with Southwark Libraries to do some creative writing and story workshops at the Blue Anchor Library.


Blue Anchor Library is small and cosy and not far from where I live.  It has a newly refurbished building and staff who are committed to literacy and reading. For a library this size, it has an array of events that are suitable for the community they serve.

Today was the first workshop and as an ode to the Mythical Monsters Summer Reading Challenge, my story woranansikshop was to help the kids write an Anansi story of their own.

Not sure lot of parents were thinking about workshops for this week as it was term start – but the valiant librarians encouraged the children reading and finishing up homework (new term after all) to come and participate.

Two girls who came early and sat and read the Anansi books that the librarian had put out for the event. Then two sisters who had done their homework wanted to join. Then another boy who came to the event seeing the poster. So we had a good group to start us off.

We started off with an Anansi story – I told the story of How Anansi got the box of Stories and realized many visitors were keenly listening to it too. I could see parents hovering by the video section that was closest to the workshop space and listening.Blue_Anchor_children_s_library_for_web

A boy who was doing homework took off his headphones and turned around, but he was too shy to come down and actually participate.

After I told the story, we analysed it. We figured out jointly the structure of an Anansi story. Then I read them a story that I had written a few years ago at Jane Yolen’s workshop – an original trickster tale about Anansi, not from Anansi’s box of stories.

The kids then analysed the story I had written and matched the structure. Now they were ready to create their own. By this time, we had lost two of the participants as their ride had come early.

But the other three were undeterred. They had three different plots and we discussed each plot. By the end of the plotting, we jointly decided one plot wasn’t going to work. Then the children started writing their own stories with it.

I could see the enthusiasm in their eyes. They weren’t shouting and jumping about with joy – but they were seriously working on their stories. I had three converts on my hands – kids who wanted to write stories and read more.

The parents were absolutely thrilled that the kids had sat down and written a story. Other parents came to ask if there was another session. So all in all a good workshop. I always think – if I can I instill the joy of stories and writing in one kid – that’s reward enough for each event I do.

peagreenboatNext week I am in Dulwich, at Rosendale Primary School with Peagreen Boat Books at their Mini Hay Festival telling stories to Reception and Year 1 kids all day long. I can’t wait.


The Part-time Life

I’m not used to the term part-timer simply because I give 100% to everything I do.  But when you do a lot of things, it is 100% to one thing at one time. I worked in Information Technology (computers as others call it) for many years in India and then moved to do the same in Singapore and then in the UK. I worked in a bank during the financial crisis and worked 16-18 hour shifts and was proud of holding the fort.

I never gave up on writing. I wrote in the mornings and nights, on trains and bus-stops and all weekends. I used to get up at 4 am in the morning when I was in a demanding and stressful relationship to ensure I get my writing done irrespective of how the day turned out to be.

Then early this year, I spent some time evaluating life. The mortgage was paid off, there is no husband or kids to look after, just me, the laundry, the dishes and what I wanted.

What did I want to do with life?

I was working regular hours, but to write I was giving up my evenings and weekends, and precious time with my nephew growing up.

I was giving up on experiencing life so that I could work and write. My life experiences with spreadsheets and conference calls weren’t going to feed my muse to write stories for children. Writing comes from inside me and inside me was underfed with richness and tired with office politics.

Could I have both? I didn’t want to be at home full-time. I’m a natural loner might end up finding my haven inside instead of exploring the world. I would need to keep my mind sharp and my day job was very good at doing that. So maybe I could step off the pedal and not worry about whether I had a powerful and high-paying job but find my work-writing-life balance.


After a lot of chats with my sister and my parents, I decided to float the idea to my bosses. My family was supportive of my plans – albeit my Dad a bit worried about leaving a permanent job.

Oddly enough and pleasantly surprising my bosses were supportive of my decision as well. My divisional manager was keen to keep me onboard and allow me the time to write. So I went in with a resignation so I could find contract jobs that would give me freedom, I came back with a part-time offer with job security and time away to write, to go into schools and pursue storytelling.

imagesIt’s been six weeks now and it has been fantastic. I was thinking if I could have done it sooner and realized not really. I had taken advantage of the first opportunity to scale back one part of my life and create a bigger pie for other things.



I have been into many libraries telling stories. I’ve done storytelling in summer fetes and community gatherings. I’ve been part of CWISL’s first ShoutWest event and I’ve been writing more.



I now work three days at the bank and have the rest of the week to write and have fun. I see more of my nephew, I have found myself a writing mentor with the Golden Egg Academy and I’ve met some interesting people going on walks discovering the heritage of London.

I’m asked if going into work for the three days is difficult. It is actually fun. I feel less guilty about going into corporate work at the cost of life or writing. I’ve wanted to do something for myself, I didn’t go out and buy a Ferrari, (in my case it would be the Fiat 500)


– but I thought about what I wanted and bargained life for what it’s worth and I have more time to spend the money I make.

In a way, I am the husband and wife at ti_m_getting_married_____to_myself__by_veeutiful-d5vyhf1he same time in my own life- the bank employee me makes the money and the writer me, spends the money on notebooks, books, stationery, going to events and such!


I’m more productive as a writer – I’ve time for experiments, I can now write and put it away because time is not that scarce. It is still precious, but I have no plan to waste it.

Who said lounging in the park watching cloud shapes is wasting time? That’s research, that’s observation, that’s fodder for the writing. Who said walking my story by the riverside is a waste of time? It is a gift that only I could give myself.

Some people tell me I’m brave to step off the ladder, or off the treadmill or the accelerator whatever you call it. People in my position at my work are now furiously looking for the next big promotion.

But I am free from all that stress and it has liberated me at work. Not that I was one of those people led by a chief whip – I had opinions of my own and never kept it to myself. But I’ve now given myself permission just to enjoy the work. I think I now understand more the maxim that is in the Bhagavad Gita that I gita-war-to-beginalways believed in – “Do your duty and do not expect a benefit from it.”

My HR contact will check in with me after 3 months, and I hope I’ll be able to say “Can I stay forever part-time please?”


Storytelling at the re-opened Streatham Library

Friends of Streatham Library and the fantastic Sandra Davidson from the Library invited CWISL to come and participate in the opening week festivities. We had a stall at the new big hall.

I had 4 of my books to display and sell. It was great to see that many people – parents, grandparents and visitors to the library were interested in the books as much as the food, the chess and the history on display.


The big and bold illustrations of As I Watch and Balu’s Basket did get a lot of attention.

And then in the afternoon it was my turn to do storytelling in the children’s section of the main library. The kids were busy painting bags and after a big storytime announcement from me the kids and parents gathered around.



This was the first time I was going to tell Where is Gola’s Home? And As I Watch. Balu’s Basket was on its second storytelling.

gola_webThe kids loved listening to Gola. They loved to think about landscapes like riverside, forests, the beach and the mountains.


And then I read Balu’s Basket. While some of the fruits were exotic for the kids here, they were really into it. They guessed the colour, they made shapes with their hands. We clucked together when Balu went to collect the chickens and we sang Rock a Bye Baby when he rocked the baby to sleep.

AsIWatch-6x150After that I read As I Watch – appropriate for a beautiful, spring afternoon. After the butterfly had laid it egg, the children drew colourful butterflies.









It was a fantastic opportunity to be there and to meet with so many lovely Streatham residents. It was another wonderful event made possible by being part of CWISL.10150691_627492180649570_1087848448_n