Shaky festival quotient? Bhakti Mathur’s 12 titles in the ‘Amma Tell Me Series’ and three in the ‘Amma Take Me Series’, are just what’s needed to make the festivals come alive to readers both young and old alike. Excerpts from the interaction…
Have festivals always been very close to your heart?
More than festivals, the stories behind them have been close to my heart. My mother was an avid reader. In my childhood I remember being ‘read to’ much more than I read myself. One of the first books I recall hearing is ‘Horton Hears a Who’ by Dr. Seuss while sitting on my mother’s lap. I fell in love with it. My mother worked as a librarian and as a result I landed up spending several hours in the library as a child. I suppose libraries are great and inexpensive babysitters!
My love for mythology was a gift from my grandmother and my nanny. They both used to tell me stories from the two major Indian epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata every day after I came back from school. That was the best part of my day.
Is it important for children to grow up with an understanding of the meaning behind festivals?
It’s important to be connected to your roots, especially when you are living outside India. However, the real motivation for writing the ‘Amma Tell Me’ series was to share with my sons the fascinating stories from Indian mythology that I had grown up with. But I found that there were no resources that were simple to understand and that captured the rich imagery of mythological India. So I went ahead and started writing the stories in a style that I think kids find fun and non-preachy and collaborated on the illustrations to bring out the imagery.
As a mother of two hyperactive young boys, I know that the only way I am going to hold their attention is with a good story. And stories from Indian mythology never fail me in this regard. How can they? Which modern tale can boast characters of the stature of mythological ones – the gods incarnate, the mighty kings, the learned sages, and the fearsome demons, placed among the most memorable and momentous of settings?
Or match the substance of the plots that invariably involve a challenge faced, an obstacle overcome or a difficult question resolved? These are perfectly crafted stories as otherwise they would never have survived the ages, passed on from generation to generation, many a time in warm beds similar to ours, for thousands of years.
But the biggest reason that I find myself going back to Indian mythology is that the stories serve as a wonderful parenting tool to highlight the values that we want our children to imbibe. These are the universal values of courage, determination, perseverance, generosity and morality, of what is right versus wrong. There is a big difference in showing someone the way and telling them the way and these stories “show” the power of these values in a manner that is easily comprehended and most of all, non-preachy. And these stories are equally applicable to us adults who in the busyness of life’s routine fail to think about what really matters.
With Diwali here, what is its message as conveyed in your book?
Diwali is a time of new beginnings. A time to light up our lives with diyas of love and knowledge.