Writing Stories Revolving Around Youth

by September 25, 2018 0 comments

Paro AnandWriter Paro Anand is passionate about penning stories that give a message to young people and the world they live in.

I love Delhi’s jams,” pronounces author Paro Anand with a laugh and explains the reason. “I have my laptop with me, put on my headphones and I write. When the traffic starts to move and the jam opens up, a voice in my head seems to say, ‘no no wait wait let me get back into the jam,’’’ she says. Dressed in a white and gold Chanderi sari, she is all set to be a part of a session of “Talking Books” with Sunil Sethi at The Full Circle Bookstore in Khan Market.

When one asks her how she started writing, pat comes the reply, “I fell down the magical hole of Alice. I was chasing my own rabbits!” However, there were deeper reasons than imagination running amok. “I was basically a  drama teacher and couldn’t find any Indian plays that both the children and I wanted to put up. If they were Indian, they were mythology and folk tales. There was nothing that reflected the kids’ own life, surroundings or conversations. There was no contemporary children’s literature.”

With her kind of books, Anand tries to expose her young readers to reality and equip them to cope with the world around them. “Fiction is a safe space to make children aware because the character is fictional as is the situation. This helps children relate to real issues  and talk about them in a way they are unable to if you asked a direct question. Once I related a story about domestic violence and a number of children said that they had witnessed similar situations in their homes. However, if I had just asked them directly, they would have never admitted as much. Stories are a really powerful medium.”

While most parents want to protect their children from harsh realities, she believes that young adults are ready for varied content. “We are not exposing them to something that they don’t know already,” she says. She points to the example of the word “rape”, which did not feature in the vocabulary of young adults 20 years ago as compared to today when even three-year-olds know it. “There’s a wonderful saying, ‘Do you prepare the path for your child or do you prepare your child for the path?’ You can prepare the child for what you know lies ahead even if she doesn’t know anything about it.” She says her keywords are inclusiveness and empathy. “Children feel a strong sense of injustice and  helplessness. And I am trying to give them hope, empathy and the tools to cope with it,” she says.

These two concepts are the prime focus of her latest book, The Other: Stories of Difference,  which as the name indicates talks about young adults grappling with a situation where they are confronted with someone who is different from what they themselves are. From a girl trapped in a boy’s body to physical otherness, the author tries to make her readers empathise and understand the world of people who do not make the cut of being ‘normal’.  “We think we can’t expose our child to danger. In this book there is a story of a girl who has nightmares because she couldn’t step up when she saw another young woman being attacked. Initially in the story the father said you must be the one to protest but the editor pointed out that this was unlikely. So I presented it as a dilemma that we feel.”

In her novel, Nomad’s Land, which is a work in progress, the protagonists are a Kashmiri Pandit and a Tibetan girl who are dealing with displacement. “I am taking them out of these regional specifics. I am not going to say what is their political or geographical situation. I want to make it about displaced people and not just about two kinds of displacements,” she says.

Casting aside concerns about whether  young adults are reading or not, hooked as they are to electronic devices, Anand points out that children are reading a lot more than 20 years ago when they couldn’t name a single Indian author. “Now many know my work intimately. In Ooty, I was asked the most phenomenal question. A student said that I was 27 books old and how has my journey grown from Pepper, the capuchin monkey  to The Others.”

Adults, she feels, should first look within to find out how much they are reading themselves. “If a child gets a book that s/he really loves and can’t stop reading, s/he will stick.” Recalling her own example, she says that in her house of readers, time was set apart for reading which she hated till the time she found Born Free.

While children enjoy her books immensely, it is parents and teachers that sometimes have objections to her books. “People had objections to Like Smoke where a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl fall in love and share a fleeting kiss. But I believe adults should be reading books like mine because it gives them an insight into their wards’ lives, fears and issues.”

Anand has faced issues bigger than objections. At the Jaipur Lit Fest, when she took to the stage to speak about banned books, some people in the audience positioned themselves strategically to ask motivated questions. “I had to be practically smuggled out of the event in a car. But then, if it is easy, why would I want to do it?”

There are other ways as well that Anand tries to make a difference. She started Literature in Action Programme when she set  up libraries in rural India with the National Book Trust. “I met a girl in a place where children had never seen books, who said that they were living in ignorance and were perfectly happy that way. ‘Now that you’ve shown us this world and we cannot go back to that state of ignorance,’ she told me. Until then, my books were fun and light. I realised that when children have access to just one book, these would have to be more meaningful.”  She started a world newspaper project with 3,000 children. “At that time, I realised children have fantastic stories to tell and we have to give them that platform. Literature in Action connects children with stories and gives them that.”

Writer: Saimi Sattar

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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