I interviewed Mini Shrinivasan, who won Sahitya Akademi's inaugural Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her first book, Just a Train Ride Away.
Mini Shrinivasan, is a plain-speaking and no-nonsense mother. A child rights advocate, she works with teachers and children in rural areas. She doesn’t believe in frivolities, nor has time for inanities. No wonder this honest approach reflected in her first book, Just a train ride away, which fetched her Sahitya Akademi’s inaugural Bal Sahitya Puraskar.
The book, published by Tulika, has a plain-speaking and no-nonsense scientist mother; and the son (protagonist) Santosh, who has a humourous side to him. The author laughingly admits that Chitra (the mother) is a lot like her, who is particular about educating her son with “real experiences”. Her son, Sidhdarth’s humour and his way of looking at life has shaped Santosh’s character.
Listening to the stories of her own upbringing, one would expect the book to be full of values. However, Mini says candidly, “I want my books to entertain. The values should shape you unknowingly. They needn’t be ‘in your face’. And, that’s why the book deals with issues like that of single mother and Santosh’s search for his father or his desire to match up to his peers materialistic standards in a humourous way.”
The book, which begins with asantosh or discontent in Santosh’s mind, concludes with a content Santosh — he has a mother and a father. Just a train ride away also has lot of action — Santosh leaves for Kolkata by a train to stay with his mother’s film-maker friend. And, on this second-class train journey, Santosh is exposed to life’s varied and many truths through his fellow passengers — the very, very old man, very old man and middle-aged man, a young boy whose folks back home think he is rich, because he is staying in a Mumbai and Time-Pass, the street boy, who shakes Santosh out of his middle-class protective shell, with his coarse and hardened outlook.
“How many urban, middle-class protected children would relate to Santosh’s travelling alone to Kolkata?” we ask.
“Not many,” agrees Mini. “But the book is aimed at giving the urban kids an exposure of the ‘other’ life. And, the children staying in Mumbai or Kolkata are pretty confident and independent enough to travel alone on local trains and buses. That’s why these two cities feature in this book,” elaborates the Young Buzz writer.
Talking about the feedback for the book, Mini says, “One school in Kolkata had written saying that the students had found the book, ‘funny’, while the teachers had liked it for the ‘values it’s based upon’. That was the typical children and adult response I hoped the book would garner.”
The book, which was chosen over the works of Ruskin Bond and Paro Anand, has “overwhelmed” Mini, because she is a big fan of Anand.
“I am overwhelmed by the award. And, the fact that my book was chosen over Paro Anand’s books has thrilled me. I have always been a very avid fan of Anand’s books and her style of writing. She also deals with issues like divorce, hatred and jealousy in a very unassuming manner,” says Mini, whose second book, Worms in my Family was published by Sakal Papers Ltd.
Mini's writings often deals with sensible parents vis-a-vis hyper, show-off, flamboyant adults. Does the subtle message — the parents are letting their kids grow up into adults too soon/they are hindering the growth of their children — reach them?
“First of all, I don’t expect such adults or parents to read these kind of books. That’s not in keeping with their character. But, if they do I hope they get the message that let the kids be.”
She thinks that today’s children are bright, fiesty and fun and hence has recommended that they be a part of the jury, which selects the winers of Bal Sahitya Puraskar.
However, she also cautions, “There has to be a mix of adults and children, because it’s not necessary that the youngsters might be reading the right stuff.”
What should the children read?
“Whenever I am visiting any book store, I observe which books parents are buying for the children. They mostly end up buying ‘informative’ books like facts, encyclopedia and GK. I would recommend parents to buy more story books because they help children visualise, dream and imagine. Unfortunately, most adults think that buying story books is a waste of money.”
What does she think of young (children) writers?
“There are too many of them. I think before they become ‘writers’, it's necessary for them to have some experience of life — good, bad, lows and highs. The children should write, but not be in a hurry to publish it. Writing is like signing and dancing, the skill has to be honed. It has to be consciously improved. And, only life’s experiences can teach any to-be-writer to be a better writer,” concludes Mini.