A Celebration of Jars and Pumpkins

Throw a giant pumpkin, a jar of mango pickles and a storyteller together into a bookshop, sprinkle some cake, mix some friends and family, garnish with praise from the publisher and editor and what you get is one amazing book launch and a chuffed author who is busy writing more stories.

Maybe you missed the noisy chatter on Twitter or my invite in the newsletter or perhaps you had AJOP_9781406364675_PC_UK_circrelocapattan_coverted to Mars to escape the pollution on Earth -but if you have not heard, I celebrated the launch of two new books last Saturday (8th Oct 2016) at Pickled Pepper Books, London with storytelling, orange and yellow mini cupcakes and a room full of people who had come from far to celebrate with me.


I’ve gone to many book launches in the past few years and I was worried that I p1030032wouldn’t know what to do when it was my turn. I was worried there won’t be any photos. I was worried that I’ll forget my words during the storytelling. I was worried. It was like your baby being sent to nursery or the big school for the first day. Shiny and new into the hands of others. Would they love the stories as much as I do?

p1030050I watched the door as people trickled in. I watched as people on the street walked past and it wasn’t a familiar face. As friends started coming in, I slowly relaxed. As the time came to tell the stories, my story genie took over. She knew the stories, she loved them, she grew up with them. And I hope those who were there liked the stories.

So the books have left the docks and floated away into the hands of readers. A story lives again when it is told and it grows and changes and lives over and over again when retold many times. And I hope these stories live those many lives through the readers and the listeners they read to.



Pyramids of Caste and the Need for Inclusivity

I grew up under the shadow of the caste system in India. Castes are ancient constructs that defined professional and social place in the communities. The primary division amongst the ancient Vedic communities 1500 to 500 BC was the Varna. And within each varna, the jathis were defined.

Varnas defined the social classes – the pyramid of our society back in India for thousands of years. Then of course were the people who didn’t even have a place in this pyramid.


  • The Brahmins – who were teachers and priests
  • Kshatriyas – the kings and soldiers who protected and governed
  • Vaishyas – the merchants, the moneylenders who kept the economy going
  • Sudras – the people who performed hard labour.

This original system of social strata is so embedded into the collective memory that even after years of struggle many communities still are marginalized and exploited.

Even today most people have either a school certificate or birth certificate that ticks either of these. FORWARD / BACKWARD / MOST BACKWARD / SCHEDULED CASTE / SCHEDULED TRIBE. Although I must say this is to level the playing field.

India is also a product of multiple imperial and colonial occupations right from the time when the indigenous people of the peninsula were brought under the conquering Aryans from the North West.

By Jaseem Hamza – http://www.panoramio.com/photo/75615435#c91196480, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47123893

Both in the north and in the south (which was separated by the Vindhya mountains), communities existed in the hillsides and in woods and forests. These communities are sometimes collectively called Adivasis – the ancient people. Many of these communities for generations before and after Independence (from the British) either were deprived of their land (and hence livelihood) or forced to move to towns and cities to look for work.

Caste was part of our life in every sense of the world. While there were no social restrictions in the cities I grew up in, divisions existed based on caste, jathis and religions. Home to perhaps every religion in the world, most people learnt to live together in harmony except when politicans whip up the frenzy to gain emotional response. That was true for castes too. Traditionally South Indian politics (even today) is driven by caste and the divide between the “indigenous” Dravidian people vs the enforced caste system that came from the Aryans. The political parties flaunt their Dravidian credentials to gain votes.

You can read more about the influence of castes in politics here.

I have always been drawn to stories told by ancient communities. Whether they are stories from Native American communities or the Maori tribes. I seek out stories from India’s ancient communities – be it from Andaman islands or from the hills of South India.

The Irular community is a tribe that inhabited and still inhabits the mountain ranges of the south-west. These communities are nature loving and were tribes who lived off the land, nurtured it and cherished it.


Their name, Irular, itself is a token of marginalization. Irul means dark in Tamil, one of the ancient languages of the world. Irular are people who are dark. While the tribes from Tamilnadu, the state that I belong to, are proficient in trapping venomous snakes and rats, the ones from Kerala are farmers. Today they would be classified under SCHEDULED TRIBES, whose tribal way of living has been sacrificed at the altar of development and modern politics.

Nowadays many of these families come into towns looking for construction work – given forests are being destroyed and the old way of life seemingly impossible. Even in the cities and towns, they often live in shanty towns and slums, looking for hard labour in construction and other industries.

One such legend is that of Pattan’s, the elder of the ancient Irular community in Kerala. Set in the valleys of the Sahayadri mountain ranges, Pattan’s Pumpkin tells the story of Pattan and his wife living in harmony with nature. One day he finds a bottle-gourd plant.Courge_encore_verte

He replants it, nourishes it and the plant bears a fruit that grows and grows. Before Pattan could enjoy the juicy bottle-gourd, rains begin to lash against the mountains. For days the rain fell causing distress to animal and plants. Pattan must save his community somehow.I’m sure you have spotted already that the cover shows a pumpkin and not a bottle-gourd. That’s because I’ve taken some artistic liberty to change the bottle-gourd into a pumpkin as it is a familiar fruit to imagine. The brilliantly talented Frane Lessac has brought it to life with her vibrant pictures.


I stumbled upon the story of Pattan in the research notes gathered by Philipose Vaidyar. I tracked him down to find out more about the story. And the journey began. I researched the Irular community, and my Dad scanned copious notes from the bowels of the Connemara Library, watched videos of their modern-day issues, read about the gorgeous mountain ranges they lived in.

For me, telling the story of Pattan symbolises many  different things.

The story is a story of conservation and responsible farming that Pattan practiced thousands of years ago. Living one with the land, looking after other animals, birds and other living creatures including a bottle-gourd plant shows how ancient communities lived in harmony and highlights how we forget to look after the natural world around us.

46bfec_9a7a3cac79ee4132929418f33997b1ccThe story is not just another flood story. It is about embracing a world where we accept and celebrate differences amongst fellow human beings and appreciate the differences in our ways of life. It is about the duty every human has to protect, transform and grow the natural world around us.

It is about a kind man who decided to save his community from the floods with ingenuity and quick thinking. It is a story from a community that has faced enormous hardship. Bringing a positive story from them to the world stage would open the window into their beautiful world.

Find out more about the power of stories especially about unheard voices and tell us about your own favourite books that celebrate differences and promotes understanding of the world.

Farmer Falgu’s Co-Creator Talks About The Series

kanikaKanika Nair is a visual storyteller. She has illustrated 22 children’s titles and designed 30 books for several award winning Indian publications. Her book titles have been published in English and multilingual Indian regional languages. Also, rights of recent titles have been sold to publishers in Japan, Germany, France and Africa.

Kanika Nair is the fantastic illustrator of my Farmer Falgu stories published by Karadi Tales. We are celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of the first title in the series Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip.

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Published by Karadi Tales

Since that day, Farmer Falgu has travelled to many countries and gone from strength to strength. Farmer Falgu is now available in French and Japanese and soon to be available in bi-lingual editions in Germany. Farmer Falgu will also be available in the US this autumn.

As co-creators, both Kanika and I are so proud of Farmer Falgu’s success. We are delighted that everyone loves Farmer Falgu as much as we do.  So I asked Kanika Nair to talk about her experience of illustrating the Farmer Falgu series. Here is what she told me.

The Indian colourful cultural canvas has always fascinated and inspired my designs and illustration style. I enjoy the medium of STORYTELLING and believe it gives character, expression and voice to any design and thus effectively connect to its audience at a universal scale.

Farmer Falgu Series has been one of my favourites. While reading the script for illustrating I felt an interesting connection between the story and my hometown. Thus, decided to set the story in Rajasthan, a state in northern India that is rich in historical significance and famous for its vibrant colourful culture.

reference pictureSince, Rajasthan is the place where I have spent most of my growing years, I had lots of insights to incorporate in the illustrations.

Chitra’s writing has so many layers in her style of storytelling in terms of sounds, characters and landscapes. Thus, giving a great opportunity to explore my imagination and creativity!

falgu booksReally joyful to witness that Falgu Series is been enjoyed by a wide audience at a global scale!!!

You can find out more about Farmer Falgu’s journey here.


Farmer Falgu is going places!

-on-bullock-cart_55e1e0fac0a6d._rajasthani-couple-on-bullock-cartWhen I wrote the first Farmer Falgu story, I had specific goals.

  1. I somehow wanted to convey that this earth is never quiet and Quiet is not necessarily a fun thing.
  2. I wanted to write a story about an Indian farmer
  3. 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.

image descriptionIn 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!

kardiatalesWhen 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.

indiastampThen 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.

Falgu_2 Cover

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.

Get the Fatafat Omelet recipe here.

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. keepcalmLook 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, hetwitter 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.


She’s always showing off Falgu to someone – this was taken in the Beijing Book Fair

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.

And now Farmer Falgu is in Japan already. He’s called Farga in the Japanese books (thank you Google Translate) and he’s still going places.

Japan grunge rubber stamp, vector illustration



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.

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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.

parisstamp 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.myticket

You can buy English, French and Japanese copies from here. I'm also offering a festival offer for the English language copies until 11th November. Don't miss.

Books in My Life

My reading list is growing. With new prize longlists and shortlists and books of friends, books from India, books that I read long ago that I want to read again, books I want to learn from – so many books.

I’ve got an accumulated stack of books that have been signed for me – friends, eminent friends and celebrity authors (not the kind of celebrity authors who were celebrities before they wrote a book, the kind that are celebrity to me because they write amazing books.)

So I decided I have to organise my reading, keep track of what I’m reading, perhaps recommend some books to others and I looked around for a reading journal. There are a few available in the stationery section. But I didn’t fancy giving up my reading time to update my entire history of reading and my current TO-READ list.

51VYq3bp4kL__SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Then I looked for online journals – to keep track of the books. I checked one called LibraryThing – but didn’t like it as much and they also charge after 200 books. Then of course I had a Shelfari account because they are part of Amazon and I had a GoodReads account. Choices are good that we can choose what we want. But they force you to try them out and choose – takes longer to decide.

But while researching this – I found an useful article about other book related sites and I’ve fallen in love with BookLikes. I think BookLikes is great for librarians, classroom book blogs and personal book blogs too. But as in life and in this post, I digress. For the purpose of what I came to tell you, I’ll keep it to GoodReads. I’ll be telling you all about my BookLikes adventure soon.

At this moment I’m still on GoodReads and I uploaded my entire list of books – To Read, Already Read to GoodReads. Because I uploaded 8 to 10 years worth of reading history – GoodReads assumed I had read all of them in 2015. I wish!

Just like I’m obsessed about front-facing shampoo bottles, order of keys in my keyrings, wearing matching jewelry and  such, I’m also obsessed about being honest about the “Date I finished Reading” on every book.

So that’s a lot of books to update. But I started on it bravely. As I went down the list thinking about when I would have read it – it evoked memories, emotions and emotional memories.

As I read down the list of books to mark their date, my past began to unfold in the form of a book list. I could make out the patterns of my emotional life, what happened when along with the dates for the books.

  • Oh I read that one when I moved into my new flat
  • That one was when I was sad with a breakup and wanted a Pick me Up
  • This one was during the course I did with Andy Stanton at Faber

I couldn’t believe how these books have been transplated into my memory along with life-changing events.

I remember, a few years ago, giving up writing for 6 months due to one of those yo-yo relationships – you know when someone can’t make up their mind about you. I completely broke down because that person was my first reader.

More than life, it affected my writing. 41792G6F2KLThat’s when I picked up this amazing book. And here I am with more books written and published and still writing. It really freed the writer within me.

From Faraway tree that made me tell stories to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime that showed me possibilities, the list of books that is weaved into my life is very long.

Books do so many things to people. Some movies do too. But I think books stay with you longer because they force you to imagine. The nerve cells in your brain fuse and expand trying to figure out the words on the printed page. They go to your long-term memory and emotional memory. (Those who watched Inside Out know what I’m talking about! What a movie, that would stay with me for sure. I digress again.)

When I started updating the month and year of reading a book I realized some books I read almost as soon as I bought them. Some books I bought on release day. Some books were left on their own on the bookshelf. They call out to me sometimes – “you’ve to read me!”.

I remember not just what I was feeling or experiencing when I read these books, but also what happened after. Did my life change?poemcrazy

I found this book in a NY bookstore near Wall Street nestled among the writing books. What a joy it brought me. I spent the weekend walking the riverside and writing poems – they might not be good poems, but they had a bit of me inside them.

More recently I read Gangleader for a Day, We are Completely Beside Ourselves, Us Minus Mum and Elizabeth is Missing and so many more. I loved Luminaries and I loved the silly Red Eyes at Night by Michael Morpugo.

Each time, it changes life either in the core or in the edges. Like a real experience does. That’s what I like about reading.

I watched Kite Runner in the cinema and I cried for nights. Then against my own advice I read the book. I cried for weeks. I couldn’t stop thinking about that boy. I was living his pain and I was devastated. I had always liked kites as a child. I made them at home and took them up to my terrace. But this story has now imprinted itself into the word KITE in my brain. Every time I see a kite, I think of Kite Runner.

I have a new stack of books now. Signed books from YALC, signed books from book launches and in a frenzy of catching up on authors I loved reading in the last two years. That’s what happened when I took stock – I realized I loved a book and then I checked for more books by the same author and ended up buying more than I have space for – in shelves and in life.

Well, a girl’s gotta do, what she’s gotta do. READ!

So do you have a catalog of all the books you’ve read? Do you think of them interlinked with life? Or is your life on a parallel track to the train of books that rush past you?

Tell me if a book changed your life. Tell me if it has folded a memory like a dog-ear in a book for looking back. Tell me if it has changed your outlook to life, how you see others, how you see yourself. Is it a window to you or a mirror or both? Is it a doorway to other lives, other worlds, other perspectives?

And I leave you with this wonderful video showing the power of books. Go on, I know you’ll love it.