Crumpets and Pickles Wrapped in Magic

I grew up on crumpets and ginger-beer.

No, my mum is not a Bakeoff fan. In fact, we don’t even have an oven in my home in India. As a kid, I read so many books with unfamiliar foods in them that my vocabulary broadened even if my taste buds had never experimented with them.


Even though I grew up in a city that has the second longest urban beach in the world, the beaches, coves and mystery islands I was reading in the books were exotic and exciting.

Now as a writer, I live in the UK. Here crumpets are available in supermarkets and the beaches are cold most of the year but for a brief period of glorious summer.

And I often think the hot Indian weather, the spicy food and the bullock carts would kindle the imaginations of children here, perhaps give them a sense of adventure about the world out there – which is different and yet the same.

And that’s what I want my stories to do. A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, brings a whiff of the Indian summer, the caw-caw of the crows, the mango pickles and trumpeting grey elephants. Along with all that, it also poses questions to young readers about right and wrong, fair and unfair decisions.


Like all young people that have a sense of justice that is unwavering and strong, Prince Veera and his friend Suku too feel strongly about doing the right thing. And in each story, they have to sift through the facts, go deeper than the surface and the come up with a fair solution to the problem in front of them.

But it’s not all work and no play. They have a lot of fun playing pranks, running in the fields and eating corn. Their friendship and camaraderie is infectious and sometimes even the grownups join in.

As a writer, I hope these stories bring the magic of faraway places to children who do not live in India and for those who are familiar with India and its colours, smells and festivals, I hope these are affirming and recognisable.

As a child books from faraway places opened up my imagination, gave me a sense of wonder about the worlds I didn’t know about – for all it mattered an English countryside could have been on another planet, for me they were so exotic and magical.


That’s exactly what I want to do when I write stories – bring a bit of magic wrapped along with a story to every reader who stretch their boundaries and read a book about something or someone different from them.

AJOP_9781406364675_PC_UK_circRead A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice and find out if that magic reached you and lit your imagination.

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 –, CC BY 3.0,

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.